- Published on Wednesday, 23 May 2012 14:01
PNN reporter Jonny Rafferty discusses the one-sided nature of the way history is taught in Israel:
Israel is a country that has packed an awful lot of history into the 64 years of its existence – not to mention events that took place before 1948 that have shaped modern Israel. Indeed, if the official narrative of Israeli history is to be believed, then the history of Israel starts with Abraham.
History in Israel is taught and learnt, but not debated. From the writing of the very first Israeli history textbook, politicians have used the state education system to promote Zionist political objectives and instil a love of the Jewish state into its young citizens.
Although for many people the presentation of biblical stories as facts is worrying enough, the main problem with history lessons in Israel is that the Palestinian side to the story is completely neglected. Most students leave school and continue through life unaware that the Palestinians even have a case.
Up until the 70's the Israeli curriculum read like a Zionist manifesto and although improvements have been made, a right wing backlash starting in the early 00's means that today's curriculum makes no mention of the history and culture of the Palestinian people. Palestinians are presented only as passers-by and strangers in a land that has always belonged to the Jewish people.
It is not unknown that that is the Zionist view of Palestinians. But that viewpoint should not be taught as fact without any questioning of the Zionist narrative. If the Zionists are confident that their version of history is the truth, then teaching the arguments against their narrative would not damage students' Zionist beliefs.
All nations have a historical narrative that defines them as a nation. However, most mature nations accept that their national narrative does not reflect the whole story and teach students to question the official account – both from a factual and ethical stance – confident that such questioning does not affect either the nation's genuine achievements or its legitimacy.
For example, Americans tend to accept that their country wasn't an unpopulated land when Europeans arrived and the young nation's development and population growth was not fair on the country's native inhabitants.
Israel can genuinely be compared to a country like North Korea in the way that the official version of history is often altered from what actually happened and then taught in schools. Just like North Korea teaches its children about its adversaries' crimes without mentioning its own. Israeli textbooks list events that they present as a long history of Arab anti-Semitism without even mentioning acts of Zionist terrorism such as the King David Hotel bombing.
Of course the difference between Israel and North Korea in this regard is that I can buy books that question the official version of events in Jerusalem, while I cannot in Pyongyang; I can debate the veracity of the Zionist account publically without risk of being sent to a labour camp.
Zionists would no doubt point to what Palestinian children are taught at school and declare it as being one-sided, anti-Semitic and hateful towards Israel. An infamous report from the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) declared Palestinian textbooks to be teaching anti-Israeli messages.
It is true that some textbooks issued to Palestinian children do say some indefensible remarks concerning Jews. However, up until recently Palestinian children used old textbooks printed in Egypt and Jordan. The newer Palestinian textbooks contain far fewer negative stereotypes than the old Egyptian and Jordanian books, which were mostly printed at a time when Israeli textbooks contained virtually nothing else but Zionist propaganda and anti-Arab stereotypes.
The main problem with the CMIP report is that it does not subject Israeli and Palestinian textbooks to the same standard of criticism. Anything controversial in an Israeli textbook is explained and justified while similar incidents in Palestinian textbooks are taken at face value without explanation. For example an illustration of a Muslim and a Christian child shaking hands is said to be deliberately anti-Semitic for excluding a Jewish child. But that explanation fails to take account of the purpose of the illustration, which is to show that Palestinians are both Muslim and Christian.
However, my point is not to debate the merits or Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. Rather I wish to say that if Israel is truly secure in its legitimacy and the truth of its historical narrative it should teach its students the other side of the argument and allow them to freely debate the merits of both sides.
Allowing generations of Israeli students to leave school with no real idea about Palestinian history and grievances cannot bode well for any chance of peace. Most Israelis are convinced that Arabs hate them, but do not really know the real reasons why. Teaching the Palestinian side to Israeli history will allow students to come to informed opinions on their history, which can only be a good thing.