Friday, May 09, 2014

  • Friday, May 09, 2014
  • Elder of Ziyon
Last week, Haaretz wrote an editorial saying the Nakba should be taught in Israeli schools:
The dispute over the degree of Israel’s responsibility for the emigration, expulsion and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the War of Independence is a matter for historians. It does not negate the fact that a national and human disaster befell the Palestinians. This disaster must be studied and understood, not merely to fathom the political and diplomatic motives of the Palestinian leadership as they negotiate with us, but as a cultural and human obligation. All the more so when this disaster affects a fifth of the state’s population and millions of Palestinians with whom Israel seeks to end the historic conflict.

The Israeli government must, therefore, make the history of the Palestinians an integral part of every school curriculum. It must cease its systematic disregard of the Nakba (the Palestinian term for the “catastrophe” they suffered upon Israel’s founding), arrange a program for touring the ruins of villages that were destroyed, encourage exchange visits and instill in the curriculum the message of the historic partnership between the two nations. This is the road that will lead to understanding and mutual recognition.
Shlomo Avineri rightly responds:
But one need not be a historian to know that there will continue to be more than one school of thought on this dispute, and that proposing that it be left to historians is actually an evasion — a refusal to deal, here and now, with indisputable historical truths. Even the cautious (not to say euphemistic) language of this sentence, which speaks of “emigration, expulsion and displacement” and avoids using the word “flee,” which was certainly part of the complex reality of Israel’s War of Independence, already demonstrates that the editorial does not exactly leave the decision to historians.

Some facts of history really ought not to be left to historians. The attempt to ignore them is morally flawed — and morality is, rightfully, the driving spirit behind the editorial. It is a fact — one that should not be “a matter for historians” — that in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and not the other way around. It is a fact that on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States and not vice versa. It is also true that what is called the Nakba is the result of a political decision by the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states to reject the United Nations partition resolution, to try to prevent its implementation by force and to attack the Jewish community in the Land of Israel before and after the state’s establishment. Of this, the editorial says nothing.

Thus, the context of the founding of the State of Israel is presented in the editorial exactly as it is presented in Palestinian and Arab political discourse — with total disregard of the political and historical reality in 1947 and 1948.
I dealt with this issue in 2010. Here is an updated version:

It seems to me that only one thing needs to be taught to Israeli students: the truth. If Israeli schools completely ignore talking about some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs having left their homes, some of them (but far from the majority) forced out by the Haganah and IZL, they are failing. If they teach the skewed Palestinian Arab narrative of forced dispossession and unending massacres, they are failing worse.

Yes, teach the Nakba - but teach what really happened. Of course it was a catastrophe for hundreds of thousands of people, but the continuing catastrophe of what has happened to them since 1948 at the hands of their Arab brothers needs to be taught as well.

There were some massacres - usually exaggerated but still true - and Israel should regret some of the excesses of war. But there was also heroism, there were also miracles, there was also the overriding moral imperative to survive and beat back an onslaught that was literally meant to be genocidal.

Teach about how Palestinian Arab nationalism was weak to nonexistent in 1948. Teach how Jordan and Egypt's occupations of "Palestinian" land were not protested. Teach the history of the Mufti, his Nazi activities and his terror sprees against Jews (not Zionists - Jews.) Teach about how Arab refugees in Israel were integrated into society while those in Arab lands were treated like garbage, and still are. Teach about how UNRWA has ensured that the "refugee" problem will fester until Israel is destroyed. Teach about how the first people to lose their homes in the conflict were Jews, not Arabs.

This week there were protests centered around Lubya, a town the Arabs fled in 1948. Right nearby is a town called Tur'an, which is still there and thriving with a population that has swelled about 800% since 1948. An email correspondent this week wrote:
If you ask the older generation in Tur'an about Lubya, you get some very revealing answers and learn that they're happy that the village formerly known for its thieves, bandits and its participation in the '48 war and the violence before it no longer exists.
All of these need to be taught. It doesn't mean that Israeli youngsters shouldn't feel the appropriate sorrow for the suffering of their enemy, but it also doesn't mean that they should forget that they were still the enemy, and the moral imperative is to ensure your own survival before worrying about that of those who tried, and most still desire, to destroy you.

For an example of what must be taught, here is an article that I have quoted before, from Dorothy Bar-Adon in the Palestine Post, August 17, 1948 (click to enlarge). In it she discusses how she feels bad over the fact that her neighboring Arab village fled - but also says exactly why they cannot return. It strikes the perfect balance between humanity and self-preservation. Acknowledging the fact that 1948 was a disaster for Arabs in Palestine is not a violation of the Zionist narrative; it should be part and parcel of it - but it must be put in the proper context of the time and the place.

Because the alternative was unimaginably worse.

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