What History is More Right?

“Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative” allowed students to compare Palestinian and Israeli versions of the same events

Teaching is often doctrinaire, to justify one side while presenting a negative portrait of the other. One side’s hero is the other side’s monster, thus fanning the flames of war.  Research reveals that history textbooks usually focus on the conflict — its human losses and suffering — while neglecting periods of peaceful coexistence between the two sides.

So says the website giving praise for a textbook that describes both Palestinian and Israeli  historical narratives.  The book – Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative – was to be, for the first time, a means to close the rift between the historical understanding of Palestinians and Israelis.  And the valley between the two are immense.  David Shipler, in his book Arab and Jew, describes how both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks often lack objective historical analysis.  The man behind the project, Dan bar-On, reported that he had difficulty writing the book because of the demonetization of many national heroes: “One man’s hero was another man’s terrorist.”

[tweetmeme] While the book has been around for almost a decade, it has rarely been used as a means to push for peace and understanding between two people.  For many years, both Palestine and Israel banned the use of the book in schools.  Recently, there were reports, though, that the PA had accepted the use of the book in two Palestinian schools in the Jericho district.  That the Palestinian Ministry of Education allowed the use of such a tool while it was still banned in Israel was a sense of shame to many Israeli educators.  One principal was reprimanded for allowing students to use the book as a reference while one educator in the Sha’ar Hanegev school said:

Unfortunately, the Palestinians are further along than the Israeli Education Ministry when it comes to acknowledging the other side of the conflict.  While [the Palestinians] approved the project, here they are summoning the principal for clarifications. This is a highly embarrassing situation.

Another official was quoted as saying:

Ramallah approved the project only after PA officials read the textbook, while in Israel the book was banned even though officials in Jerusalem did not even check its contents.  From the Palestinian standpoint, this is a breakthrough because they are ready to teach the Israeli narrative. On the other hand, in Israel they are hunkering down in old positions.

It seemed as though Palestine was prepared to give Israeli obstinance a black eye while looking like the more open and accepting society in the international arena (even if it was concerning a small topic.)  Israeli educators were embarrassed that Palestine was further along than Israel’s!  Had that ever happened?

Fortunately, the Palestinian Ministry of Education came to their senses and closed that window of opportunity.  Not only did the PA immediate refute reports that the book was being allowed in Palestine, but it went the extra mile by noting that no one on the committee had heard of the book or read it.

This site often focuses on the politics of the conflict and the peace process, but rarely looks at what the details of the future will look like.  In one state or two, Israelis and Palestinians are going to be living side by side as equals and, eventually, the two societies are going to have to reconcile the various discrepancies in the different historical narratives of the same past.  Certainly introducing textbooks that offer both narratives is not the only way to protect the future – nor is it sufficient enough to properly increase the understanding between two people.  By continuing the ban on such a book, both Israel and Palestine are reaffirming the bias of their own historical narratives and denying their future generations a head start in truly creating a peaceful understanding of each other.

Photo from Traubman

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