Sa'ar drops 'Nakba' from Arab textbooks

Israeli Arab advocacy groups slam education minister's decision to take out 1948 "catastrophe."

Netanyahu Saar 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
Netanyahu Saar 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
Israeli Arab advocacy groups on Sunday reacted sternly to an announcement from Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar that the phrase Nakba, which means "catastrophe" in Arabic and is used by Arabs to describe the creation of the State of Israel, would be dropped from textbooks for the new school year, which begins on Tuesday. While Sa'ar had previously said he was mulling such a move, an official announcement of the change came during an extensive briefing the minister gave to the cabinet on Sunday morning regarding the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. "What Israeli Arabs experienced during the [1948 War of Independence] was certainly a tragedy," Sa'ar said. "But the word 'Nakba,' whose meaning is similar to 'Holocaust' in this context, will no longer be used. The creation of the State of Israel cannot be referred to as a tragedy, and the education system in the Arab sector will revise its studies [regarding this] in elementary schools." The specific textbook in question was approved for third graders in the Arab sector just over two years ago by then-education minister Yuli Tamir and described the events surrounding the war as catastrophic, as Arabs had been expelled from their homes and became refugees after their lands were confiscated by Israel. While the textbook also mentioned that Arabs rejected the United Nations partition plan that called for the division of territory between Arabs and Jews, Tamir's decision to approve the text drew fire from the opposition at the time and was again criticized last summer by then-opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. "The government took Ze'ev Jabotinsky out of the school textbooks and inserted the Nakba instead," Netanyahu said at the time. Tamir's decision appears to have been repealed by Sa'ar's announcement, although it remained unclear on Sunday if the Education Ministry planned on discontinuing the textbooks that use the word "Nakba" or would enforce a prohibition on using the term in the classroom altogether. Atef Moaddi, who heads the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education in Israel, a Nazareth-based group that works on behalf of the country's Arab schools, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Sa'ar's decision was nothing less than a "political gimmick" aimed at denying the Israeli Arab community their identity. "For Israeli Arabs, who consider themselves a part of the Palestinian people, the Nakba is not up for debate, it is a historical fact," Moaddi said. "But if Sa'ar thinks that by taking this narrative out of the textbooks, he will somehow absolve himself - as both a representative of the State of Israel and as a human being - of responsibility for the Nakba, he is wrong. "Our position has always been that both narratives - the Jewish, Zionist narrative and the Arab, Palestinian narrative - should be taught in both Jewish and Arab classrooms," he continued. "But the Arab pupil is not stupid. He or she will learn about the Nakba from a variety of other sources, be it on the Internet or on the street. But our position is that we prefer for them to learn about it in the educational framework of the classroom." Moaddi added that principals and teachers from Arab schools had contacted his organization and expressed "dismay and outrage" over the decision. "It's simply unacceptable to us," he said. Sawsan Zaher, an attorney with Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, took Moaddi's sentiment even further, telling the Post that Sa'ar's decision was a violation of international law. "This prohibition is part of the continuing control operated by the Ministry of Education against the Arab education system," Zaher said. "The Ministry of Education implements severe supervision over the Arab education system and controls its curriculum, budget and appointments," she continued. "Prohibiting Arab students from studying about the Nakba is illegal and violates international law, which obliges states to enable national minorities to learn and study about their own history, culture and tradition." The Education Ministry however, responded to both groups' remarks by insisting that Sa'ar's decision did not infringe on their rights to learn about their culture and history, but that the word "Nakba" itself was problematic. "The creation of the State of Israel cannot be taught about as a catastrophe inside the country's schools," a ministry spokeswoman said. "That is what the minister has decided."