Arab Education Officials: Israel Must Lift Ban on Teaching About Nakba

The officials speak out after the Education Ministry introduced a mandatory question about Holocaust into matriculation exams of Arab students.

The decision taken by the Education Ministry earlier this month to introduce a mandatory question about the Holocaust into the matriculation exams of Arab students is drawing sharp criticism from Arab education professionals.

It is not that they oppose teaching Holocaust studies in Arab schools, these professionals say, but they believe the ministry should lift its ban on teaching Arab students their own historic narrative.

Palestinian marking the anniversary of the Nakba

"Every student, Arab and Jewish, must be familiar with his own and the other's history," says Hala Espanioly, head of the Higher Arab Monitoring Commitee's subcommittee on education. "Just as the Arabs study the Holocaust, it is their right to learn about their own history as well."

Arab students will be required, as of the next history matriculation exam due this summer, to answer a question from the section dealing with "the Jewish people's history in the new era up to the Holocaust" or "the Holocaust of the Jewish people 1933-1945." The question will be worth 24 points.

Although Holocaust studies are part of the Arab curriculum, the state comptroller criticized the Education Ministry about a year ago for failing to formulate a comprehensive Holocaust study program for the Arab sector and for not including Arab education officials in discussions about the issue.

The comptroller wrote that there were years in which the Holocaust was not even part of the matriculation exams taken by Arab students.

One of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's first decisions upon taking office was to ban from school textbooks the Arabic term "Nakba" - the term used to describe Israel's creation in 1948 as a "catastrophe." The Palestinian narrative is not taught officially in Jewish schools.

As far as Arab teachers and education professionals are concerned, Arab students should be allowed to learn about the Nakba, just as they are taught about the Holocaust.

"It's the ministry's prerogative to decide on a mandatory curriculum," says Dr. Khaled Abu-Asba, director of the Masar Institute for Educational Research. "I agree Arab students should study the Holocaust, but at the same time, the ministry must be fair and enable Arab students to study their own historic narrative."

Amnon Be'eri Sulitzeanu and Mohammad Darawshe, Israel co-executive directors of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, say it is important for Arab students to study the Holocaust. At the same time, they note, it is important for Jewish students to study the history of the Palestinian minority in Israel, particularly the history pertaining to the establishment of the State of Israel and its existence.