Israeli High School Exams Skip Questions About Occupation

History and civics graduation examinations have avoided mentioning the Palestinians, with only one question in 15 years about how the Six-Day War has affected Israel.

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Israeli settler walks with a stroller past the West Bank separation barrier near Abu Dis.
Israeli settler walks with a stroller past the West Bank separation barrier near Abu Dis.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

High school graduation exams in history and civics have studiously avoided all reference to the occupation, according to research presented last week at the Israeli Sociology Society’s annual conference.

The event, which took place two days before the evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona, was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.

The Israeli education system is an important focus for study, with some educators complaining that it has been turned into a central tool for indoctrination by the right – whose worldview has received expression in the relevant textbooks and informal education of trips and tours.

This is how the limits of the game are set, and the next generation of voters are shaped, they say. In this respect, it is important to pay attention not just to what is studied in the schools, but what is also skipped over: The situation only pretends to be “natural.”

And what is more natural than the high school graduation exams (called Bagrut in Hebrew)? According to research presented at the conference by Prof. Avner Ben-Amos of Tel Aviv University, the graduating examinations in civics from 2000 to 2015 didn’t include a single question touching on the political-ideological divide in which teachers are supposed to relate to the occupation.

“The significance of the matter is that even if the chapter appears in the textbook, the teachers do not bother to teach it,” said Ben-Amos.

“Civics studies, whose backbone is the definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, focus almost exclusively on the population within the [1967 borders], even though it is impossible to deny any more the centrality of the occupation in the understanding of the development of the government and society in Israel,” he said.

The situation for the history exams is not much different, he noted. Ben-Amos said that over the past 15 years, only one question concerning the occupation has ever appeared on the final exam. And even this was only addressed indirectly, when students were asked to relate to the effects of the Six-Day War on Israel.

“Even in this case, the occupation was pushed to the margins of awareness and the focus of the historical discussion remained the ideological dispute in Israeli society within the [1967 borders],” the professor said.

An analysis of the history curriculum shows that it mentions the Palestinians in a casual, throwaway manner and avoids discussing the 1993 Oslo Accords, said Ben-Amos. Last summer’s graduation exams didn’t relate to the issue, either.

“This is not an accidental development but an intentional policy, meant to create a simplistic and one-sided worldview for the students,” he said. “In this view there is only one player – the Jewish people – while the Palestinians remain behind the curtain and emerge only when they interfere with the efforts for Jewish settlement.

“In practice, the Education Ministry, which denies the existence of the occupation, contributes to its continuation by doing so. If you do not know that something exists, you cannot fight it,” he said.

The Education Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the matter.