Israel continues its drive to erase history - removes references to 'Nakba'

With Israel’s government asserting an increasingly right wing political agenda since its February elections, the Israeli Knesset has been making moves to expunge all references to the Palestinian Nakba – or “catastrophe” – the event by which over 700,000 Palestinians were exiled, displaced or killed during the creation of the state of Israel (1948). The latest move for the increasingly nationalist Israeli government is expunging the word “Nakba” from Israel’s school textbooks.
Palestine Nakba

BEIRUT, July 27, 2009 (MENASSAT) – Israeli Education Minister Gideon Star reversed a 2007 decision to allow the word “Nakba” to be included in Israeli state-school textbooks.

He told the Israeli Knesset last week, "The education system is not supposed to contribute to processes of delegitimizing the state, which heighten the processes of extremism in the Arab sector. In particular, there are no reasons to legitimize this concept for teaching eight-year olds."

The move was plainly seen as a way to further isolate the more than 1.2 million Arabs holding Israeli citizenship in pre-1948 territories.

Ahmed Tibi, a member of the Arab party Ta’al and a deputy speaker of the Knesset, said Palestinians consider the 1948 creation of the Israeli state a catastrophe by “any measure.”

“Many families were crushed, were forced to leave their homes, had their houses demolished and many thousands of people were killed,” Tibi said.

According the Australian daily The Age, Palestinian Knesset member Afu Aghbaria, of the left-wing Hadash party said, "These attempts (to remove the Nakba from teaching) attest to the behavior patterns of criminals, who try to destroy evidence and erase all memory of the crimes." 

Racist campaign continues

The Israeli Transport Authority’s Minister Yisrael Katz began a directed effort this month to Hebraize the road signs from their Arab equivalents so that all of the historical Arab names for cities and towns would now be Hebrew. 

It follows the recent trends of the Netanyahu coalition government and his right-wing foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist political party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our home) that has questioned the loyalty of the Arabs living in the '48 territories.

Indeed, earlier this year, Lieberman tried to pass three separate bills that were all tied into this concept. As MENASSAT had earlier reported, one bill prohibited any types of mourning for the creation of Israel (the Nakba), another bill was designed to prohibit citizens from denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and the third required Israeli citizens “to sign oaths of loyalty to the state, its flag and national anthem, and to perform military or civil service.”

Although the loyalty law was rejected and the Nakba Law has been watered down, the new law prohibits any government funds from being used for nearly any form of public recognition of the Nakba.

Tibi wrote in the UK-based Asharq Alawsat on July 29, “The battle is not over some road signs or over the status of the Arabic language or over the school curricula for grade three or four; it is a battle over raising awareness and historical accounts.”

He continued, “The battle is not over a decision to change signs related to arts or technology; the battle is over an attempt to “Zionize” the account and to deny the Arab essence of the towns. The victims, or rather the symbols of this battle are the sons of the growing generation who are being brought up on Natzrat not An Nasira [Nazareth], Yerushalim not Al Quds [Jerusalem], Gush Khalav not Al Jish [Jish], Kom Miut not Nakba. They are being raised on the Zionist version of the story and not the real one.”

Israeli voices have their say

In a July 23 Ynet opinion piece on the issue of the expunging of Nakba from Israeli textbooks, famed Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk writes, “In the fortified building that is Israel’s Knesset, officials are redrafting history, as well as the future. The future we looked forward to once upon a time, when the hill was still empty. Via the Nakba Law and the education minister’s plan to remove the term from the curriculum, it appears that the future will be all about erasing everything that exists.”

Kaniuk compares the Nakba textbook move to similar moves made by some to teach German history without the Holocaust. “Our education minister did not invent this idea. Stalin made sure to write a new Russian history, yet the past reclaimed it. A narrative that turns into a myth constitutes more history than any education minister can create; even if Arab children here learn Bialik’s songs and are forced to hoist Israel’s flag over their homes every morning and sing our national anthem every evening, at night, in hiding, they will read Arabic poetry. Because Arabic poetry is them. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

There has been vocal opposition from within Israel’s government concerning the anti-Nakba attempts by Yisrael Beineinu, namely from ministers Michael Eitan (Likud) and Isaac Herzog (Labor), despite repeated calls from those instigating the anti-Nakba legislation that the laws are not intended “to harm the right of expression of Israel’s Arabs.”

National anthem and lesser education

Adding insult to injury, some 8,000 schools are being sent “national anthem kits” in time for the start of the new academic year in September – these kits which contain lyrics for the anthem – “Ha-Tikva” (The Hope) – are also being distributed to the separate Arab educational schools, drawing the swift condemnation of Arab-Israeli’s.

The anthem – based on a 120-year old poem – has by most accounts been a longstanding point of dispute between Israel’s Arab and Jewish populations because of what Israeli-Arabs perceive as “heavily Zionist lyrics.”

Prominent Arabs like Ghaleb Majadele have long refused to sing the anthem in public. Majadele, a Labor party member and the first Arab-Israeli to be appointed to the Israel cabinet (2007), told Israeli radio, “Where is it written that a person appointed to be a cabinet minister in Israel must stop being an Arab, and turn into a member of a different religion and ethnicity?”

Meanwhile, Israel’s Arab minority political body, the Higher Follow-Up Committee, has staunchly opposed all forms of anti-Nakba legislation. These initiatives, according the HFUC, would only drive a deeper wedge of alienation between Arab teachers and students.

An Israeli educational ministry report confirmed recently that Arab-Israeli students are far less successful at matriculation exams  – with a more than 18 percent drop from 51 percent matriculation in 2006 to 32 percent in 2008.

The Abu-Dhabi based paper The National reported Disarat, a Nazareth-based organization monitoring education issues, blamed the poor results on growing cultural bias in the Israeli education system as well as severe budgetary discrimination.

According to the organization’s head Yousef Jabareen, “Increasing weight placed on Jewish heritage and Judaism lessons put Arab pupils at a severe disadvantage, and that further alienation was caused by the state’s refusal to allow the Arab education system any autonomy in selecting its own curriculum.”

What is clear in this entire Nakba controversy is that it is not one that is going away soon as it lies at the heart of the conflict between the Zionist settlers that founded the Israeli state and the Palestinians, both displaced and still living in the pre-1948 territories.

For the record, Yuli Edelstein, former Israeli education minister, authorized the publication of the word Nakba in Israeli textbooks in 2007, signifying the shift in attitudes over the last two years in what is an increasingly intractable conflict.