Teaching Politics in the Middle East

Jun 28, 2010 Published under Education/Raising Children, Israel, Jordan, Middle East, Palestine

A lot of Israeli and Jewish friends often ask me about Palestinian textbooks and whether they teach about peace and co-existence.  During the early part of the Abbas-Olmert administrations, I recall that Prime Minister Olmert mentioned to me that the Abbas Administration had done a remarkable job on this front, in contrast to many prior Palestinian Ministries of Education.  It was also around this time that OneVoice did an incredible job working in partnership with both the Israeli and Palestinian Ministries of Education to launch the Imagine 2018 essay contest for kids ages 13-17, to ask them to visualize what would their lives look like in 2018 if their countries entered into a peace agreement and implemented it in the coming years. 

Alas, Palestinians have regressed and apparently so have Israelis.  An interesting article in Ha’aretz points out that the Israeli Ministry of Education under Prime Minister Netanyahu is objecting to inclusion of the Oslo negotiations and peace treaty in its texts, even though it does mention more recent events, like the peace agreement with Jordan.

First Lebanon war, Oslo Accords missing from Israeli textbooks

Education Ministry says it takes 20-30 years to arrive at a historical perspective suitable for teaching young students.

By Or Kashti

The first Lebanon war and the Oslo Accords are missing from Israeli history textbooks, Haaretz has learned, while more recent events, such as the signing of the peace agreement with Jordan, are included.

The Education Ministry said in response that "naturally, not all historic events could be included in the curriculum."

Some 10 days ago, public school history teachers received a handbook sent by the director of history education at the Education Ministry, Michael Yaron. The handbook, titled "Subjects for the High School History Curriculum" sets down the topics history teachers are expected to cover over the three years of high school.

History lessons in high school are divided into two units, both mandatory for all students. The second unit is further divided into the following two groupings: Nazism, anti-Semitism, World War II and the Holocaust; and building the State of Israel in the Middle East. The latter grouping includes all Israeli conflicts from the struggle for statehood to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, followed by a section on the "peace agreements between Israel, Egypt and Jordan."

In the past, the Education Ministry generally avoided teaching recent history, arguing that it takes 20 to 30 years to arrive at a historical perspective suitable for teaching young people. However, skipping over the first Lebanon war and the Oslo Accords, but including the peace accords with Jordan as well as "Jewish immigration into Israel during the last 30 years of the 20th century," appears to represent a deviation from the rule.

"The Education Ministry doesn’t like [to address] controversial issues like the first Lebanon war or the Oslo Accords," a veteran history teacher told Haaretz. "It’s not necessarily political, it’s more of a desire to avoid confrontation and keep things quiet."

"This is wrong, even pedagogically," the teacher continued. "The so-called sensitive subjects are the most relevant ones and the most interesting to students."

‘Mapping out reality’

"Professionally speaking, this is a ridiculous and unreasonable decision," said professor Hannah Yablonka of Ben-Gurion University, who chairs the ministry’s advisory committee on history education. "The peace agreement with Jordan didn’t appear in a vacuum, but as a result of the Oslo Accords. But it’s more than that, these issues are existentially important. Students need to know what the Palestinian Authority is. This is part of mapping out reality."

As for the Lebanon war, she said, "28 years offers enough perspective on this particular event, especially if later events are taught in schools. There’s no professional justification for these decisions."

An Education Ministry official rejected the claims that the decision to exclude these subjects was political. "A professional external committee staffed comprised of the best historians put together the curriculum from which these guidelines are derived, and which was published two years ago," he said. "There were plenty of arguments and deliberations within the committee before they agreed on a program that took into account not just historic events, but the fewer number of teaching hours allocated to history lessons."

The chairman of the committee, Professor Yisrael Bartal of the Hebrew University, could not be reached for comment.

The Education Ministry also released a statement in which it said that "naturally, the curriculum cannot include all historical subjects and events. The program includes the formative historic events of the Jewish people, which have led to the establishment of the Jewish Zionist state and which continue to remain relevant today."

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