The textbook being used at Shaar Hanegev, aimed at 11th graders, is the product of a decade-long collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian teachers. Each page is split into three columns, with the Israeli narrative down one side, and the Palestinian down the other, with an empty column in the middle for students to write their own conclusions.
It is being used as part of a wider experimental history course aimed at tackling, among other things, the events surrounding what Israel calls its War of Independence, the 1948-49 conflict that prompted hundreds of thousands Palestinians to leave their homes.
The ministry reportedly instructed the school in early September to stop teaching with the book because it was not approved. The principal was subsequently called in, but he is not expected to meet with officials until after the 10-day Sukkot holiday is over, a ministry spokeswoman said. She added that parts of the school’s history program were “problematic,” but would not elaborate further.
“This was a knee-jerk response, almost Pavlovian, to any attempt by the educational system to tackle the Palestinian side,” one teacher at the school said, in comments quoted by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. “This is a response that attests primarily to narrow-mindedness and an unwillingness to explore new modes of thinking.”
The school could not be reached for comment due to the Sukkot holiday.
In recent years, Israel’s so-called new historians have helped ignite a public discourse on the events of 1948, challenging the official Israel version of events that Palestinians brought about their own misfortune.
But the breakdown of the Oslo peace process and the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000 led to a backlash against those who opposed the conventional Zionist view.
Only now, say observers, are the dissenters again being heard.
“The whole thing was swept under the carpet for decades,” says Uri Avnery, a prominent Israeli peace activist who fought in the 1948 war. “Israel is now getting mature enough to face it, and the cultural and educational establishment is scared.”