Bennett's New Civics Book Meets With Israeli-Arab Furor

New high-school textbook ignores Arab minority's roots to country and glosses over settlements, experts say.

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A high-school class in Haifa. Illustrative photo.
A high-school class in Haifa. Illustrative photo.Credit: Ilya Melnikov
Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop

The new high-school civics textbook that was released on Monday has garnered brickbats from representatives of large parts of Israeli society. Mizrahi activists decry what they say was its failure to address the socioeconomic gaps with Ashkenazim. Activists from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community complain that the murder of Shira Banki at the Jerusalem pride parade in 2015 was presented as an act of political violence rooted in religious tensions.

But the minority that was most clearly hurt by its representation in the book, and which was excluded from the Education Ministry’s revision of “To Be Citizens in Israel: a Jewish and Democratic State,” is Israel’s Arab minority. Even before the new edition was released, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee said it would write its own civics text. Community representatives point to the downplaying of the ties between Arabs living in Israel and Palestinians in the territories and throughout the Middle East. They say it barely touches on the issue of the Palestinians under Israeli rule in the territories, while at the same time it divides the Arab community inside Israel into numerous subgroups.

Ayman Agbaria, who teaches in the University of Haifa Department of Leadership and Policy in Education, says the book’s two chapters on Arab society – “The Arabs, the Druze and the Circassians in Israeli Society” and “The Challenge of a Shared Life in Israeli Society” – are “especially problematic, and fail to present an authentic picture of the social, economic, political and cultural reality of the ‘Palestinian minority’ in Israel, a concept whose validity and necessity the book questions, while returning to the 1960s discourse regarding the division among the minorities: the Zionist Druze, the Aramean Christians, the Bedouin, the Circassians and the Muslims.”

According to Agbaria, “The book also denies the existence of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, it mentions that the Arabs in the State of Israel have relatives in the areas of ‘Judea and Samaria,’ as the book puts it, but nothing more. They are not part of the Israeli citizenship regime that distinguishes on its most basic level between citizens and noncitizens. The noncitizen Palestinians are unseen and unmentioned.”

And in fact, the book notes that “although the Palestinian version claims that most of the refugees were expelled forcibly, in Israel it is now commonly accepted that most of the refugees fled and a minority were expelled, and that such expulsion activities were not part of an earlier plan. Whatever the case, the results of the War of Independence were difficult for the Arab population. There are no precise statistics about the number of refugees. Some scholars claim that there were 500,000 to 600,000 people. Others believe that there were as many as 700,000. About 160,000 people remained within the boundaries of the State of Israel and received Israeli citizenship, and about 25,000 of them were not permitted to return to their homes and their land.”

In another part, about the results of the War of Independence, the book says “most of the refugees found refuge in the areas of Judea and Samaria, which were annexed by Jordan and from its point of view were called the ‘West Bank,’ or in the Gaza Strip, which remained under Egyptian military rule. Others went to Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and even became dispersed in other Arab countries and all over the world.”

But it’s very hard to find a section that explains what happened to those Palestinians who “found refuge in the areas of Judea and Samaria” and addresses the fact that Israel still rules over them against their will. In another part of the book, which discusses the courts in Israel, in a sentence lacking context in the paragraph about the military courts, there is mention of the fact that “there is a system of military courts, which prosecutes the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria, who are under Israeli military rule.” That may be the only time when the book mentions that Israel rules over another nation. The word “settlements” in all its forms does not appear in the book, nor is there any mention of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria and the struggles against it.

In the chapter “The Challenge of a Shared Life in Israel” there is another mention of the occupation, and it says that “according to the prevailing Zionist view, the tragedy of the refugees resulted from the choice of those who refused to accept the United Nations Partition Plan and began a war. The war was caused by the actions of the Arab leadership, which encouraged flight, and by the refusal of Arab countries to grant the refugees citizenship and to rehabilitate them, as did many countries during that period, including the State of Israel, which absorbed almost one million people from Arab countries during the early years of the state.

"According to this view, they are responsible for the outcome of the war and the suffering of the Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians claim that the refugees (and their descendants, who today number over five million people) have a right to return to their homes inside Israel.”

The book says there is a dispute over whether the territories that Israel captured in 1967 are “occupied” or “liberated,” adding that “many others prefer to withdraw from the territories in the context of a peace agreement, due to the problematic nature of ruling over another nation and over a large Arab population.”

Most of the mentions are fragmentary and the connection between the Palestinians living in Israel and those living in the occupied territories is unclear. Mary Totri, of the Oranim College of Education, adds that regarding the Arabs living in Israel, “the Jewish student who doesn’t know anything about the Arabs beforehand believes that the Arabs are a collection of minorities who have no roots in the country. They immigrated to it and therefore have no special rights to it, they don’t have the status of a native-born minority. The Muslims are a traditional society that oppresses women, a tribal, ethnic, clannish society.”

“The Arabs, the Druze and the Circassians in Israeli Society” quotes the so-called Haifa Declaration of 2007 mainly to point out gender discrimination in Arab society.

“The quote is infuriating when it ignores the most important [part], the call for a shared homeland for Jews and Arabs,” Agbaria says. Totri adds: “The Haifa Declaration is a courageous text that presents harsh self-criticism of Arab society in Israel, which does not blame external factors but rather Arab society itself. But the citation was exploited in order to reinforce the book’s claim that Arab society is a traditional one that oppresses women. It’s very sophisticated to use a citation from The Haifa Declaration as proof – ‘they say that about themselves.’”

MK Yousef Jabareen (United Arab List) added that “Although the book is supposed to be for all the students in the country, in effect it ejects Arab citizens from full and equal citizenship. Our demand is that the Arabic version of the book won’t be a translation of the existing version, but that it will undergo significant cultural and social adaptation by professionals from Arab society.”

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