Friday, June 25, 2010

War and Peace erased from history

THE first was a major turning point in history, a massive invasion and bombing which devastated Beirut bur failed to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It culminated in the Sabra and Chatila massacres by Israel's right-wing Christian allies, for which Ariel Sharon was held morally culpable. It brought huge anti-war demonstrations in Tel Aviv, and the formation of Yesh Gvul (there is a border, or limit) by reservists who insisted there was a line beyond which they would not serve, thus setting the example for today's young people who bravely refuse to serve in occupation.

It left Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, backing the Christian militias, till eventually this occupation was ended by combined Lebanese resistance and opposition in Israel. And, ironically, by upsetting the balance of forces in Lebanon, driving out the PLO and destroying moderate Muslim forces like the Shi'ite Amal militia, Israel's 1982 Lebanon war - officially dubbed "Peace in Galilee" -brought on the return of the pendulum the rise of its current bogeyman, Hezbollah.

Eleven years later, and what Israel and all its mouthpieces abroad had declared unthinkable was happening. The Israeli government sat down to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership in Oslo, the secret talks led to a public agreement, and televised handshakes on the White House lawn. Inadequate as it was, the Oslo agreement allowed the formation of the Palestinian Authority, and some measure of international recognition. It seemed only a matter of time before the Authority became a state, and even the Return of the Palestinian refugees could be negotiated. For now, Arafat came out of exile, and won a Nobel peace prize along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, even if Rabin was also to be awarded the assassin's bullet -something which Zionists had always said would happen to any Arab leader who made peace with Israel.

No need to go on. Suffice to say that if you should ever try to discuss what happened with young Israelis some time in the future, don't blame them if they look a bit blank and mystified, or even suspect you of making stuff up. They will be victims of their education. This item appeared today in Ha'aretz:

First Lebanon war, Oslo Accords missing from Israeli textbooks
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.

Mind you, I can imagine this history with the best bits taken out is going to lead to some incomprehension between the generations. If the young try to understand what parents or grandparents are talking about, they may wonder at the gap between taught history and memory.

I still remember puzzling over a photograph my Dad had in his album, of British soldiers marching down a street watched by Oriental people in quilted jackets. On the back it was captioned, in my Dad's copperplate, "The Loyals in China". There was nothing about this in school history, or even the library books. But sure enough, a battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment had been among British troops sent into Shanghai in the 1920s. They were there to help the Japanese, if the Kuomintang had not succeeded in putting the workers down.

Israel is not the only country where they are selective about what history is taught. All the same, there would not be room in the curriculum to teach about every place where British troops were sent. (Had my Dad remained with his regiment in the 1930s, perish the thought, he might have been suppressing the people of Palestine). Whereas Lebanon in 1982 and subsequent years is hardly a minor, insignificant episode in Israeli history.

As for the Oslo agreement, I did say that youngsters should not be blamed for any ignorance. It is another matter when one hears adult Zionists today ruling out Palestinian self-determination (notwithstanding the incantation about "two state solution" which we hear from their political friends) by declaring there is "no such thing as a Palestinian nation". For some of them, at least, Oslo was a bad dream, for which Rabin had to pay the price, and they will cheerfully assure you "there are no Palestinians" . That is something they look forward to their armed forces achieving. And if these are just the "extremists" among Zionists, they are not outside government, nor without influence on what is taught to Israeli school students.

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