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Israel: Principal faces hearing over textbook

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[October 01, 2010]  JERUSALEM (AP) -- An Israeli high school principal has been summoned for a hearing by the country's Education Ministry for using a textbook that presents the Palestinian narrative about events surrounding Israel's creation in 1948, officials said Friday.

The controversy at the school in southern Israel reflects how charged the events surrounding the Jewish state's birth remain more than six decades later. Israeli Jews celebrate 1948 as the year of their independence, while Palestinians and Israel's Arab citizens mourn what they call "al-naqba" -- the catastrophe -- the year of their defeat and mass exodus.

The principal of the Shaar Hanegev high school has been told to report next week to clarify with Education Ministry officials his school's use of an unapproved textbook, ministry spokesman Hagit Cohen told The Associated Press.

The textbook in question gives the Israeli narrative of the country's founding next to that of the Palestinians, with blank space in the middle for students to insert their own thoughts, according to a report this week in the daily Haaretz.

An unnamed teacher at the school told Haaretz that the ministry instructed the school to pull the book two days after the academic year began this month.

Cohen, the ministry spokeswoman, said the book was rejected by the Education Ministry five years ago, not during the term of the current Israeli government. The ministry's policy has always been to summon principals for clarification whenever unauthorized materials are used, she said.

"This is not about the content of this particular textbook," Cohen said.

She would not say what steps the Education Ministry might take.

Michal Shaban-Ketzer, a spokeswoman for the local government with jurisdiction over the school, confirmed that the principal had been summoned. School officials would not comment further until after the hearing, she said, and officials at the school could not be reached directly for comment.

Last year, Israel's education minister ordered references to the Palestinian "catastrophe" removed from a textbook for Arab third-graders.

Teachers were free to discuss the personal and national tragedies that befell Palestinians, Education Minister Gideon Saar, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, told Parliament at the time. However, he said that "no other country in the world, in its official curriculum, would treat the fact of its founding as a catastrophe."

The third-grade textbook had been approved by a dovish education minister two years earlier.

The war around Israel's creation effectively began in 1947, with the United Nations decision to partition the British-controlled territory of Palestine into Jewish and Arab countries. It intensified in 1948, when Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish state, and ended with a victory for the Jewish forces. The Israelis seized territories beyond what the U.N. had allotted to their new state, while Egypt and Jordan occupied what was left of the territories the U.N. intended for a Palestinian state.

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More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from areas that came under Israeli control.

Official Israeli histories of the country's establishment, especially those written for schoolchildren, have typically focused on the heroism of Israeli forces and glossed over the Palestinian flight, attributing the mass exile to voluntary escape if mentioning it at all.

The Israeli historian Benny Morris has written that while the Israeli leadership never issued a general order to expel Arabs from areas under Jewish control, in many cases Israeli forces did force Palestinians out. In other cases Palestinians left of their own volition. In almost all cases, those who left were not allowed to return.

Those who remained became an Arab minority inside Israel. Today, those Arabs make up about a fifth of the country's population of 7.5 million.

But the issue of return remains explosive, as Palestinians demand the right to repatriate the surviving refugees and more than 4 million descendants to their original homes in Israel.

Israel rejects the demand, saying that would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Israel says the refugees should receive compensation and be resettled where they now live or in a Palestinian state.

[Associated Press; By MATTI FRIEDMAN]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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