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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.

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"It's simple political populism and it won't change anything: People in the Arab sector in Israel will continue to mark the nakba and talk about the nakba," says Gershom Baskin, the co-CEO of IPRCI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

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"This is a neoconservatism that tries to close people's minds, and it just boomerangs," he says. "It's a sign of the whole anti-Arab, racist trend in the Knesset."

Similar debates in Japan, Korea, Russia

How to teach a disputed history to schoolchildren is a recurring theme around the globe. It has come up in recent years in Japan and in Korea, with critics protesting attempts to whitewash violent chapters of the past or to present attractive portraits of dictators. In Russia, former President Vladimir Putin's administration worked to put a more positive spin on the country's 20th-century history, promoting a textbook which called Josef Stalin the USSR's "most successful" leader and an "effective manager."

But the realities of the present-day conflict mean that the issues here are not just a matter to be dissected by history teachers. Israeli officials have often complained that Palestinian schools teach hatred of Israel, and do not prime children for a future of peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state. But the Israeli school system's own critics, such as Dr. Baskin, point out that maps used in Israeli schools do not include the Green Line – separating Israel from the West Bank – nor do textbooks include a section on the past 15 years of history, describing the decision to sign the 1993 Oslo Accords which declared Israeli and Palestinian intentions to reach a two-state solution.

Undermining Arab cultural autonomy?

Adalah, the Legal Center of Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has been closely following what it sees as an upsurge in efforts by ultranationalist Israelis to roll back Arab cultural autonomy and rein in the freedom of Israeli-Arabs to identify as Palestinian.

"We see Saar's decision as a very severe interference in the curriculum that is being taught in the Arab schools. And these schools are places where you don't really learn about Palestinian history and culture anyway, because they're under such strict supervision by the Israeli government," says Sawsan Zaher, an Adalah attorney who deals with educational and cultural issues.

"The minister, and others like him, want to try to erase our identity as Palestinians, and we think this is one part of the chain of oppression of the state is exercising toward the school system."

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