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Tel Aviv University

Eyal Naveh, General History, Tel Aviv University, enaveh@post.tau.ac.il

On December 28, 2010, there was a lecture sponsored by Zochrot entitled “Teaching the other’s narrative: Successes and obstacles-----from planning to implementation.”    Zochrot is “a group of Israeli citizens working to raise awareness of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948.”    Zochrot “works to make the history of the Nakba accessible to the Israeli public so as to engage Jews and Palestinians in an open recounting of our painful history.”    Zochrot believes that “acknowledging the past is the first step in taking responsibility for its consequences.”   Thus, Zochrot supports a “Palestinian right of return” and the granting of equal citizenship rights to the returning Palestinians.    Zochrot’s partner’s as of 2009 include ICCO, Misereor, CCFD, Broederlijk Delen, Trocaire, HEKS-EPER, Mennonite Central Committee, medico international, Oxfam Solidarity, Oxfam GB, SIVMO, IFA – ZIVIK, Amberstone Trust, and Sparkplug Foundation.    


According to the event’s website, “Teaching the other’s narrative” is the name of “a history textbook containing historical narratives of Palestinians and Israelis, published by PRIME (The Peace Research Institute in the Middle East) in 2009.   It addresses nine events in twentieth century history, including the Balfour Declaration and the first half of the twentieth century, the 1948 war, the 1967 war, the First Intifada, the 1990s, and more.”   The project was founded and jointly directed by Dr. Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University and the now diseased Dr. Dan Bar-On of Ben-Gurion University, who were in turn assisted by Dr. Adnan Massallam of Bethlehem University and Dr. Eyal Naveh of Tel Aviv University.  “Teaching the other’s narrative” was mainly funded by the US State Department via the Wye River Foundation, who contributed around $158,850, but this project has also received funding from a variety of private foundation and government grants, who have contributed around $743,367.  For this particular Zochrot event, Dr. Eyal Naveh and Michal Wasser, who has taught the book as part of an enrichment program in history discussed “the formulation and development of the textbook,” as well as “their experience using” this textbook in the Sha’ar Ha-Negev High School.     


Parts of the textbook are available online in English.    It is important to note that many sections of this textbook are objectionable for any Zionist reader.   For example, the textbook asserts that the emergence of Zionism was influenced by the “increasing competitive interests shared by European colonialists in Africa and Asia, and the Zionist colonialist movement for control of Palestine” and that an “alliance of British imperialism and Zionism resulted in the birth of what came to be known as the Balfour Declaration.   It is a conspicuous example of the British policy of seizing another nation’s land and resources and effacing its identity.   It is a policy based on aggression, expansion, and repression of a native people’s aspirations for national liberation.” The textbook then goes on to falsely imply that Palestine was promised to the Arabs as part of the Hussein-McMahon Agreement, despite the fact that the areas to the west of Syria were to be excluded from the agreement and Palestine is technically to the south-west of Syria.   It is also important to note that McMahon later on claimed he never promised Palestine to the Arabs, a fact that is neglected in this textbook.   This textbook concludes the section on the Balfour Declaration by claiming that the Holy Land was “originally owned by Arabs and Muslims,” referred to the relations between the Zionist movement and Great Britain as an “unholy marriage,” and asserted that the Balfour Declaration signaled that “Britain granted a land that she did not possess to a group of people who did not own it at the expense of those who possess and deserve it.   This led to the usurping of a homeland and making an entire people homeless in an unprecedented manner.   What is noteworthy is that Britain committed this crime before her armies even arrived in Jerusalem.”   Despite the fact that the textbook also presents the Israeli narrative, for the section on the Balfour Declaration, the textbook does not bother to seriously refute the Palestinian claim that Palestine was promised to the Arabs; that Palestine originally belonged to the Arabs and Muslims; that the Balfour Declaration represented a crime against the Arabs; and that Zionism is a colonialist movement.  The other parts of the textbook are not much better from a Zionist perspective.   For these reasons, it should not be considered that surprising that the Palestinian Education Ministryapproved the textbook for two high schools near Jericho, while the Israeli Educational Ministry reprimanded the head of the Sha’ar Ha-Negev High School for teaching this textbook and decided that “Teaching the other’s narrative” should not be taught in Israeli high schools.  Nevertheless, these facts did not prevent the speakers at this lecture for decrying the fact that the textbook is no longer being taught in the Sha’ar Ha-Negev High School.  


Dr. Eyal Naveh spoke first.   He claimed that the goal of this textbook was to work to create a post-conflict situation, to educate for peace, and to teach a different model that included both Palestinian and Israeli history.   Dr. Naveh did not demonstrate how teaching children that the Balfour Declaration was a crime against the Palestinian people, that Zionism is a colonialist movement, and that Jews did not originally own the land will contribute towards peace.   Thus, while Dr. Naveh professed that he wants to create a common narrative of Palestinians and Israelis that “can be the first step towards reconciliation,” and that he sought to “try to get the two sides to agree and start a dialogue about what happened,” he did not include the Israeli narrative in such a way that Palestinians would have to give up their view that Israel is illegitimate.   This is especially true given the fact that the Palestinians refused to have both the Palestinian and Israeli flag on the textbook’s cover, and Dr. Naveh gave into this Palestinian demand by stating that the Israeli flag will be on the textbook’s cover in Israel while the Palestinian flag will be on the textbook’s cover in the PA.  This implies that Dr. Naveh’s assertion that the textbook is the “collective motif of neither” is not accurate, for the textbook is slanted in the Palestinian direction, even though it acknowledges Jewish religious attachments to the land as well as violence directed against Jews and anti-Semitism.    

A female teacher named Michal Wasser spoke next.   She teaches in Sha’ar Ha-Negev High School, near Sderot and Netivot. She said that Israeli children are only exposed to a lot of extremes because they are in the middle of the conflict.   They see the conflict through the lenses of suicide bombings and Operation Cast Lead.   This program, in Wasser's view, is a chance for an education, where students need to study and listen due to the different role-playing activities.   Michal was upset that all hell broke lose over this textbook and was embarrassed that the book was acceptable for the Palestinians, but not for “our democracy.”   


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