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About Lissan

Our Mission

Lissan-ליסאן-لسان (Arabic for language or tongue) is a grassroots non-profit organization that promotes gender and social equality in Jerusalem. We seek to bridge the gap between East and West Jerusalem and advance a vision of a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic Jerusalem via linguistic justice. We do this by providing practical and accessible Hebrew language classes based on the needs of East Jerusalemite women. Our courses provide these women with the language skills necessary to independently navigate Jerusalem’s public domain and access resources, rights, and opportunities to advance themselves personally and professionally.

Two women shaking hand, one wearing a hijab, with a view of Jerusalem in the background

​What is Lissan?

Lissan is the Arabic word for “language” or “tongue” (similar to the word “lashon” in Hebrew). We believe that language accessibility is an essential component of creating a respectful and equal public sphere that allows all residents to be their true selves, lead their lives freely, and fully access and exercise their rights. We chose to call ourselves Lissan as it reflects our vision of Jerusalem as a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic city, and our mission to promote linguistic justice and equal access to basic rights for all Jerusalem residents.

Women wearing hijabs sit in a classrom learning Hebrew with two teachers, one in a hijab and one with braided hair

Our Story

​In 2013, a group of women from East Jerusalem neighborhood Issawiya approached a group of young West Jerusalemite students in search of Hebrew studies that would suit their pressing needs. These women from Issawiya faced a language barrier, particularly in their attempts to navigate Israeli bureaucracy, access health care, and integrate into the job market, higher education, and trade and leisure activities in the city. They also expressed how their lack of Hebrew caused them feelings of low self-esteem and dependency on others.

As a result, we began to hold informal weekly meetings to teach and learn Hebrew. As the number of participants increased, we started recruiting more volunteer teachers and, in collaboration with the Issawiya Community Center the volunteer-based “Medabrot Ivrit – Women Speaking Hebrew” program was born. The growing demand for participation in the project, together with a mounting interest in our activities from parties in both East and West Jerusalem, led to the establishment of Lissan in 2015.

For a decade, Lissan has been teaching Hebrew to thousands of East Jerusalemite women, providing the language tools required to access essential services, options, and opportunities. What started as a class of 18 students and 2 volunteer teachers has spiraled into 67 groups, over 1,300 students, and 60 teachers a year. We hold classes in over 15 locations in Jerusalem, and even launched a few groups for Bedouin women in the Negev. We have a community of approximately 60 Jewish and Palestinian volunteer teachers every year, working together to create a better Jerusalem via linguistic justice. Lissan has a network of over 3,000 alumni who, thanks to the Hebrew language skills gained in our courses, have better access to rights, resources, and opportunities, creating a better reality for themselves and their families.

A man and woman stand in front of a whiteboard teaching Hebrew to women wearing hijabs

East Jerusalem and the
Language Barrier

Jerusalem is a deeply divided city housing over 984,500 residents, approximately 61% of which are Jewish and 39% are Palestinian. The vast majority of Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, and Palestinian neighborhoods have been and continue to be greatly neglected by local authorities, with clearly notable differences in the quality of life and services between East and West Jerusalem. Over recent years local authorities have increased funding to East Jerusalem; it has, however, barely made a dent in the ever deepening rift between the two sides of the city.

With the construction of the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank in 2002, East Jerusalem, which until then served as the religious, cultural and economic center for residents of Palestinian cities, towns, and villages in the West Bank (including Ramallah, Bet Lehem, and more), was effectively cut off from the West Bank. This caused East Jerusalem’s economy to collapse, cutting off social and political ties between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The separation barrier created a reality where in order to make a living, and access basic rights and services East Jerusalemite Palestinians were required to turn to West Jerusalem. This shift meant that they suddenly required Hebrew to navigate their daily lives - to access healthcare, social services, higher education, employment and business opportunities, as well as trade and leisure. As a result, they continue to encounter challenges accessing their rights and navigating their daily lives.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (2022), 73% of East Jerusalemite Palestinian women have weak to no Hebrew, versus the 28.7% of Palestinian men who have weak to no Hebrew. This creates a scenario where East Jerusalemite Palestinian women cannot independently navigate the public domain, needing to rely on male family members to navigate their daily lives and access rights and services. This language barrier brings with it fear and lack of confidence. Parallel, according to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy and Research, 73% of East Jerusalemite Palestinian women are unemployed, citing the lack of Hebrew as one of the largest barriers they encounter in integrating into Jerusalem’s workforce.

Language is a basic right, and the barrier in Jerusalem goes both ways. There is a severe lack of Arabic knowledge in West Jerusalem, including among professional personnel in municipal and government offices, and the healthcare system who provide services to Palestinians on a daily basis, making basic and essential services inaccessible to Arabic speaking East Jerusalemites.

The Jaffa Gate and old city walls in Jerusalem

What is Linguistic Justice?

