Israel adds Arab perspective to school textbook
Los Angeles Times (2007-07-24)
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For the first time, Israel has approved a school book acknowledging to the country’s minority Palestinian citizens what they have been learning at home: The Jewish state’s creation was a tragedy for them.
The updated third-grade primer stirred controversy on Sunday as soon as the Education Ministry announced its approval for Arab classrooms this fall. Israeli rightists rose in defence of the school system’s traditional one-sided teaching of history and declared the book itself a tragedy.
Titled Living Together in Israel, the book describes events of 1948 and 1949, when Israel’s creation by the United Nations in what had been British-ruled Palestine prompted an invasion by Arab armies and the displacement of about 700,000 Palestinian Arabs.
Previous editions gave only the Jewish narrative, pointing out the Jews’ connection to the Holy Land and their need for a state because of persecution in Europe. It focused on heroism of Israeli forces and referred to the Palestinian flight as a voluntary escape.
The new edition adds the Arab perspective, noting for the first time that many Palestinians were forced from their homes and became refugees after the winners of the war confiscated their land and barred their return.
“When the war ended, the Jews prevailed and Israel and its neighbours signed a truce,” a passage reads. “The Arabs call the war the Nakba, meaning the war of catastrophe and destruction. The Jews call it the War of Independence.”
Palestinians who remained in Israel, and now make up 20 per cent of the population, lived until 1966 under military rule that limited their freedom of movement and other rights, the new book acknowledges. “The book offers Arab pupils a balanced picture, so that they may put what they are exposed to in their home environment in the proper context,” said Education Minister Yuli Tamir.
Some Israeli Jews said the book would encourage a growing militancy among Israeli Arabs, whose leaders recently have demanded that Israel be declared a binational state. “Once the Arab pupils are taught that the establishment of Israel was a disaster, they might infer that they should be fighting against us,” said Limor Livnat, a former education minister from the right-wing Likud Party.
The Arab perspective will, however, not be introduced in into Hebrew-language editions.