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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Teaching the "Naqba" to Israeli Arabs - and Jews

YNet reports:
The Education Ministry has authorized Arab schools to use a history book featuring the establishing of the State of Israel as a disastrous to the Palestinians, Israel radio published Sunday.

The third-grade book, Living together in Israel, states that some Arab residents were driven out of their homes and became refugees and that Israel confiscated many of their lands.

The book's authors made it a point to state that it was the Arabs that refused the United Nations offer to divide the land between the Palestinian and the Jews (UN resolution 181), while the Jews accepted it.

"When the war ended, the Jews prevailed and Israel and its neighbors signed a truce… the Arabs call the war the 'Nakba', meaning the war of disaster and destruction. The Jews call it the War of Independence."
...
Tamir's decision sparked harsh criticism: National Religious Party Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to fire Tamir immediately saying her decision was "anti-Zionist and goes against the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state."

Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman slammed Tamir's decision as well "Tamir is like Avraham Burg. She expresses not only the post-Zionist spirit but also political masochism. The political left is constantly looking for ways to justify the other side, when we have nothing to apologize for."

Both sides are wrong.

It is impossible to be completely objective when writing anything, and schoolbooks are no exception. The overriding concern when writing schoolbooks must be the truth, an important secondary concern must be that the children are being taught to be good citizens of the nation that they belong to.

As my continuing Palestinian Arab history series shows, 1948 was a catastrophe for most Arabs in Palestine. But the reason that it was so disastrous for them was not because the Jews managed to avoid being pushed into the sea as the combined Arab world so fervently desired. The reason it was a Naqba was because the Arabs of Palestine were treated like dirt by their own leaders and by the leaders of the Arab world. They were used as pawns by Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem, for his own aggrandizement and anti-semitic aims; they were used as pawns by the Arab League, they were used as pawns by the Arab nations who committed them to refugee camps, and (as we will see as the series continues, iy"h) they were and are continuing to be used by the UNRWA for its own self-preservation. (From the pan-Arab perspective, 1948 was also a tragedy - because weak dhimmi Jews winning a war against the proud Arab nation was the ultimate disgrace. Histories must emphasize the honor/shame society of Arabs as well in explaining why this was a "naqba.")

No one should discount the fact that Israel did end up destroying many Arab villages after 1948 but at the same time no one should disregard that the reasons that most of the Arabs fled were more due to fear of fighting in general and the conviction that other Arab nations would take care of them rather than from any sort of Zionist policy of expulsion. Yes, most Arabs ended up leaving their homes - that should not be denied - but the context can and must be taught. Israel has little to be ashamed of in the 1948 war, as the infant Zionist state had to make decisions to ensure its survival first. The proven examples of how Zionists tried to stop Arabs from leaving Haifa , how outside Arab armies forced the Arab residents to leave Tiberias, how the residents of Abu Ghosh aimed at peaceful relations with the Jews, - all these need to be taught, just as Deir Yassin must be taught in the proper context for the right age groups.

Classic Zionist histories have ignored some events that muddy the waters in the Paul Newman/"Exodus"-style histories. "Post-Zionist" histories have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction, blaming the Jews for events that overtook them and for decisions that had to be made quickly in the context of their very survival (as well as looking at 1948 through the lens of 21st century multiculturalism.) The truth must be the main concern when writing textbooks, and both sides have not spent nearly enough effort describing what the Arabs of 1948 knew on their own - the major reason for Palestinian Arab suffering is their treatment by their Arab "brethren" and self-anointed "leaders," and to a large extent this remains true today.

There is no reason why the true story of 1948 cannot be taught, warts and all, to Israeli Arabs and to Israeli Jews. In the end, when one looks at the facts, Israel's War of Independence is nothing to be ashamed of.