Nakba? Let Them Learn About Begin

Education Ministry has been monitoring the Palestinian textbooks for incitement against Israel and Jews.

The Jerusalem municipality has been monitoring the Palestinian textbooks used in East Jerusalem schools in recent years. A private body, funded by the Education Ministry, has been tasked with this sensitive project, which is supposed to locate incitement against Israel and Jews, and demand its deletion. The body receives the books from the municipality.

What did last year's examination of the books unearth? What are the qualifications of the external examiner, and to what extent do the Education Ministry and municipality supervise their work? The answers to these basic questions were not supplied at a meeting, held at the municipality, to renew the contract with the private body. The section listing arguments justifying the decision said only: "The chosen supplier is the cheapest."

In a state obsessed with incitement - of one side only, of course - checking the Palestinian textbooks is a self-evident move. A recent report into education problems in East Jerusalem, released by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Ir Amim advocacy group, said the parts removed from the books "raise numerous questions about restricting East Jerusalem's education system to relate its own narrative."

As an example, the report says sentences about Saladin and the Battle of Hattin that he led against the Crusaders in 1187 had been censored from a fourth-grade grammar book. Deleting a reference to a medieval Muslim leader has nothing to do with incitement. Checking the textbooks is merely another reflection of the state's desire to deny East Jerusalem's residents the right to educate their children on the basis of their cultural and national narrative. This right is widely granted to Jewish groups.

Last month, the Central Bureau of Statistics issued its forecast for students in the education system in the coming years. It predicted that, in five years, the number of students in Arab schools will comprise over 26 percent of Israel's students, compared to 22 percent in 2001. So a quarter of Israel's students have almost no possibility of learning their culture and heritage. An Arab teacher who wants to discuss the Nakba ["the catastrophe," the Palestinian term for when Israel was founded] with his students is breaking a ban imposed by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.

If such lessons are held anyway, as a school initiative, it is done secretly, under the official radar. In contrast, this year Arab teachers have been ordered to teach their students David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin's heritage.

The martial law imposed on Israel's Arabs may have been revoked some 50 years ago, but the state still controls their education. It's not just about what the curriculum consists of. According to Education Ministry figures, the rate of Jewish students in the ministry's Northern District is some 40 percent. On the other hand, Jews make up about 70 percent of the district's management. In 2011, only 8.05 percent of the Education Ministry's staff were Arab or Druze, fewer than in the previous year and far from the state's goal of integrating these groups into public service.

In the absence of an adequate proportion of Arabs in the ministry's leadership, the ministry could at least have been expected to cooperate with the Arab Pedagogic Council, which was established a few years ago by Arab education professionals. This has not happened, and the Arab council heads have been running up against a wall of obtuseness and contempt.

The Education Ministry's fear of questioning the consensus in any way is so great, and its readiness to recognize the plurality of angles of viewing reality so low, that it raises the question of what happened to the self-confidence of those who are convinced that they have a concession on the truth.