7 Oct 2010

Conflict over texts on Middle East

1:02 pm on 7 October 2010

A school in Israel is in trouble with the education authorities for daring to teach its students both the Israeli and the Palestinian view of the conflict between them.

The ABC reports Israeli textbooks routinely omit the Palestinian interpretation of key historical events.

A school principal has been summoned before the Education Ministry to explain why one of his teachers used a textbook that gives both sides of the story.

The ABC reports the events of the 1948 war are still bitterly disputed. For Israeli Jews it was the nation's proudest moment - the declaration of independence after the 1948 war.

After the declaration of independence, the Jewish state included the ports of Haifa and Tel Aviv and parts of the Negev Valley.

But Palestinians and Israeli Arabs will always call it the Nakba or "catastrophe" - the day when Israel stole their land and hundreds of thousands of Arabs became refugees.

In recent years, different Israeli authorities have tried to silence the Palestinian narrative altogether.

The Israeli Knesset, for example, is still debating legislation that would ban Israeli Arab towns from marking independence day with mourning ceremonies.

Last year, the education ministry ordered references to the Nakba be removed from a primary school textbook for Arab students.

Or Kashti, education correspondent for the Ha'aretz newspaper, says the consensus in Israel is that "we should not tolerate anything remotely speaking of the Palestinians".

"These issues are hardly, if ever, been taught or mentioned in Israeli text books," Mr Kashti said.

"The Zionist Israeli point of view is very hegemonic in the text books."

The ABC reports Israeli school books typically focus on the heroism of Israeli forces and at best gloss over the issue of Palestinian dispossession, occupation or refugees.

The education ministry says schools are allowed to teach only from approved texts and the book at the heart of this controversy was not approved.

Palestinian view

Palestinian academic Hanan Ashrawi says Israel has failed to come to terms with its own history.

"All these things are pointing to a very sinister trend in Israel that is not doing the Israeli public any service at all," he said.

"Hiding the truth for a while may succeed, but you will pay the price for it, and to use a cliche, the truth will out eventually anyway."

The ABC also reports that many Israelis argue that Palestinian schools are just as guilty of presenting a one-sided history.

A media monitoring organisation in Jerusalem says Palestinian books wrongly teach children that all of Israel is occupied territory and continue to demonise Jews as monsters.