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In a previous post I wrote about Dr. Ismael Abu-Saad’s 2006 paper on the Arab schools in Israel. I have just read a 2008 paper of his revisiting some of the same ground, but with more specific examples: Present Absentees: The Arab School Curriculum in Israel as a Tool for De-Educating Indigenous Palestinians. For one of two central examples, he takes a chapter from a 6th grade geography textbook about the coastal plain around Tel Aviv – Jaffa. If this chapter is representative, it is stunning. It’s title is “The Big Change” and its narrative is how the early 20th century Zionist immigrants through swamp drainage, etc. allowed the area to hold many more people. They call the area “largely abandoned” and never refer to Jaffa or Ishdud, or to the citrus production happening throughout the area. Abu-Saad gives a series of statistics to back up the fact that real production and population are being left out of the narrative. I wish I could read Arabic (or Hebrew, since the book was originally written in Hebrew), because the fact that we are hearing a summary of just one chapter makes me wonder if some of the “absent” material was covered in previous chapters. If not, these omissions and their political and identity implications are significant.

Jaffa 1862

Abu-Saad gives a series of statistics to back up the fact that real production and population are being left out of the narrative. I wish I could read Arabic (or Hebrew, since the book was originally written in Hebrew), because the fact that we are hearing a summary of just one chapter makes me wonder if some of the “absent” material was covered in previous chapters. If not, these omissions and their political and identity implications are significant.

Another example, to which Abu-Saad referred in his 2006 paper but which he lays out in a helpful table in this paper, are the “100 Basic Concepts” curriculum unit introduced in the 2004-2005 school year. I am not particularly taken aback by the comparison between the “heritage concepts” of Arabs and Jews. Abu-Saad finds some of the points Orientalizing and condescending; perhaps. But I notice near the “tent” entry for the Arabs (one of his examples of romanticizing the oriental) there is the Jewish marriage “chuppah.” Sooo… The “Zionist concepts,” however, are a whole other story. The list reads to me as the outcome of a “my kids aren’t as Zionist as I am, and they need to be” lobby. The struggle is only humanized on one side – there are no Arab names in the Zionist list for Jews, and only a few tacked on for the Arab students. Would Jewish Israeli children really lose their Zionism if presented with a multi-faceted story of the emergence of the state? Would Arab students really be “incited” by the same? I would expect the opposite: both groups would more greatly respect an entity able to openly discuss and debate their heritage and historical actions.

Abu-Saad also notes that a group of Arab educators wrote an alternative concept list. It read to me as giving a pro-Palestinian perspective – for example, 1948 was only referred to as the Nakba. While it was not as empty of Zionism as the Zionist list was empty of Arab concepts, neither was it what I would want my children reading to get an understanding of the viewpoints of different players in the conflict and in the history of the area more generally.

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