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Israel pulls textbook with chapter on Nakba

Or Kashti | Haaretz

19 October 2009

The Ministry of Education has taken the unusual step of collecting all copies of the history textbook, “Nationalism: Building a State in the Middle East” which was published about two months ago by the Zalman Shazar Center. They will be returned to the shelves only after corrections are made to the text, particularly with reference to the War of Independence.

The book had already been approved by the ministry.

“Collecting the books from the shops is an unnecessary [form of] censorship,” said Dr. Tsafrir Goldberg, who wrote the controversial chapter on the war. “The process of approving the text was completed in serious fashion from both the pedagogic and the historic points of view. The fact that the education minister changed does not mean that it is possible to bypass this procedure.”

On September 22, Haaretz reported that the textbook, which is meant for 11th and 12th-grades, for the first time presented the Palestinian claim that there had been ethnic cleansing in 1948.

“The Palestinians and the Arab countries contended that most of the refugees were civilians who were attacked and expelled from their homes by armed Jewish forces, which instituted a policy of ethnic cleansing, contrary to the proclamations of peace in the Declaration of Independence,” states the text, which presented the Palestinian and the Israeli-Jewish versions side by side.

Criticism about the book was voiced by history teachers.

“Presenting Israel’s claims as being equal to those of Arab propagandists is exactly like presenting the claims of the Nazis alongside those of the Jews,” one of them said.

On the other hand, another teacher noted that the most important component in studying history is to introduce as many points of view as possible.

Following the newspaper report, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar instructed the ministry’s director general, Shimshon Shoshani, to examine the book and look into the process of approving texts in general.

Officials in the ministry said Sunday that an examination carried out by Michael Yaron, who is in charge of history studies, found “a great many mistakes, some of them serious. As a result of this examination it was decided that the original version of the textbook must be withdrawn and returned to the stores only after being corrected.”

Among other things, the Shazar Center was asked to exchange the original Palestinian text that appears in the book, written by Walid Khalidi, for another that is closer to reality, said Goldberg, who finished making the changes recently.

Another demand was that the term “ethnic cleansing” be redacted. Goldberg says that he changed the phrase and spoke instead of an organized policy of expulsion.

When the corrections have been completed, the book will be reviewed again at the publishers and in the ministry, before it is given final approval.

“The state has the right to determine the contents of textbooks but this is not supposed to be done by the education minister,” Goldberg said.

He noted, though, that some of the remarks were merely cosmetic and did not pose any problem. “The publishing house decided to make the corrections as a form of self censorship,” Goldberg said.

Zvi Yekutiel, the executive director of the Shazar Center, said that “the book has to be aimed at the widest possible consensus and not at the fringes on the left or the right. We made a mistake and we are correcting it.”

Last month, Yekutiel said that there had been no remarks about the chapter on the War of Independence during the process of approving the book.

He added that “the explicit instruction from the ministry was to include controversial points of view so that the students can confront them and make up their own minds.”

Yekutiel said the ministry would pay for the collection of the books from the stores.

The ministry approved the textbook for use in the schools on July 26, after it had been sent to two external assessors – an academic and a teacher.

It was granted approval after an examination of its suitability for the curriculum and its scientific reliability.

The ministry spokesman said last week that, “from the start the book was intended to go into use as a textbook only from this coming January, so the students were not yet exposed to the relevant material. It was decided as well that the director general’s circular should be corrected to make it clear that the responsibility and authority for approving textbooks is on the inspectors and coordinators who are responsible for the various subjects taught and who have to examine the books before they are approved and pass on their remarks and instructions.”