The Education Ministry will be reexamining a new Hebrew-language history textbook published by the Zalman Shazar Center that was approved for 11th- and 12th-grade classes. The textbook gives expression to the Palestinian perspective on the Nakba ("catastrophe" in Arabic), which is the Palestinians' term for what happened to them in the War of Independence.
The textbook, "Nationalism: Building a State in the Middle East," was published several weeks ago. It contains a passage stating "the Palestinians and the Arab states contended that most of the [Palestinian] refugees were civilians who were attacked and expelled from their homes by the armed Jewish forces, which instituted a policy of ethnic cleansing, contrary to the proclamations of peace in the Declaration of Independence."
The subject of the Palestinian refugee problem has appeared in the school history curriculum for years. In the new textbook, the chapter dealing with the issue begins with a set of "facts" on which there is almost no dispute: Many Palestinians left the country during the War of Independence, whether because they believed "they would return as victors with the invading [Arab] armies" or because of "the fear of the Israeli forces," and "many others were expelled from their places of residence."
The refugee problem, the chapter says, "became the focus of a number of political and historiographic [relating to the writing of history] controversies" on the causes for the flow of refugees, estimated at several hundred thousand people.
The book presents the Palestinian and the Jewish-Israeli points of view side by side. Immediately following the Palestinian narrative, the Zionist narrative states that "for years, the State of Israel has contended it called upon the Palestinians to stay, and they fled their villages and towns during the war because they were abandoned by their leadership, because of Arab propaganda about atrocities and due to the instructions of the invading [Arab] armies."
In summarizing the two versions, the chapter says: "Later historical research has raised a complex picture in which alongside the abandonment of cities there were also incidents of organized expulsion, such as in Lod and Ramle," and that "the flight from the villages frequently occurred following attacks on them by Jewish forces."
The chapter gives three notable sources in its description of events, including Yohanan Cohen, who was a company commander in the War of Independence and later served as a member of Knesset. Cohen recounts that "not only was the flight of the Arabs directed and carried out at the initiative of the Arab leadership, but also the leadership of the Jewish community tried more than once to stop it and prevent it." The second point of view is from the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, who wrote that 13 operations, carried out, he contended, in the context of so-called Plan Dalet [Pand D] were a historic opportunity for the Jews to cleanse the country of Arabs, and to deny the Arab presence simply by wiping it out. The third source, Benny Morris of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said Plan Dalet gave certain commanders of the prestate Jewish Haganah a free hand to empty strategically key areas of their inhabitants, adding that each unit interpreted and carried out the instructions as it understood them and in accordance with local circumstances. There was no decision, he said, to expel the Arabs from the territory of the Jewish State.
A Jerusalem-area history teacher said that students cannot be taught the way the textbook presents the material, as they are unable to distinguish between Arab propaganda and objective analysis, adding that the "claims" of the State of Israel cannot be presented as having equal value as those of Arab propagandists. Similarly, the teacher said, Nazi propaganda could not be presented side by side with the Jewish view of the Holocaust. Another teacher from the center of the country, said, however, that "a substantial part of the study of history involves the expression of as many points of view as possible."
Zvi Yekutiel, the director of the Zalman Shazar Center, which published the textbook, said: "We were asked by the Education Ministry to make more than a few changes in the book, but with respect to this specific chapter, nothing was said. On the contrary, the ministry's specific instructions were to present points in controversy, so the students can confront them and form an opinion." Yekutiel added that "on second consideration, the anger that the chapter engendered can be understood. If they tell us to revise a few pages, it won't be a problem and the changes will be made in the second edition. Textbooks need to reflect the broadest consensus. I work for the mainstream."
Tsafrir Goldberg, who was responsible for the chapter on the Palestinian refugees, said yesterday: "The publisher has the right to make any decision." He added that "as a researcher in the field of education, I believe one of the ways to develop historical thought is to confront the student with conflicting points of view." He said he did not present the contentions regarding ethnic cleansing as fact but rather as a Palestinian version of events. "It is not extreme," he added,"in my view, to know that someone thinks differently than you do."