Department of ‘What were they thinking?’

The NY Times reports:

JERUSALEM, July 22 — Israel’s Education Ministry announced Sunday that it had approved a textbook for use in the state’s Arab schools that for the first time described Israel’s 1948 war of independence as a “catastrophe” for the Arab population…

The Arabic version of a new book for a third-grade course on homeland, society and citizenship, states that “some of the Palestinians fled and some were expelled following the War of Independence” and that “many Arab-owned lands were confiscated,” said an Education Ministry official, Dalia Fenig. It refers to the establishment of Israel as a catastrophe [nakba — ed] for the Palestinians.

The book also reflects the Jewish version of the establishment of the state, as have previous books for the Arab curriculum, including the fact that the Arab parties rejected the 1947 United Nations partition plan for Palestine while the Jews were willing to accept it…

The education minister, Yuli Tamir, of the left-leaning Labor Party, told Israel Radio that there were two populations in Israel, Jewish and Arab, and that “the Arab public deserves to be allowed to express its feelings.” [my emphasis]

Of course the outcome of the 1948 war was bad for the Palestinians. The war was the culmination of almost fifty years of violence against Jews in Palestine, and finally — with the help of neighboring Arab nations — they were on the verge of throwing them out. But they didn’t succeed, and so they suffered.

But the word ‘nakba‘ to the Palestinians refers to much more than a ‘catastrophe’; it denotes the mythical event in which a Zionist conspiracy stole their land, murdered and expelled innocents. The truth is different and more complicated, but there is no other way a Palestinian will understand this term, and there is no room in it for Palestinian responsibility, historical accuracy, or Jewish legitimacy.

It’s as though I wrote a German history book and said, “in 1945, Germany suffered a horrible catastrophe at the hands of the Russians, the Americans, and the British”. In one sense it is true; in another, false. It’s actually much worse than this, because of the Palestinians’ understanding of ‘nakba‘.

But the Hebrew version of the third-grade book does not include the Palestinian version of the events of 1948. Ms. Fenig said that while the Arabic translation was adjusted to address Arab sensitivities and culture, Jewish third graders were considered too young to cope with the conflicting narratives.

I suspect that there may have been some thought that the Jewish parents would not be able to cope, either.

In any event, should the State of Israel aid in “expressing the feelings” of the Arab population when these “feelings” are an ahistorical account of the founding of the state which delegitimizes it? What is the next step for an Arab population with these “feelings”?

The same Times article gives us a possible answer, describing another group of Palestinians with strong feelings:

Later on Sunday, three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. One fell outside a college near the Israeli border town of Sderot, slightly wounding one woman, and another fell in the grounds of a school in the town. The third landed in an open area, causing no damage, army officials said. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.

Update [24 July 1012 PDT]:

Why do I ever read the New York Times? The report apparently is false. The Jerusalem Post editorial staff, certainly no friend of post-Zionism, describes the actual content of the book as follows:

Unit 3 of the Arabic version is titled “This Land is our Homeland.” Sticking carefully to basic facts, this chapter weaves together the Jewish and Arab perspectives on the Zionist enterprise. It explains why the Jews came to this land, why they wanted a state, how the Arabs reacted, and how the War of Independence started with the refusal of Arab side to accept the UN partition plan and with the invasion of five Arab armies.

The controversial line reads: “The Arabs call the war ‘nakba,’ a war of disaster and loss, while the Jews call it ‘The War of Independence.'”

Contrary to the impression given by the headline in The New York Times (“In Arabic Textbook, Israel Calls ’48 War Catastrophe for Arabs”) and by some of the critics, the textbook does not itself endorse or justify the use of the term “nakba.” Anyone reading the chapter would conclude that Jews and Arabs suffered greatly from a war that the Arab side chose and started.

Indeed, the text seems to be written to help persuade an Israeli Arab third-grader who was being told by much of his surroundings that the Jews are interlopers who stole his land that there is another way of looking at things. Far from presenting the Arab “narrative,” the text seems to be designed to open minds to the Jewish narrative, while including accurate points of reference, such as the costs of the war, that might help reconcile the distortions these students receive from their environment with the facts.

I apologize to the Israeli Education Ministry for accepting this account at face value, and I apologize to my readers for depending on a source as untrustworthy as the New York Times.

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One Response to “Department of ‘What were they thinking?’”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Once again Rosenthal has accurately described a complex situation, and found the weakness in a mistaken government policy. It is Yuli Tamir and friends way of thinking which really says to the former Israeli Arabs that they should not be a loyal minority in the Jewish state, since fundamentally the Jewish state ‘s establishment is an injustice.
    It is remarkable that this woman is the ‘Education Minister’ of Israel. But then there was also Shulamit Aloni.