According to the Associate Press, found in the Baltimore Sun “The Israeli government will remove references to what Palestinians call the ‘catastrophe’ of Israel's creation from textbooks for Arab schoolchildren.”
In Israel, for those who don’t know, there are three publicly financed school systems; Jewish-secular, Orthodox Jewish and Arab. If this reminds you of America before Brown versus Board of Education, I am not surprised. Yet, on the other hand, I think the intention of this system is not segregation but respect for the plurality of ways of living in Israel. I am a Zionist and I am proud of this attempt, but separate has not been equal, and Israel should do more to level the educational playing field when it comes to funding.
The fact that Israel included the reference to a catastrophe, al naqba, for the Palestinians experience of Jewish independence in the state is quite remarkable, but it is also very recent and short lived. As Minister of Education under the centrist Kadima government, Princeton trained political philosopher and Labor party Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir inserted the naqba reference in 2007. With the fall of Kadima and the rise of the Likud led, right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the progressive leadership of Ms. Tamir has also died. Long live progressive education.
The Associated Press reported Education Minister Gideon Saar as saying, "No other country in the world, in its official curriculum, would treat the fact of its founding as a catastrophe." While Israeli Arab lawmaker Hana Sweid responded, "It's a major attack on the identity of the Palestinian Arab citizens of the state of Israel, on their memories and their adherence to their identity,"
In the first pages of Jonathan Kozol’s On Being a Teacher, you can read the following quote from Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.
Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this:
You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best that we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of a particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetrating system… Those that stay must remember, always and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.
As I read these words, I wonder what the, “narrow and particular needs” of Israeli society could be that would cause them to want to change another people’s narrative. I am reminded of the vicious words of the late Prime Minister Golda Meir when she proclaimed, “There are no Palestinian people.” And I am reminded of our pain as we recall the vicious lies and propaganda spread against us by over the years by our detractors.
What is so wrong with two narratives coexisting side by side? Does their naqba lessen the joy I feel for my Jewish independence? Should it?
I am proud to be a Jew and proud of the State of Israel, and still I can look at myself in the mirror and see my faults and blemishes without rushing out to buy another mirror or put blinders on my eyes. Our independence had an effect on the world, just as it had an effect on us. That is basic physics. All the curricula in the world cannot change the past. As Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit likes to say, we cannot revivify the past, all we are able to do is retell it.
Personally, as an Israeli and as a Jew, I was much more proud when my country and my Jewish homeland let all its citizens tell their narrative as they saw it.