Are Teachers Introducing Nakba to Students Against State's Wishes?

An educational kit on the Nakba is being disseminated among teachers throughout the country.

An educational kit on the Nakba [catastrophe] - the Palestinian term for what happened to them after 1948 - is being disseminated among teachers throughout the country. It was developed by Zochrot, a non-government organization, and is meant to serve the Jewish educational system for pupils aged 15 and above, and includes history plus literary and personal views on the Nakba, as well as discussion of the ways the issue has been sidelined in public discourse.

Some teachers have reportedly been making use of the kit, even though it has not been approved by the Education Ministry. A meeting next week in Jerusalem aims to introduce the kit to educators.

The kit's materials were developed over three years and involved school teachers as well as lecturers at teachers' colleges. Its 13 units deal with the Palestinian communities before and after 1948, a historical probe of the period's events, personal stories of Palestinians, a discussion on the "right of return" and a tour "of a destroyed Palestinian village with a refugee as a guide."

The kit's fourth unit offers an "initial introduction to the history of the Nakba" with numerical data about "how Palestine was prior to the Nakba" and "a historical study presenting the main reasons for the departure and expulsion of the Palestinians, incorporating testimonies and quotations [from sources]." There is also a discussion on the "methods used to prevent the return of the refugees."

The kit is modular and designed so teachers of different subjects may use it in classes on history, literature, civil studies, social studies, etc.

Amia Galili of Zochrot says nearly 100 teachers have been introduced to the kit, and it has been sent to 160 other educators.

"The purpose of our work is to include the Nakba in the educational system, from a viewpoint that the minute the pupils study about it, it will be possible to begin talking about a process of reconciliation," Galili said. In the Jewish educational system many teachers are hesitant to teach the subject of the Nakba. In upper-level secondary school history reference is made to the "cease-fire agreements and the creation of a Palestinian refugee problem," said Galili, but in practice the subject is taught in a very limited way, if at all.

Many subjects in the curriculum are inevitably left behind for lack of time, but there is also an element of "too few teachers who are willing to enter this minefield of a subject," as one history teacher put it.

Two years ago, former education minister Yuli Tamir was criticized when a geography book meant for the Arab schools referred to the Nakba. The Education Ministry at the time said the book had been based on curriculum materials that had been approved during the tenure of Limor Livnat and Ronit Tirosh at the ministry.

Ten days ago, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a bill proposed by MK Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu, "forbidding by law the commemoration of Independence Day or the establishment of the state as a day of mourning." The bill was supported by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar. As a result of the ruckus that resulted from the proposal, a compromise bill is being prepared, which would ban government bodies or any organization benefiting from state funding, from organizing or funding activities related to the Nakba.

One of the teachers who began using the kit, Avital Spivak, says that "the Palestinian side of the story is missing completely from the educational system." She teaches civics to 11th and 12th graders at the Reali School in Haifa, and says "there is a complete blind spot, which leads to ignorance and racism and blocks the possibility of understanding and dialog. There is no need to agree to the right of return to talk about the Nakba, and there is no contradiction between being a Zionist and refusing to be blind and deaf to the pain and the story of the other side."

Spivak says initially "the pupils express all the usual opposition such as denial, justification of the Jewish side and sometimes even calls to kill the messenger - in this case the teacher. The pupils find it very difficult to accept there is no one truth to the story. Spivak says there is no 180-degree change in the pupils' views but "I can see that there is the start of questioning."

The Education Ministry responded: "The education kit was not approved by the ministry. Teachers using materials not approved by the ministry are acting against ministry procedure and policy." The ministry also said it would conduct "an immediate investigation, including into this case."