Zochrot founder Eitan Bronstein.
Zochrot founder Eitan Bronstein. Photo by Nir Keidar
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When Shira (not her real name ), a history teacher at a junior high school in the center of the country, mentioned "nakba" in a class three years ago, none of her students had any idea what it referred to.

Today, she says, the word just surfaces naturally among the students. They know about it and talk about it. According to her, the reason is clear - Amendment 40 to the Budget Foundations Law, more commonly known as the "Nakba Law."

Shira is one of around 100 teachers and educators who teach the Nakba ("catastrophe" - the Palestinians' term for the loss of their land to Israel in 1948 ) to their students with the help of a unique study kit called "How do you say Nakba in Hebrew?"

The kit was developed by Zochrot, a small Tel Aviv-based organization seeking to raise public awareness of the Palestinian Nakba, especially among Jews in Israel.

Zochrot is distributing the kit to teachers at a time when the Nakba is recurring in headlines as a subject that is not to be touched - especially not in schools. But over the last two years Zochrot has distributed 300 copies of the study kit.

It covers pre- and post-1948 Palestinian settlements; Israeli and Palestinian recollections of the conquest and destruction of villages; and the refugees' flight and their expulsion. The kit did not receive the ministry's approval and most of the teachers using it conceal their source.

Eitan Bronstein, the founder of Zochrot, stresses that the kit's goal is not to present the Palestinian narrative. "For me, the Nakba is part of our history," he says, "just as it is part of Palestinian history."

'Dafna,' a history and citizenship teacher in northern Israel, uses a section of the kit that presents three competing theories on events in the village of Ein Azael (along the eastern slopes of the Carmel ).

Students are asked to present the different versions of events and discuss them.

In the Palestinian narrative, the emphasis is on "Zionist gangs" that bombed the triangle of villages Aghzam, Jaba and Ein Azael, in violation of the cease-fire. On the other side, there is a passage from the book "The War of Independence," printed by the IDF, whereby the villages were attacked after their residents fired on the Tel Aviv-Haifa road, thereby effectively blocking it.

"This opened up our eyes, because the contradictions between the different versions were really crazy. Nowhere [before] did I hear the Palestinian narrative," says Michal, an 11th-grade student in Dafna's class. She adds: "It was very interesting to see not just the Israel side, and to go beyond the point of view that we learn in Israel - that we are heroes and they are always trying to oppress us."

Both Dafna and Shira were concerned about being interviewed using their full names, for fear of sanctions from the Education Ministry. The ministry said: "Teachers are not permitted to teach content, in any subject, that was not approved by the relevant professionals at the Education Ministry."