Catastrophe? Israel bans 'nakba' from Arab textbook.
The move to prevent Israeli Arab students from being taught that the creation of Israel was a 'catastrophe' for Palestinians reverses a 2007 decision.
In the lexicon of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few terms elicit as much energy as the word nakba – Arabic for "the catastrophe," the term Palestinians use to describe the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.Skip to next paragraph
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This week, the term became even more of a lightning rod.
Amid a rising nationalistic tide in Israel's government, Education Minister Gideon Saar moved to expunge the word from school textbooks, reversing a 2007 decision.
"No other country in the world, in its official curriculum, would treat the fact of its founding as a catastrophe," Mr. Saar told Israel's parliament on Wednesday. "There is a difference between referring to specific tragedies that take place in a war – either against the Jewish or Arab population – as catastrophes, and referring to the creation of the state as a catastrophe."
Since coming to power in February elections, several right-wing parties in the coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been lobbying for a no-tolerance policy toward Israeli Arabs identifying with Palestinian culture. A hallmark of that cultural identification is the marking of the nakba.
Each May, Israel celebrates its reemergence as an independent political identity after nearly 2,000 years of Jewish dispersion. At the same time, Palestinians solemnly mark the loss of their homeland as they knew it, and the beginning of dispossession and occupation.
Some peace proponents believe that the only way to move toward reconciliation is to accept and recognize the narrative of the other, and to that end, more progressive segments of the Israeli educational establishment support the inclusion of the word nakba in history books. One of them is former education minister Yuli Edelstein, who in 2007 authorized the publication of a sixth-grade history textbook for Arab students with the word nakba in it. Israel's population is 20 percent Arab, and pupils primarily attend state-run schools in Arabic.
'Neoconservatism trying to close people's minds'
Saar's move comes on the heels of an attempt by the controversial Israel Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) Party, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to force Israeli-Arabs to sign a loyalty oath as a requirement for maintaining citizenship. The party last month introduced a Knesset bill making it illegal for groups to hold public ceremonies to mark the nakba. But when the legality of such a move was called into question, the party modified the bill, which now would prohibit state funding for any organization that marks the nakba with mourning rituals. The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the measure on Sunday, but it would still have to pass two more readings to become law.