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The Education Ministry summoned the principal of a Sderot area high school for consultations after the school was found to be using a banned textbook that includes material on the Palestinian narrative of the Israel-Arab conflict.
The ministry recently instructed the Sha’ar Hanegev high school to cease using a history text that offers both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives of the conflict. The material in the book is taught as part of an enrichment, five-unit history class initiated by the school.
According to Sha’ar Hanegev teachers, the head of the ministry’s pedagogic secretariat, Zvi Zameret, made the decision without consulting school officials. Sha’ar Hanegev’s history courses encompass instruction on controversial subjects, including the events surrounding the War of Independence and the Nakba (Catastrophe ) – the Palestinians’ term for what has happened to them after 1948 – as seen from the Israeli point of view. The textbook was banned from use by then-education minister Limor Livnat. Last year, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar banned instruction about the Nakba in Arab schools.
Work on the textbook, which is entitled “Learning the Historical Narrative of the Other,” began 10 years ago as part of a joint project initiated by (the late ) Professor Dan Bar-On of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Professor Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University, with input from numerous Israeli and Palestinian history teachers.
The completed edition of the textbook was published last year. It includes material on the genesis of the Zionist movement in the 19th century through events of the past decade. Each page in the book is divided into three sections of equal size. The Israeli narrative is presented on the right, the Palestinian narrative on the left, and down the middle are empty lines in which the students are asked to fill with their thoughts.
Last year, Michal Wasser, a history teacher at Sha’ar Hanegev, began using the textbook in specialized and expanded lessons for students who opted for the five-unit track. The class consisted of 15 11th-graders who will submit a final paper on the topic of their choice. The course work is in addition to the regular curriculum that is geared toward the matriculation exam. Last month, Haaretz ran an article about the experimental history course at Sha’ar Hanegev. During that period the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council, Alon Shuster, hosted a delegation of Swedish mayors who sought to advance a joint educational initiative based on the textbook, a venture to encompass students from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Sweden.
Israel’s ambassador in Sweden, Benny Dagan, wrote to Shuster: “We are trying to get the Swedes to also donate to joint projects that will help in bringing the two peoples together.”
Dagan said: “Reading about your project warmed my heart. This is the right direction to which Swedish resources should be allocated, and this example will help in advancing dialogue with official and non-official representatives here and in expanding support and activity for projects that encourage understanding and reconciliation between the two peoples.”
Despite the Foreign Ministry’s support for the initiative, numerous officials said the media exposure prompted pedagogic secretariat head Zameret to order the immediate halt of the textbook’s use.
“On the second day of the school year, the instruction came down not to use the book because it was not approved,” said a Sha’ar Hanegev teacher. “Nobody in the Education Ministry bothered to see for themselves how the material was taught in practice nor did they bother to see what the results were from a moral and educational standpoint. This was a knee-jerk response, almost Pavlovian, to any attempt by the educational system to tackle the Palestinian side. This is a response that attests primarily to narrow-mindedness and an unwillingness to explore new modes of thinking.”
Another school official involved in teaching the contents of the textbook denied that it contained material that could be construed as “anti-Zionist.”
The official said: “It’s really funny when people talk to us [in terms of anti-Zionism] when our children have for years been living under Qassam rocket fire and the rate of enlistment into the IDF is among the highest in the country. This is a genuine, worthy project that tries to understand the other side, even under the pressure of the security situation.”
Shuster said he supports the use of the textbook. “It is inconceivable that we can enrich our students with music and chemistry, but we do not grant them the opportunity to expose them to other writings and viewpoints,” he said.
The Education Ministry said in response: “It is the ministry’s policy to enforce school instruction only from textbooks that are approved. Five years ago, the [expanded course] and the textbook upon which it is based were rejected. As such, the head of the pedagogic secretariat, Dr. Zameret, has summoned the principal of Sha’ar Hanegev for clarifications after the Sukkot holiday.”