Israeli principal summoned over history textbook that adds Palestinian view
Israel's Education Ministry has called in the principal of Shaar Hanegev high school, which is using a banned textbook that explains both narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s Education Ministry is locked in a row with a liberal high school over its use of a history textbook that gives both the Israeli and Palestinian versions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The ministry has summoned the principal of Shaar Hanegev high school in southern Israel for “consultations” over the decision to continue using the textbook, which has been banned from the national school curriculum.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Critics denounced the move as a regressive step by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-leaning government to assert the Israeli narrative over the Palestinian one.
The row drives at the heart of Israeli identity, shaped by tales of Jewish heroism in the War of Independence that gloss over the fate of the Palestinians. The Israeli narrative asserts that Palestinians left their homes in what is now Israel of their own volition. The Palestinians contend that they were driven out, and they refer to the creation of Israel as the nakba, or the catastrophe.
“We have a problem with the Palestinian nakba,” says Tom Segev, a prominent Israeli historian. “Instead of just teaching it and telling kids what happened, we keep trying to ignore it, distort it. It reflects our guilt. We don’t know how to deal with it.”
Under current education minister Gideon Saar, Israel has also struck the word nakba from a textbook for Israeli Arab children, arguing that the government should not promote a term that questions the legitimacy of the state.
Textbook prompts students to write their own conclusions
The textbook being used at Shaar Hanegev, aimed at 11th graders, is the product of a decade-long collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian teachers. Each page is split into three columns, with the Israeli narrative down one side, and the Palestinian down the other, with an empty column in the middle for students to write their own conclusions.
It is being used as part of a wider experimental history course aimed at tackling, among other things, the events surrounding what Israel calls its War of Independence, the 1948-49 conflict that prompted hundreds of thousands Palestinians to leave their homes.
The ministry reportedly instructed the school in early September to stop teaching with the book because it was not approved. The principal was subsequently called in, but he is not expected to meet with officials until after the 10-day Sukkot holiday is over, a ministry spokeswoman said. She added that parts of the school’s history program were “problematic,” but would not elaborate further.
“This was a knee-jerk response, almost Pavlovian, to any attempt by the educational system to tackle the Palestinian side,” one teacher at the school said, in comments quoted by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. “This is a response that attests primarily to narrow-mindedness and an unwillingness to explore new modes of thinking.”