A Distorted Historiography

Israelis seeking a reliable depiction of the past cannot accept the portrayal of Jews as prosperous and happily in Islamic states until colonialism and 'Zionist aggression' ruined the idyll.

Zvi Zameret
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Zvi Zameret

In the farhud, the anti-Jewish riots in Iraq in 1941, 180 Jews were murdered and 700 were injured. In the course of violent demonstrations that flared in Egypt in November 1945, 400 Jews were hurt, and much Jewish-owned property was looted and damaged. Rioting in Libya, also in November 1945, was much more costly: 130 Jews were murdered and 266 were injured. The December 1947 riots in Syria left 13 Jews dead (eight of them children ) in Damascus, and 26 wounded. In Aleppo, 150 houses were damaged, five schools and 10 synagogues were torched, and there were dozens of Jewish casualties. At the same time in Aden, Yemen, 97 Jews were murdered and 120 were injured; some Jews who experienced these events deem them "the holocaust of Yemenite Jewry."

These are a few of several dozen anti-Jewish attacks and massacres perpetrated in Arab states during the course of the 20th century. What do most teachers and pupils in Israel know about these events? Nothing. In contrast, ask an ordinary Israeli high-school class about the killings at Deir Yassin or about the Nakba, and there will inevitably be several pupils who know something about the subject.

History is not a competition between tragedies and catastrophes. But an Israeli who seeks a reliable depiction of past events cannot accept a mendacious historiography that portrays Jews as living prosperously and happily in Islamic states until Zionist colonialism and "Zionist aggression" ruined the idyll.

In both its 2003 version and in its updated 2009 printing, the textbook "Learning Each Other's Historical Narrative" offers one of the most conspicuous examples of distorted historiography. In this book, Palestinians attack, often aggressively, and also blacken and misrepresent the Zionist movement. However, none of the facts mentioned at the start of this article merit mention in the text. Two supposed narratives are presented side by side in the book, but both are incomplete, ill-informed and misleading.

In its 2003 edition, the book's "Palestinian narrative" emphasizes that "Arab-Jebusites" preceded Jews in the land, and that "when King David, of blessed memory" conquered Jerusalem he "emptied Jebus of its residents" (meaning that the Jews wiped out the Arab-Jebusites who preceded them ).

In its more recent, 2009 edition, the book deems the Balfour Declaration "the unholy writ of marriage between British imperialism and the colonialist Zionist movement, [contracted] to the detriment of the Palestinian nation and the future of the entire Arab people." The book declaims: "The salvation of the Jews after the Holocaust came at the cost of creating a new Holocaust of the Palestinian people." And so on and so forth.

The "Israeli narrative" is also distorted: The one presented in the 2003 edition underscores that during the 1948 War of Independence, "there were acts of massacre, looting and rape committed by Jewish soldiers. The most well-known massacre occurred at Deir Yassin, where more than 250 Arabs were murdered."

The same version's Palestinian narrative tells readers that "the most well-known massacre was Deir Yassin, whose victims included more than 100 dead and dozens of wounded." However, in the 2009 edition, the Palestinians "repaired" their narrative, which now reports that, "among the most well-known acts of massacre was the Deir Yassin massacre, whose victims included more than 250 dead and dozens of wounded." (It's worth mentioning that most historians have concluded that between 90 and 120 people were killed at Deir Yassin. )

The Israeli narrative in the textbook's later edition states that "in the Arabs' opinion," the number of Arab refugees during the War of Independence was "more than a million," whereas the Palestinian narrative talks only about "more than 750,000 refugees." The examples presented here suggest that this is a fallacious history book, full of mistakes and distortions. For this reason, the Education Ministry did not authorize its use in schools, and it was not exceptional in doing so: In most democratic states around the world, the "sovereign" examines school textbooks, guaranteeing that children will study only approved materials, particularly in state-financed schools. We demand the same from our school principals. And another thing: We would be happy to know about any Palestinian school in which this textbook is being used in teaching.

Dr. Zvi Zameret is the head of the Education Ministry's pedagogical secretariat.



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