The concept of linguistic justice was developed to make basic rights and resources, such as medical and municipal services, accessible in other languages. In this context, the concept is used to express that the lack of accessibility to these services in other languages is neither accidental nor transparent, and that this accessibility is the key to a truly just society. The right to understand and to be understood, to communicate in a language in which you are comfortable speaking, to receive the full extent of information and access to your rights regardless of your native language – in tandem with systemic recognition of these rights – are all part of our worldview. Language is central to identity, and is a key tool for communication. There is no justice without recognizing the importance of language.

In Jerusalem, where many languages are spoken among residents and approximately 39% are native Arabic speakers, government and municipal services and healthcare are provided largely in Hebrew, and service providers do not speak any Arabic. Lissan advances linguistic justice by providing essential Hebrew language skills to residents of East

Jerusalem, and assisting them to access their basic, fundamental rights. Lissan also provides Arabic language courses to our growing community, to begin to bring more Arabic into the Hebrew speaking community. Parallel, we work with the Municipality of Jerusalem, raising awareness of the lack of linguistic justice and providing Hebrew language courses throughout East Jerusalem. There is still a long road towards creating a diverse society in which language accessibility is available for all.

A hand taking notes in a Hebrew studies textbook

Theory of Change

If we provide subsidized Hebrew courses to East Jerusalemite women that are culturally fit and meet their needs, and if we accompany courses with information about accessing rights, employment and academic prep,

then more women will be able to confidently navigate the public sphere in Jerusalem, access rights and resources, better their socio-economic status, and find work and pursue higher education.

If we create a strong and stable community of Jewish and Palestinian Jerusalemites,

then Jerusalem residents will be able to better communicate and work together towards a more equal Jerusalem via linguistic justice.

If we expose authorities to the realities and needs of East Jerusalemites,

then they will adapt/change the existing policies and services to fit East Jerusalemites’ needs. We will work together to provide subsidized Hebrew courses in East Jerusalem that meet the needs of residents.

Lissan’s Goals

Increased independence and familiarity among East Jerusalemite Palestinian women in accessing rights, employment, education, and navigating the public domain as a result of language skills gained in Lissan’s practical and accessible Hebrew language courses.

A larger, stronger, and more engaged community of Jews and Palestinians working together to advance the shared goal of advancing linguistic justice in Jerusalem, allowing positive encounters between Jews and Palestinians, and creating a safe space for all community members.


A community of highly trained Hebrew teachers, culturally and pedagogically, with a better knowledge and understanding of East Jerusalem.


A rich and expansive collection of culturally fit and topically relevant teaching materials for East Jerusalemite Palestinian women and other groups that have an increased need for Hebrew language learning. Development of pedagogical materials and training teachers to teach Hebrew in East Jerusalem according to Lissan’s pedagogical principles and unique tools.


Heightened awareness of the realities and needs of East Jerusalemite Palestinians among the relevant authorities, decision and policy makers on the municipal level, and a desire to advance change.

Two women wearing hijabs stand in a classroom looking at a textbook with a whiteboard with Hebrew and Arabic in the background

Lissan’s Action Principles

Grassroots activity

Lissan is a resource to individuals who seek Hebrew language proficiency for personal or professional advancement. Our work is grassroots, arising from the demands and based on the needs of East Jerusalemite Palestinians. Our courses provide participants with the basic language skills necessary to independently access their rights, navigate bureaucracy, access healthcare, and integrate into the workforce and higher education. Content is created based on input from our students, ensuring that they receive the vocabulary and grammar they need to navigate their daily lives and advance personally and professionally in Jerusalem.

Topical relevance

Our programs and content are culturally and topically relevant for our target audiences. We develop our own learning materials and study spaces to meet the needs of our students.

Providing communication skills

Lissan’s courses offer the essential vocabulary and communication skills that serve our students’ immediate needs. Proficiency in the Hebrew language elevates our students’ status personally and in the public sphere, and increases their ability to independently gain access to basic rights and resources.

Equal opportunity and financial accessibility

Lissan’s students pay a symbolic enrollment fee to participate in our courses. This makes our courses financially accessible regardless of socio-economic status. No participant who wishes to enroll in one of Lissan’s courses is denied entry due to lack of financial resources.

Volunteering in a multicultural environment

Lissan’s work is centered around a community of volunteers. Volunteer teachers choose to donate their precious time out of a sense of commitment to our mission and values. Medabrot Ivrit - Women Speaking Hebrew classes are taught by a team of two from our community of native Hebrew and native Arabic speaking volunteer teachers. Volunteers offer their time to speak with students to help them improve their language skills. We offer all volunteer teachers training, enrichment, and ongoing pedagogical support.


The community created among our volunteer teachers is multicultural and multilingual, and we put an emphasis on creating safe and inclusive spaces for people of all identities and backgrounds with shared goals to encounter one another. As a result, our volunteers are agents of change in Jerusalem, showing a vision of a more just and equal Jerusalem based on linguistic justice.

Advancing change on a municipal level

Over the last two years, Lissan has developed a partnership with relevant bodies within the municipality. In this way, we are able to raise awareness of the realities of life in East Jerusalem and advance relevant services that will lead to more equal access to rights and opportunities for East Jerusalemite Palestinians.

A group of women wearing hijabs sit talking in a school
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