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The Israeli government has, for the first time, approved a school textbook for Arab pupils that includes the Palestinian view of the creation of Israel.
The book, which will be used in the public school system in the next school year, contains one phrase that points to the Palestinian version of the events of 1948.
It reads: “The Arabs call the war the Nakba, a war of catastrophe, loss and humiliation, and the Jews call it the Independence war.”
Official Israeli accounts of the country’s creation, especially those written for schoolchildren, have focused on the heroism of Israeli forces. They hardly mention that many Palestinians were forced to leave, instead claiming that the mass exodus of 700,000 Palestinians was voluntary.
Yuli Tamir, the education minister, said that many in Israel shut their eyes to the issue.
“We have a complex history of two peoples engaged in a struggle, and it’s time to give the story of this struggle its proper treatment,” he said.
However, other Israeli politicians say they will fight the decision to introduce the book insisting that it makes Israel look as if it is apologising for its own existence.
Avigdor Lieberman, strategic affairs minister, denounced the book, blaming “the masochism and defeatism of the Israeli left, which constantly seeks to apologise, while we did what we had to”.
Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, said that Tamir should resign for approving use of the phrase, arguing that the Jewish state’s right to exist should not be open to debate.
“Shall we inject Arab propaganda into our schools with our own hands?” he said.
The book is aimed at eight- to nine-year-old Arab children in Israel’s largely separate public school system.
Arab citizens make up about one-fifth of Israel’s population of seven million.
Most Israeli Jews and Arabs attend separate school systems, reflective of the two groups living in mostly segregated towns and neighbourhoods.
“It shouldn’t be that an Arab child, a citizen of Israel, won’t know about and won’t have the ability to discuss the Arab narrative as well about Israel’s existence”, Tamir said.
Zevulun Orlev, a politician with the National Union party, said that Israel risked encouraging its own Arab citizens to revolt rather than accept its rule.
“We lend legitimacy to Arabs seeing our independence as their disaster. How then can we teach the same pupil to be a loyal citizen?”