By: Isabel Kershner, New York Times July 23,2007
Israel’s Education Ministry announced Sunday that it had approved a textbook for use in the
state’s Arab schools that for the first time described Israel’s 1948 war of independence as a
“catastrophe” for the Arab population.
The action, addressing longstanding concerns of the country’s Arab population,
immediately prompted criticism from right-wing Jewish politicians and calls for the
education minister’s dismissal.
The Arab version of a new book for a third-grade course on homeland, society and
citizenship, states that “some of the Palestinians fled and some were expelled following the
War of Independence” and that “many Arab-owned lands were confiscated,” said an
Education Ministry official, Dalia Fenig. It refers to the establishment of Israel as a
catastrophe for the Palestinians.
The book also reflects the Jewish version of the establishment of the state, as have
previous books for the Arab curriculum, including the fact that the Arab parties rejected the
1947 United Nations partition plan for Palestine while the Jews were willing to accept it.
About 700,000 Arabs who lived in what is now Israel left during 1948 and 1949. About 20
percent of the current population of just over seven million are Arabs.
Ms. Fenig, who is the national supervisor of homeland, society and citizenship studies,
said, “Pedagogically, it is not right to hide facts and ignore Arab sensitivities if we want to
live together and build something in common.”
The education minister, Yuli Tamir, of the left-learning Labor Party, told Israel Radio that
there were two populations in Israel, Jewish and Arab, and that “the Arab public deserves to
be allowed to express its feelings.”
The decision drew praise from Arab members of the Israeli Parliament but raised the
hackles of some Jewish politicians. The strategic affairs minister, Avigdor Lieberman, of the
nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, condemned the curriculum change on Army Radio, calling
it a result of “the masochism and defeatism of the Israeli left.”
Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the rightist National Religious Party and a member of
Parliament, called for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to fire Ms. Tamir, saying her decision was
“anit-Zionist and goes against the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state.”
Ms. Fenig said the curriculum change resulted from purely pedagogic considerations of
professionals in the field of education. The decision to include the Palestinian perspective in
the study program for Arab pupils was made in 2002, she said, but it took time to develop the
new course materials.
Most Arab and Jewish children study separately, in Arabic or Hebrew-language schools.
Some Hebrews textbooks have over the years come to broach once-taboo subjects
surrounding the establishment of the state, and the curriculum for Arab schools has also
been slowly changing to take Arabic culture more into account.
But the Hebrew version of the third-grade book does not include the Palestinian version
of the events of 1948. Ms. Fenig said that while the Arabic translation was adjusted to
address Arab sensitivities and culture, Jewish third graders were considered too young to
cope with the conflicting narratives.
The debate on Sunday took place as clashes between Israelis and Palestinians continued.
Four Palestinian militants were killed in Gaza by Israeli forces in two clashes. Two Hamas
militants were shot dead early on Sunday morning by troops who were carrying out
searches in northern Gaza, close to the border fence, army officials said. The men were
armed and threw a grenade at the troops, an army spokesman said. The military wing of
Hamas said the men were preparing to ambush an Israeli tank.
Later on Sunday, three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. One fell outside a college
near the Israeli border town of Sderot, slightly wounding one women, and another fell in the
grounds of a school in the town. The third landed in an open area, causing no damage, army
officials said. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.
In response, the Israeli Air Force attacked a rocket-launching cell, the Israeli military said.
At least two Islamic Jihad members were killed, according to news reports.
At the Israeli weekly cabinet meeting, Mr. Olmert said he opposed an Israeli court ruling
calling for all school buildings in Sderot to be fortified against rocket fire by the beginning of
the new school year in September. “Investment in the tools that will bring victory is more
important than investment in protective measures,” Mr. Olmert said.
Deepening the constitutional crisis in the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian caretaker
government of Salam Fayyad on Sunday failed for the second time to win a vote of
confidence from the Palestinian Legislative Council, or the parliament, for lack of a quorum,.
Mr. Fayyad heads a government made up mostly of independents, appointed by President
Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, which governs from the West Bank. Hamas, which took over Gaza
last month, does not recognize its legitimacy.
Only 33 of the 132 members of the parliament turned up for the session. About 45
members, most from Hamas, are detained in Israeli prisons. Other Hamas members and
members from Fatah have both boycotted session in recent weeks, each for their own
A 28-year-old Sudanese women from Darfur was shot dead by Egyptian police on Sunday
while trying to cross the Egyptian border into Israel, Agence France-Presse reported. The
women was trying to cross illegally with a group of 27 other migrants from various African
countries, the report said, citing Egyptian sources.
According to United Nations figures, about 1,200 Sudanese refugees are in Israel,
including 300 from Darfur. Israel has said that most are economic refugees and will be
returned to Egypt.