The Education Ministry has banned Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative, a
high school history textbook designed for both Israelis and Palestinians which
aspires to present both peoples’ “narratives.”
Though we normally oppose
book banning and back the free exchange of ideas, including openness to
alternative opinions and views, we nonetheless support the Education Ministry’s
decision. Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative is based on the dangerous
post-modernist premise employed by “new historians” and post- Zionists that
there are no such things as objective historical truths. This is not the
educational message we should be giving to our high school students.
textbook is the brainchild of late psychologist Dan Bar-On of Ben-Gurion
University, who developed therapy that involved meetings between Holocaust
victims and children of Nazi criminals, and Sami Adwan, an American-educated
Palestinian historian from Bethlehem University who had spent time in an Israeli
prison as a Fatah terror suspect before embracing the idea of peace through
The two founded the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East
and began working on the project nearly a decade ago with six Palestinian and
six Israeli history teachers.
Starting with Zionism’s inception and
ending with the contemporary era, the textbook presents the Israeli narrative on
the left side of each page while the identical event is presented from a
Palestinian perspective on the right side. In the middle a blank space is left
for students’ own thoughts. Schools in Jericho and Ramallah have reportedly
agreed to use the textbook.
The Sha’ar Hanegev High School began using
the textbook this year with a select group of students who opted for an enriched
history course. However, the chairman of the Pedagogical Secretariat in the
Education Ministry, Zvi Zameret, intervened and barred the school from using
Students at Sha’ar Hanegev protested the move. “It is difficult for
us to understand the Education Ministry’s terrible fear of the textbook, which
simply presents positions – Israeli and Palestinian – regarding the conflict,”
one student said.
However, Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative
does not simply present different, equally legitimate positions.
textbook presents falsehood as fact.
For instance, in the “Palestinian
narrative,” Zionism is defined as “an imperialist political movement” and Israel
is blamed for intentionally expelling Palestinians during the 1948 War of
Zionists may have underestimated the extent of Arab
opposition to the creation of a Jewish homeland, but they did not come to Israel
with the objective of subjugating and exploiting the Palestinian people. And
there never was a concerted Zionist effort to expel Palestinians during the War
of Independence. In fact, as historians Benny Morris and Efraim Karsh have shown
through painstaking research, the only party systematically interested in
“transfer” or “expulsion” in this period was the Arabs.
claims as a legitimate “narrative” might tempt us to present blood libels or
Holocaust denial as just another “narrative.”
AS NEW information becomes
available, and new themes and nuances become plain, Israel has a vital
imperative to continually re-examine its own history and teach it honestly to
its children. A critical reading of the “Palestinian narrative” is also
important – in good part because it helps us to understand the extent the
Palestinian distortion of reality and thus contextualize Palestinians’ sometimes
violent refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination
alongside a Palestinian state, as advocated and provided for by the UN’s
November 29, 1947 partition plan.
But we must be careful to ensure that
our high school students do not confuse fiction with fact, distortion with
reality. Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative
blurs the line between the
Truths and absolute objectivity are commodities in short supply in
this fraught context. But the complexities of the issues must not negate the
The epitome of historical scholarship is not “the presentation of a
variety of views to show there is no single historical truth,” as Rachel Zamir,
a history teacher who used Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative
High School in Tel Aviv, put it.
Rather, the objective of history should
be the striving for the attainment of historical truth through sincere
scholarship and intellectual honesty. That is the message we should be giving