"It's a weapon, even if it's not very powerful, to understand," said the mother of two.
Jihad Abu Salim, 24, said he began studying Hebrew after participating in a four-month coexistence program at New York University.
"I felt it was my duty to learn more about their history, politics and culture," he said.
Palestinian students in Gaza face unique challenges to learning Hebrew. Because of Israeli restrictions, few will ever practice the language with native speakers.
Contact with Israelis is frowned upon in Gaza, where it angers many residents who have lost loved ones or suffered injuries in fighting.
A small group of Gaza residents, mostly traders and medical officials, regularly enter Israel for business purposes. However, Hamas bristles at other contacts, and the government recently banned Gaza journalists from working for Israeli media. Some Gaza residents who communicate with Israeli friends on email or Skype say they shy away from discussing those relationships with others.
Hostile attitudes have left veteran Hebrew-language teachers treading a careful line. Like most Gaza residents, they view Israel bitterly after years of conflict. But they also have memories of more peaceful times, when they could freely enter Israel to study Hebrew.
Instructor Jamal al-Hadad, 60, railed against what he called linguistic theft, noting the many Arabic words that have been incorporated into modern Hebrew. "Like they stole Palestine, they also stole our words," al-Hadad said.
But he also proudly showed off a collection of poems he had written in Hebrew, a mix of pro-Palestinian rhymes and odes to love. And he said he objected to the idea he was merely teaching the language of his foes.
"It is the language of our enemies," he said. "But it is also the language of our neighbors."
Mixed attitudes are common on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
Arabic is supposed to be mandatory in Israeli high schools from 7th to 10th grade, but only about half of them teach it. In most cases, students take it for two years, according to the coexistence group Abraham Fund.
Israeli Arabic language specialists are typically sought for military and intelligence positions, to monitor Arabic media, interrogate Palestinian suspects, handle Palestinian informants or use it during undercover operations.
In Gaza, high schools stopped teaching Hebrew in the mid-1990s, after a Palestinian self-rule government took over civilian affairs. Last year, the Hamas government decided to bring the language back — an acknowledgment that Gazans need the language to deal with Israelis, a people they are intertwined with for the foreseeable future. And while Hebrew had been offered as an elective at several Gaza universities, this is the first diploma to exclusively focus on the language.
Regardless of Hamas' intentions, teaching Hebrew could open doors of understanding, said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist.
"It has the potential to change world views," said Baskin. "Facebook, email, chatting, the whole world is open. You can't prevent contact if people want contact."
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