Israel Israeli Arabs Middle East peace process Palestinians

Give Israel’s Education Ministry credit: new text acknowledges Palestinian narrative

Yuli Tamir, Israel’s Education Minister, gets it. She and her staff have taken a tiny step towards a goal that has never been a priority for either Israel or the Palestinian Authority/PLO: acknowledging that there are two very different narratives at work here, two different ways of looking at the same set of events. Those narratives can’t be reconciled. But right now, they aren’t even understood. Except in isolated dialogue groups and a few private educational initiatives, the knowledge that decent, reasonable people on both sides accept different versions of the narrative is not disseminated. Neither is the fact that it is possible to acknowledge and appreciate at least part of the “other side’s” narrative.

So give some Israeli officials credit for trying to do something about this problem by introducing a textbook that (how shocking! how innovative!) acknowledges that Palestinians have suffered as a result of Israel’s creation. But don’t get too excited. Alas, this is being done in a textbook only for Israeli Arab children. Will it be the start of something more ambitious? Will Tamir get away with even this tiny step? Here’s the AP story:

For first time, an Israeli textbook offers Palestinian narrative of the country’s creation
The Associated Press; July 22, 2007

JERUSALEM: A new third grade textbook for Israeli Arab students acknowledges that Israel’s creation was a tragedy for Palestinians, Israeli officials said Sunday — a rare statement that remains explosive six decades after the country was founded.

The books issued by Israel’s Education Ministry for the upcoming school year describe the events of 1948 and 1949, when Israel’s creation drew an invasion by Arab armies, resulting in fierce fighting and the displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians.

The new textbooks give the Jewish narrative of the war, pointing out the Jews’ historical connection to the Holy Land and their need for a state because of persecution in Europe, said Dalia Fenig, an Education Ministry inspector. But they also offer the Arab version of the war for the first time, she said, explaining why its results were tragic for Palestinians and referring to the Arab defeat as “al-Naqba,” Arabic for catastrophe.

“The new approach says, why should you hide anything? That won’t make it disappear, and … the issues can be debated,” Fenig said.

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