Say 'salaam' to Supt. Sagi

Groundbreaking Arabic course for police officers attempts to bridge cultural gaps through language.

police crowd 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
police crowd 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel Police officer cadets have begun to attend mandatory classes in Arabic language and culture, as a joint project between the Israel Police and the Abraham Fund hopes to bridge cultural gaps through language and understanding. One hundred police cadets currently in officers' training course began to learn spoken Arabic last week in a three-monthlong course held at the Shfaram Center for Police Studies. The course, which constitutes part of the cadets' certification procedure as officers, is designed, according to the Abraham Fund, to enable them direct and "respectful" communication with Arab citizens. In the past, said Abraham Fund spokeswoman Maya Popper, police had just learned basic Arabic vocabulary. This course, she emphasized, was different in its depth, breadth and aims. "It is not just to teach them the ABCs but to show them that language can be important and help when you're working with different cultures," said Popper. "Here the goal is to enable communication and mutual respect. When you address someone in their native language, it allows you to address people as fellow human beings. It shows that you respect their identity, their culture." The four platoons of cadets participating in the first full-scale implementation of the project include would-be officers in the fields of operations, intelligence, and investigations, areas of police work in which officers come into daily contact with a wide variety of demographic groups. The course was the brainchild of the Abraham Fund together with the police's Manpower Division, the police Instruction Department and the Chief Educational Officer, and the curriculum was drawn up with cooperation from the University of Haifa. According to the Abraham Fund, a group that seeks to advance coexistence and equality among Jews and Arabs in Israel, the program "includes subjects suited to the situations in which the police officers are likely to come into contact with mother-tongue Arabic speakers." Specific fields in which the cadets will receive instruction include questioning and taking testimony, working with religious leaders and communicating with victims at the scenes of car crashes. The course was already run as a pilot last year, and due to the pilot's success, it was decided to continue the project as an integral part of officers' course. Starting last Monday, the cadets will attend classes once a week until October, for a total of 42 hours of coursework. The classes are led by Mor Ben-Ezra of the University of Haifa. The program is also accompanied by qualitative evaluation that will examine the officers' achievements and the influence of language acquisition on their work in the field, and on the quality of service that they offer. In addition to language studies, the cadets will also visit Arab communities in order to "deepen the cadets' familiarity with the Arab population" and to practice the skills acquired during the course. This year's course has already paid one visit to Arabic-speaking areas of Jaffa. This pilot, alongside other projects to connect police and Israeli Arabs, was part of the fallout from the findings of the Or Commission, which probed the series of circumstances that led to the killing of 13 Israeli Arabs in the October 2000 riots in Wadi Ara. Together with the Abraham Fund, police have also held daylong seminars, meetings with community leaders, training exercises and workshops dealing with cultural understanding and human rights.