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by Peter Hirschberg

Zionists Outraged Over Israeli Textbooks Including W Bank "Green Line"

(IPS) JERUSALEM -- Right-wing lawmakers in Israel are fuming over a decision by Israel's education minister to permit use of a textbook in state-run Arab schools that includes the word "nakba" -- Arabic for "catastrophe," the term Palestinians use to describe the founding of the Jewish state.

"The Arabs call the war the nakba, a war of catastrophe, loss and humiliation, and the Jews call it the Independence War," reads the passage that includes the controversial phrase used by Arabs to describe the creation of Israel in 1948, which sparked a war that left 700,000 Arabs displaced, some having fled and others having been expelled from their homes. The book will be used by third-grade (8 to 9-year-old) Arab students.

Incensed right-wing lawmakers, who fear the use of the "nakba" term in a state-approved Israeli textbook could legitimize debate over the right of the Jewish state to exist, have called for the resignation of the education minister, Yuli Tamir, a member of the center-left Labor Party. "The education minister should go home," railed Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the center-right Likud party. "Should we be injecting Arab propaganda into our schools with our own hands."

Rightist strategic affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tamir's decision to approve the textbook reflected "the masochism and defeatism of the Israeli left."

Zevulun Orlev, another hardline lawmaker, said Tamir's decision was "anti-Zionist" and was "giving the Arabs the legitimacy not to recognize the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people... The day the education minister made the decision is the Nakba Day of the Israeli education system."

Orlev warned that the decision could spark a revolt by Israel's 1.2 million Arab citizens. "We lend legitimacy to Arabs seeing our independence as their disaster," he insisted. "How then can we teach the same pupil to be a loyal citizen."

With the Mideast conflict still unresolved, many Israeli Jews fear that allowing the use of words derived from the Palestinian national narrative in state textbooks will undermine their own narrative about the founding of the state. But Tamir argues that the narratives of both sides have to be respected if a solution to the conflict between the two peoples is ever to be found.

Too many Israelis, she said, defending her decision, "have shut our eyes for too many years to the issue. We have a complex history of two peoples engaged in a struggle and it's time to give the story of this struggle its proper treatment."

The education minister said she believed the text book would "generate debate in the schools and will only contribute to Israeli children's learning about the need to live with one another. The Arab public deserves having us give expression to its feelings as well.

"It shouldn't be that an Arab child, a citizen of Israel, won't know about and won't have the ability to discuss the Arab narrative as well."

An education ministry official, Dalia Fenig, also defended the move, saying it was "a mistaken pedagogic approach to teach Arab students that everyone took to the streets in joy when the State of Israel was established. You have to give expression to the feelings of the other side as well, so it will be able to become connected to the Jewish narrative and to historical facts -- including those that mention that the Arabs did not agree to a division of the land. These are things that used to be swept under the rug in the Arab sector. This is a brave act that needed to be done."

While Arabs are full citizens of Israel and have voting rights -- they do not, however, serve in the military -- Jews and Arabs largely attend different state-run Hebrew and Arabic-language schools, which is a reflection of the fact that they live mainly in separate towns and neighborhoods.

Until now, the dominant narrative about the founding of the state that Arab students have learned is the Jewish one -- that the Jews accepted the United Nations partition plan for Palestine in 1947, but that with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 the armies from the surrounding Arab states launched an all-out assault aimed at wiping out the nascent Jewish entity. The textbook to be used by Jewish third-graders does not include the Palestinian version of how events unfolded in 1948.

Arab lawmakers were not overly-ecstatic in their reaction to the news about the approval of the new textbook. While welcoming Tamir's decision, they played down its significance.

One lawmaker, Jamal Zahalka, the chairman of the Balad party, said that while the move was a positive one, if fell far short of his party's demand for full cultural autonomy for Israel's Arab citizens. This, he said, would give them the power to set their own educational curriculum.

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Albion Monitor   July 30, 2007   (

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