How learning Arabic opened my world

Yakir Renbaum learned Arabic to understand Palestinians.


Posted May 16, 2024 | Updated on May 16, 2024

Yakir Renbaum grew up in a settlement outside of Jerusalem and learned that going beyond the fences of the settlement was considered dangerous.

His curiosity about what was happening on the other side, and his interest in Palestinian perspectives, led him to start learning Arabic at the age of 17.

During his trips into Jerusalem, Renbaum would use the minimal Arabic he knew to ask questions to Palestinians he came across. He hoped to understand their perspective, culture, and more. He went on to study literary Arabic and Middle Eastern history in school, which led him to become appreciative of the culture he was learning about.

Renbaum wanted to use his knowledge to enact change in the dynamic between Jews and Arabs in the region.

Today, Renbaum no longer lives in a settlement. He works for Hand in Hand, a network of bilingual schools in Israel, where Jewish and Palestinian children are able to learn side by side under the tutelage of both Jewish and Palestinian teachers.

“If we can raise all the kids in Israel and Palestine in this way, we would have different adults,” Renbaum said. “Breaking the barrier using language, showing that we can actually live here together.”

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