Stop Rewriting History

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For decades, successive Israeli governments have waged a resolute war over the shaping of historical consciousness. In the center of the battle over national consciousness stands the Nakba - the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Israel's War of Independence, and the refusal to permit their return. Israel is not willing to take responsibility for these events. It even invests enormous effort, mainly educational in nature, to suppress and eliminate stories or testimony that could support the existence of the Nakba.

One example of how the state tries to cause the erasure of history it finds uncomfortable can be found in the article by Shay Hazkani ("Of their own free will," Haaretz Magazine, May 17 ), about research commissioned in the early 1960s by then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, with the aim of finding evidence for the Israeli claim that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees left their homes of their own volition.

The research was assigned in the wake of calls in the U.S. administration for Israel to allow some of the Arab refugees from 1948 to return. It was carried out by a quasi-academic institution with close ties to Israel's army and state institutions. As expected, its conclusion was that the Palestinians left for many reasons, the common denominator of which was a vague connection, at best, to the actions of the Israel Defense Forces.

Over the years, many details have come to light showing that the Israeli side bears great responsibility for the genesis of the refugee problem. Unfortunately, very little of this information has reached Israeli high-school students. The state educational system, which for the past several years has been controlled by ultranationalist politicians, is the agent behind the suppression of this information. One of the main goals of the previous education minister, Gideon Sa'ar, was to prevent discussion of the issue as much as possible.

A few years ago, the Education Ministry commissioned a civics textbook about Israel's Arab citizens. That was at a time when those responsible for educating the next generation still tried to overcome the stereotypes and the walls of hostility instead of perpetuating them. The book was completed about a year ago, but it did not stand a chance in the atmosphere that Sa'ar assiduously cultivated; it was never published.

In his first speech as education minister, Shay Piron announced that, under his leadership, the state's education system will encourage students who are "inquisitive, questioning, wondering." Approving the new civics textbook would prove that he meant what he said.

The Palestinian Nakba begs for Israeli recognition. Without this, it is impossible to understand the source of the conflict with the Arabs and to achieve a historic reconciliation. That is not the task of the education minister alone; it is also the task set before the prime minister.

Palestinian women hold symbolic keys and chant "the right of return will not die," during a rally to mark the Nakba Day in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Wednesday, May 15, 2013Credit: AP

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