Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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13 Elul 5759 - August 25, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Left Wingers Rewrite Zionist History

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The most recent and fashionable trend among young Israeli historians, most of whom are left-wingers, is to rewrite the history of the Zionist movement and the events leading up to the founding of the State of Israel. They call what they are doing "debunking the Zionist myths" but the objective observer will note that they often do so by replacing one set of myths -- the Zionist ones -- with another set: the Arab myths about those times. This approach is incorporated in the new series of textbooks approved officially by the Ministry of Education.

The International Herald Tribune recently ran an article from the New York Times on the changes taking place in the way history textbooks approved by the Israeli Education Ministry are rewriting the events surrounding the 1948 Israel War of Independence.

We quote extensively from the article and leave our readers to draw the proper conclusions:

Secular Israeli schoolchildren have long been taught that the Jews have always been surrounded by enemies and that their victory over five Arab states in the 1948 War of Independence was a near miracle of David-and-Goliath proportions.

But the start of this school year marks a quiet revolution in the teaching of Israeli history to most Israeli pupils. New, officially approved textbooks make plain that many of the most common Israeli beliefs are as much myth as fact.

The new books say, that it was the Israelis who had the military edge in the War of Independence. The books say that many Palestinians left their land not--as has traditionally been taught-- because they smugly expected the Arab states to sweep back in victoriously but because they were afraid and, in some cases, expelled by Israeli soldiers.

The books freely use the term "Palestinian" to refer to a people and a nationalist movement, unheard-of in the previous texts. They refer to the Arabic name for the 1948 war--the Naqba, or catastrophe-- and ask the pupils to put themselves in the Arabs' shoes and consider how they would have "felt" about Zionism.

Finally, the books no longer separate Jewish and Israeli history from other world events but weave them into a single tapestry.

The "new history" approach that Mr. Naveh and other new textbook authors are using in their descriptions of the Israeli-Arab conflict is 10 or 15 years old. It has gained a growing following among academic scholars and now with a somewhat larger public after the 1993 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

But while the publication of such revisionism by scholars is one thing, the inclusion of their perspective in schoolbooks is clearly something else. "Why not just translate the Palestinian books for our children and be done with it?" said Aharon Megged, a novelist and outspoken critic of the new history, when he was read a passage from a new textbook. "This is an act of moral suicide that deprives our children of everything that makes people proud of Israel."

The passage to which Mr. Megged was reacting was from Mr. Naveh's book and dealt with the War of Independence.

"On nearly every front and in nearly every battle," it reads, "the Jewish side had the advantage over the Arabs in terms of planning, organization, operation of equipment and also in the number of trained fighters who participated in the battle."

The approach of earlier textbooks is typified by the following from a 1984 Education Ministry book on the years 1939 to 1949: "The numerical standoff between the two sides in the conflict was horrifyingly unbalanced. The Jewish community numbered 650,000. The Arab states together came to 40 million. The chances of success were doubtful, and the Jewish community had to draft every possible fighter for the defense of the community."

Instead of portraying the early Zionists as pure, peace- loving pioneers who fell victim to Arab hatred, the new historians focus on the early leaders' machinations to build an iron-walled Jewish state regardless of the consequences for non-Jews residents.

The controversy that this narrative has generated mirrors the wider dispute in Israel between those who favor more concessions to the Arabs and those who fear that such concessions place Israel's legitimacy and its very existence at risk.

Clearly, part of what is driving the change in history texts is the Middle East peace effort.

The accords between the Israelis and Palestinians call on each side to fight racism and provocation and instruct their populations in coexistence.

Yet one of the issues that has most troubled Israeli commentators is the fact that the Palestinians are still using old Jordanian and Egyptian texts that never mention Israel and often portray Jews as evil and bloodthirsty.

Apparently, if we thought that the Israeli secular school system had hit rock bottom, we were mistaken. It has sunk even lower.

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