(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [archive])
A novel detailing the 2005 Gush Katif disengagement will now be included on the list of books being vetted for use in an English Literature section of the country's matriculation exams, after it was initially rejected out of hand by an Education Ministry employee.
Following a query by The Jerusalem Post on Monday, an Education Ministry spokeswoman admitted that the exclusion by a ministry employee of Grains of Sand: The Fall of Neve Dekalim from an official selection committee list was in fact a "mistake" and not in line with the selection process described by the ministry itself.
"This was a mistake, and the book will go to the selection committee where it will be decided on," the ministry spokeswoman told the Post.
The book, which was published in 2007 and written by then-19-year-old Shifra Shomron, describes the life of a teenage girl living in the Gush Katif community of Neve Dekalim in the years leading up to the disengagement. While the story strongly mirrors Shomron's own experiences, the book is considered a work of historical fiction and has been reviewed favorably by a wide array of publications both in Israel and the United States.
But when teachers submitted Grains of Sand to the Education Ministry's English Inspectorate earlier this month as part of a call for book recommendations for the D and F English Literature matriculation exam modules - sections of the exam that test reading comprehension skills - they received e-mail responses from a lone ministry employee informing them that the book was "not appropriate for all sectors of Israeli society" and could "not be taught comfortably" to pupils.
They were also informed decisively by the employee that the book would "not be included in the final set list" for the matriculation exam.
However, the English Inspectorate's request for book recommendations clearly stated that the suggested works were to be reviewed by a committee first, and only then would the final decisions be announced.
"But that's not what happened," said Sarah Shomron, the publicist for Grains of Sand who joined the teachers in their protest of the book's rejection. "The ministry employee made a decision based on her individual opinion that it was not appropriate and informed the teachers that it would not go on to the committee. She torpedoed it and then told them to request something else."
Teachers also insisted that the book not only met the criteria stipulated by the English Inspectorate, but that it was an important aspect of recent Israeli history and relevant to all.
"No matter what your political leanings are, Gush Katif was and is something that affects all of us," one of the teachers who submitted Grains of Sand to the inspectorate said. "I read it to my 10th graders, and their reception of the book is quite moving - the whole room goes silent."
"And what does it mean that the book could not be taught comfortably?" Shomron asked. "Why should literature be comfortable? How many things are we not going to teach our children because they've been deemed 'uncomfortable'? As a parent, it's worrying to me that this is how the curriculum is decided. How are our children supposed to make educated decisions if they don't know different sides of a story? How can you come up with a balanced view when there is no balance?"
The English Inspectorate was mum on the incident Monday afternoon, referring repeated queries by the Post to the Education Ministry's main spokesperson's office. A spokeswoman there followed up on the story, and later gave the response describing the incident as a "mistake."
Nonetheless, the group of teachers, along with Shomron, weren't completely sold on the ministry's explanation Monday afternoon, telling the Post that they remained skeptical based on the ministry employee's outright refusal even to consider the book, and their fear of a predetermined bias against it within the inspectorate.
"People can say a lot of things," Shomron explained. "But the written word
has a lot more more substance, and I haven't seen anything in writing. I truly hope that the book does go to the committee, because that's all we wanted here - due process - and we felt we were being denied that. That said, I hope there's no bias against the book as well, because until now, that seems to have been the case."