Sha’ar Hanegev High School, Limor Edrey
School principal Aharon Rothstein at Sha’ar Hanegev High School. Photo by Limor Edrey
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Students taking advanced history classes at a high school near Sderot are fighting to use a textbook that presents Israeli and Palestinian narratives side by side.

The students at Sha'ar Hanegev High School are demanding to meet with the head of the Education Ministry's pedagogical secretariat, Zvi Zameret, who banned the school from using the book. They want to ask Zameret why a book that presents history from the Palestinians' perspective should be kept out of high schools.

Last week Zameret and a senior colleague from the Education Ministry conducted a "clarification meeting" with the high school's principal, Aharon Rothstein, to find out why he authorized the use of "Learning Each Other's Historical Narrative."

The ministry says this meeting was "cordial," but sources close to this affair report otherwise, saying that the atmosphere of the discussion, along with the decisions reached, were "difficult and very troubling."

During the meeting, Zameret reaffirmed that he was banning the book because the ministry never approved it.

Senior Eden Makluf says the students want to "hear personally an explanation as to why we cannot use this book. We cannot understand the education ministry's deep fear of this book, which presents two positions on the dispute, Israeli and Palestinian," he said. "The ministry's claim that it has not given authorization is self-serving: It doesn't have any intention to provide such authorization, and there isn't any other book that provides the Palestinian version."

Makluf added, "The Education Ministry is showing cowardice. It does not want to change anything in history studies, lest, heaven forbid, we learn about values it opposes."

"The Education Ministry apparently believes that if we learn the Palestinian narrative, we will think that the Palestinians are right," added Liel Sklozov, another student in the class. "That demeans our intelligence, and it's a little insulting to say we will believe anything we read. The same thing could be said about using Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' in history lessons. It doesn't work that way."

'We're not little children'

Makluf added: "We are not little children, and the time has come for the Education Ministry to show some respect for our intelligence. I want to know what the other side is thinking and doing, for better or worse."

Other students in the class called the ban "irritating and disappointing." The ministry, they explain, mistakenly considers the book anti-Zionist; the use of the controversial book at the high school last year actually reinforced their Zionism, they say.

Last year, the school used the text in advanced history classes for 15 students. The text and its accompanying study program were not used as substitutes for regular history lessons.

The textbook was written by professors Dan Bar-On, from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Sami Adwan, from Bethlehem University, as well as Israeli and Palestinian high school history teachers. The Israeli and Palestinian narratives appear on each side, separated by blank lines down the center, where students are invited to write their own opinions.

Following a Haaretz article about the project, the ministry's pedagogical secretariat director, Zvi Zameret, banned the text and called the clarification meeting. Such a meeting with a school principal, over the use of an unauthorized textbook, is considered unusual.

This week, the book will be addressed at a workshop in Sweden. The workshop was planned as part of a collaborative project involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Sweden.

Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that the Palestinian Authority education ministry approved the project, which was slated for implementation in two schools in Jericho. But after the report, Palestinian representatives came under pressure, and the Palestinian Authority decided not to participate.

Ultimately, only Israeli delegates went to Sweden - Tel Aviv University's Eyal Navel, and Michal Wasser, the Sha'ar Hanegev teacher who used the book in her class.

The Education Ministry responded that its policy is to "monitor the use of authorized textbooks, since non-authorized books cannot be used. The Sha'ar Hanegev principal has accepted the ministry's position, and no new class will use this book."

Principal Rothstein said he is not giving interviews as part of his agreement with the ministry, but confirmed that the ministry banned the book and that he accepts the decision.