Arab educators in uproar over plan to study Begin and Ben-Gurion

By Jack Khoury and Talila Nesher, Haaretz – 18 June 2012
www.haaretz.com/news/national/arab-educators-in-uproar-over-plan-to-study-begin-and-ben-gurion.premium-1.436991

Principals and teachers at Arab schools in Israel are furious over the Education Ministry’s plans to make all the country’s schools – including those in Arab towns – focus their curriculum next year on two of Israel’s most prominent leaders.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced several weeks ago that the curriculum for the next school year will focus on the leadership of the late prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. Students will be visiting Ben-Gurion’s home in the Negev and the Etzel Museum, which commemorates the pre-state underground militia led by Begin.

Over the last few days, educators at the country’s Arab schools have come to realize that the Ben-Gurion-Begin curriculum may be used in their schools too. Arab principals, teachers and intellectuals have asked the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education, a professional body addressing pedagogic issues related to Israeli Arabs, to take action.

“From the perspective of the Arab population, which was part of the Palestinian people, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin are not just prime ministers,” said committee spokesman Raja Zatara. “The former is identified with the Nakba, from our perspective, and with the repression and land appropriation during military rule, while the latter is identified with the activities of Etzel, with the Lebanon War and the massacre at Sabra and Chatila, and with the use of emergency measures for oppressing the Arab population.”

He said the issue shows that the Arab school system needs to be governed independently and should have its known autonomous pedagogic secretariat made up of Arab educators and other experts.

The Arab education committee is considering creating an alternative curriculum that addresses the way many Arabs think of Ben-Gurion and Begin, and focuses on two Arab figures as a counterweight to the Jewish ones. Two of the figures being considered are Palestinian literary theorist Edward Said, who next year will have been dead a decade, and the poet Abdelrahim Mahmud, who was born in 1913. The committee will make a final decision in the coming days.

The founding director of the Arab Center for Law and Policy, also called Dirasat, said the Education Ministry’s move is alienating Arab students.

“This is a continuation of the Education Ministry’s policy of denying the cultural and national uniqueness of Arab students, and pours oil on the fire of the exclusion and alienation of the Arab students in the system,” said Yousef Jabareen. “Proper treatment of Arab education would have required sensitivity to the special situations of the Arab students,” which could be shown in the selection of Arab leaders whom the Arab population sees as heroes, like Nazareth Mayor Tawfik Ziad, a former MK, or former MK Tawfik Toubi. Both of those people “fought for the equality of the Arab population for decades,” said Jabareen.

The Dirasat director said the Education Ministry decision seeks to force the Zionist narrative on Arab students.

Professional educators are seeking to match the curriculum to Arab schools by integrating figures from Palestinian history and presenting all the historical facts about Begin and Ben-Gurion, “and not just the positive side,” said one.

The Education Ministry said it was in the process of discussing a possible alternative curricular focus for non-Jewish schools next year. But in his initial announcement, Sa’ar said in a press release in Hebrew and Arabic that the topic was chosen because next year marks the 100th anniversary of Begin’s birth and the 40th anniversary of Ben-Gurion’s death.

“Engaging with their visions and actions will allow students an in-depth familiarity with figures who left their mark on the nature and character of the State of Israel, along with historic events in the history of the state,” Sa’ar said. He added that students would learn about the significant decisions Ben-Gurion and Begin made, and examine the complexity of those decisions, the considerations that went into them and the values that guided the leaders.

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