Friday, August 10, 2007

Rewriting history

The Israeli Education Ministry has approved a history textbook for Arab third-graders detailing the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948. Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, will have his book "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" sourced as a reference in history classes for Israeli Arab pupils.

The decision hasn't caught much media attention, to Israel's relief, as the state has in the past vigorously rejected claims of systematically cleansing the land of Palestinians in 1948. Although the Israeli Government has only approved telling a story to children who are more than likely aware of what occurred, and thus unlikely to change much on the ground, it is an important step by the Israeli leadership in finally acknowledging the horror inflicted upon Palestinians before the state of Israel was declared.

The book reveals in-depth the deliberate and systematic plan of Jewish leaders to rid Palestine of its native Arab inhabitants whilst under the British mandate to make way for a new Jewish state. The result was a series of massacres, village-sackings, terrorist attacks against the native Arab population and British security forces, and the eventual expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians. Dozens of villages were razed to the ground, thousands were killed, and hundreds of thousands more fled the invading Jewish militias. Currently, over three million Palestinians reside in inhumane refugee camps in the 'Palestinian territories' and neighbouring Arab countries awaiting their return. The incident of 1948 marked the beginning of a conflict that has torn the Western and Islamic worlds apart.

Knowledge is power, and education is the key in bringing peace to this raging region. Since 1948, ordinary Israelis have been sheltered from discovering the truth by the Israeli Government and local media, who instead propagate their own version of events, completely discarding the consequences endured by the Palestinian people. The latest decision to disallow Pappe's book from being taught to Jewish pupils highlights the Israeli Government's campaign to keep their people in the dark. But all that may be beginning to change.

One of the interesting elements of this development is that it was an Israeli historian, and lecturer at Haifa University, who was behind the works on the Palestinian Catastrophe (Al Nakba). Pressure to allow transparency of the 1948 events may come from within Israeli society as leading academics, such as Ilan Pappe, attempt to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinians.

Indeed such a league of people have great powers within the country to compete against, including Israel's extremist religious-right who wield immense influence. However, unlike the left-wing Israeli, peace corps groups who are generally shunned by the mainstream population, a similar discourse from leading academics may be received with greater credibility.

Ignorance hasn't proven to be blissful in the Middle East. In fact, it is the main protagonist of the region's woes. Israelis blinded by ignorance and false knowledge of their conflict with the Palestinians will remain entrenched in their fear of being the helpless, innocent victim in a sea of hell. Fear is generally the symptom that follows ignorance, which in turn leads to extremist policies. It is an endless cycle of fear, hate and war. The cycle will stop once ignorance is rooted out, and truth is made transparent for all.

Once there is a sincere and genuine understanding among Israelis that the land in which they dwell was confiscated from a people now sprawling in rat-infested refugee camps, I am convinced that that sincerity will flow onto the state's policies and behaviour. One can only hope.

Link to UPI article on the subject.


Soumiaa Alman said...

I really like your blog, iam so happy that one person at least in this course cares about what is going on in the middle east. You write intelligently, and i hope you make it in the real world because the Arabs need someone like you.


Soumiaa Alman said...

I really like your blog, i think you write intelligently and your articles are insightful.


paddyshap said...

It's good to see the Israeli educational establishment employ Pappe's work, along with that of the other New Historians.

I would like to add that there is every bit as much ignorance towards Jewish suffering amongst Palestinians as there is vice-versa. If a lasting peace is going to happen, both sides need to recognize the legitimacy of the other. Like Israel or not, there is a strong international argument for their legitimacy.

Antoun said...

Hi Paddyshap,

I do agree that ridding ignorance on both sides is essential, but there is a reason why I specifically focused on Israeli ignorance.

We have to view this conflict as it really is. It isn't a conflict based on two equal sides. Power has an important role in this conflict. The power is with the Israelis, it's the decision they make which count.

Let us also not absolve the events that occurred prior to and including 1948. Palestine was the last colonisation of our era. They invaded with the backing of the Western powers who were in control of the region at the time, and they expelled the natives there. It's probably one of the least inhumane colonisations in comparison to the European colonisation of the Americas and Australia (total extermination of the inhabitants).

Nonetheless, the ball started bouncing on one side of the court and really hasn't crossed the centre line.

The Palestinians are still weak, still living in refugee camps, still stateless, still oppressed. The Israelis on the other hand have their state, have their institutions, have their peace and most of all their freedom. There is no comparison in situation, the Palestinians are far worse off.

The Israelis with their current status as the regional powerhouse - with the enormous cover the Americans provide - can make peace, or sow the seed of future peace by making the right decisions. So far, they have made every wrong turn after the other, from larger errors such as supporting the corrupt Fatah and engaging in war in Lebanon to smaller errors such as depriving their children of learning the truth and emerging more tolerant of the Palestinian people.

The Israelis have constantly played the game of blaming the Arabs for the failed peace agreements in order to keep the limelight off. Israel demands all of the Arabs recognise their right to exist, which is what their Western powers endorse.

I find this policy completely unjustified. This state, like it or not, barged into a region uninvited, expelled its original inhabitants, and expects everyone in their neighbourhood to be fine with that. As you can see, many aren't happy with this. You're right, however, in stating that Israel is around today and it's a fact that needs to be acknowledged. I would argue most Arabs and even Palestinians have acknowledged its existence, but its right to exist is another matter.

Israel needs to accept the right of the Palestinians to exist on their land before they can ask for mercy from their neighbours. When the Israelis begin showing mercy to the Arabs, the Arabs will reciprocate.

Peace starts with Israel.