"About two weeks ago, from the entry gate to the Ottoman fortress in Acre that for many years had served as a central prison with a gallows room, there emerged a procession of several dozen Israeli Arabs, who marched to the old Muslim cemetery outside the eastern wall of the city.
"At the cemetery, the participants laid wreaths on the graves of three Arabs who were executed and buried there on June 30, 1930. They wanted to mark the 75th anniversary of the death of the three men: Mohammed Jamjum and `Atta al Zir from Hebron, and Fuad Hijazi from Safed. The British authorities executed the three, who were convicted of murdering Jews in Hebron and Safed in the 1929 disturbances.
"In the Palestinian national chronicles, the three are considered heroes. Of Mohammed Jamjum it has often been said in Palestinian publications that he was "the first of the martyrs of the national movement."
The procession was organized by the Tawfik Zayyad Institution for National Culture and Creativity, and among its participants were Hadash Knesset members Mohammed Barakeh and Issam Makhoul. (Author and poet Tawfik Zayyad was a member of the 8th to 13th Knessets on behalf of the New Communist List, later Hadash, and was also the mayor of Nazareth).
The procession did not go by quietly. A group of Jewish youngsters, most of them yeshiva students, shouted catcalls at the marchers. The spokesman of the Jewish settlers in Hebron expressed regret that the Acre police had allowed the procession to be held in memory of the three, saying that they "were not freedom-fighters but rather murderers who took part in the horrible massacre of 1929."
The event, which was barely covered by the media, can serve as a good example of a study that is now being done by two researchers, an Israeli and a Palestinian: Professor Dan Bar-On, head of the behavioral sciences department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Professor Sami Adwan, a lecturer in education at Bethlehem University. The title of their research is "Learning the Historical Narrative of the Other," and they have already jointly issued a first publication - a study workbook that is distributed in Arabic and Hebrew, in which they describe how the Jews and the Palestinians see major events in the history of the land, like the Balfour Declaration or the war in 1948. Historical consultants for the workbook were Eyal Naveh on the Israeli side and Adnan Masalha on the Palestinian side.
The Palestinian narrative, as it appears there, begins with a description of the first plan for colonialist-Jewish cooperation even before the Zionist movement arose. This was Napoleon Bonaparte's plan to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, which was published in April, 1799.
"Napoleon promised the Jews that he would build the Temple in return for help," says the Palestinian narrative.
The Israeli version of Napoleon does not appear at all in the workbook. But a short search finds many Israeli sources that mention Napoleon in this context, although in quite a reserved way. The Hebrew Encyclopedia, for example, says that when Napoleon was in the Land of Israel in May, 1799, "an item appeared in a government newspaper in Paris reporting that Napoleon had issued a declaration (the truth of which is in doubt) promising the Jews a return to their land." And in the Carta Historical Atlas of the History of the Land of Israel, it says that Napoleon conducted a propaganda campaign among the Jews "and the propaganda was exaggerated in the international press to the point of a declaration of the establishment of a Jewish state and the building of Jerusalem."
In other words, while the Israeli narrative that appears in the workbook by Bar-On and Adwan ignores Napoleon's plan, and Israeli publications see it as exaggerated propaganda, according to the Palestinians, this was an important event, with which the story of the struggle in the land should begin. For them this is the first sign of colonialist-Jewish cooperation, which culminated in the destruction of Arab Palestine.
Ostensibly, there are things that are known and clear. In the context of the national struggle and the violent conflict, it is only natural that each of the sides will tell a different story, each of which is sometimes a mirror image of the other. What for Israel was a victory, was a defeat for the Palestinians. Someone who is considered by the Palestinians to be a hero, is seen by Israelis as a murderer. What the Israelis perceive as liberation is considered occupation by the Palestinians.
The two sides use different names for the same events. The 1929 disturbances in the Palestinian narrative are a revolt, or intifada, against the British. The 1929 disturbances are "the Buraq revolution," al-Buraq being the Arabic name for the Western Wall. According to the Palestinian narrative, the reason for the outbreak of the disturbances was provocations by Jews in the al-Buraq plaza.
Countering the story of the slaughter in Hebron in 1929, the Palestinians tell about the Jewish policeman Hinkis: In their version, at that time Hinkis entered an Arab home in Jaffa and shot and killed an entire family. In the Israeli account, the policeman appears as a hero who eliminated a cell of rioters. He was tried in 1930 by the British and sentenced to death but his punishment was mitigated and ultimately, in 1939, he was granted amnesty and greeted with great honor in the Yishuv [the pre-state Jewish community].
In the Palestinian narrative Moses Montefiore is seen as someone who "since 1845 had articulated the idea that it is possible to find room for Jewish immigrants in the land of Israel by expelling the Arab inhabitants to Asia Minor" (Turkey). That is, the Palestinian narrative sees Montefiore as a pioneer of the idea of transfer. Against the Israeli phrase "a people without a land came to a land without a people," the Palestinians, in relating to the Balfour Declaration, offer the statement: "Someone who didn't own the land promised it to someone who had no right to it."
In the Palestinian narrative there is also a series of names and events about which very few Israelis have ever heard. For example, the Campbell-Bannerman Report of 1907, which recommended to the British government that it split and divide the Arab world in order to weaken it and gain control of it.
In the approach taken by Bar-On and Adwan, clearly there is no possibility of bridging the gaps between the two narratives. Therefore, the two have chosen to publish both of the narratives, in Hebrew and in Arabic, and present them to experimental groups of teachers and students.
For about two years now, 20 teachers from Israeli and Palestinian high schools have been holding joint meetings and discussing the different narratives. The Palestinian teachers come from East Jerusalem and Hebron, while the Israeli teachers work in the center of the country and at several kibbutzim. The teachers on either side do not teach the narrative of the other side in formal classes at the schools. This is impossible because of the political circumstances. They do this at informal meetings, usually off the school premises, in the presence of a small number of students.
Bar-On says that the teachers and the students, Israelis and Palestinians alike, live in societies in which there are acute feelings of insecurity. When they open a workbook in which the opponent's narrative is given - but also their own narrative - they feel more secure and less threatened by the other side's story.
The Institute of International Education in the United States attributes importance to the work by Bar-On and Adwan, and U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer recently awarded the two researchers a prize on behalf of the institute.
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