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A Limited Education about the Arab-Israeli Conflict

January 1, 1985

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Israeli high school seniors studying for a graduation exam were asked to write an essay about whether Palestinians constituted a separate national entity.

In an unofficial study guide based on past exams, author Amnon Haver suggests one answer: ″There never was such a thing (as the Palestinian nation) but if the Jews help it to be, it will be.″

Since there is no clearcut right or wrong answer, students are permitted to make any argument as long as it is well-supported.

That fact is indicative of the unresolved nature of the 36-year-old Arab- Israeli confict and the divisions within Israeli society on how to deal with the nationalist aspirations of nearly 2 million Arabs who live in Israel and the territories it occupies.

Because the issue is so sensitive, most of Israel’s one million school children receive only limited instruction about the Palestinian question and the ongoing state of war between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.

Even in high school, only two courses related to Jewish-Arab relations are included in the civics curriculum and the teacher rather than the student decides whether they will be taught.

Until 1974, the Arab-Israeli conflict was not taught at all. Now, ministry of education officials say a little under half of the 36,000 high school seniors are taught one of the two courses even though some teachers believe it should be mandatory.

″You cannot force teachers to teach something that is so sensitive and has so many political overtones,″ said Ada Moskowitz, who heads the Ministry of Education’s planning department on civics and history.

Her department put out the only official textbook on the subject in 1979 and it is taught in about one-third of the nation’s 700-state run high schools.

The official 300-page textbook entitled ″the Arab-Israeli Conflict″ has been praised by many educators as a balanced presentation of Jewish and Arab points of view, including historical documents and essays by both Jews and Palestinians suggesting alternative solutions to the problem.

But the guidelines to teachers say the purpose of the textbook is ″to enable students to confront Arab claims by being aware of the Jewish people’s just struggle for self-renewal and the upholding of its sovereign existence.″

Vocational and religious schools have different programs and use unofficial textbooks. Most of these do not go beyond the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel acquired the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights by force of arms.

Liberal educators are alarmed by the lack of detailed instruction on such a central issue and have warned that the outcome will be a generation whose views are based on stereotypes.

″I find great ignorance among my students,″ said Yaakov Roth, who teaches high school students in suburban Tel Aviv. ″The kids are prisoners of misconceptions. They know nothing about Arabs or the Arab national movement.″

Aluf Har-even, a director of the Jerusalem-based Van Leer Institute which deals with the advancement of educational projects, said ″Israel has never asked itself how it should educate the youths about Arabs. Arab-Jewish relations must become an integral part of the education process, starting in kindergarten.″

He maintained that kindergartens were ″a breeding ground for stereotypes″ and that Arabs were perceived by many Jewish children as dirty, unreliable and dangerous.

For grade school pupils there is no textbook dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict and they learn about the subject piecemeal in classes devoted to geography, literature and other topics.

For example, one third-grade reader contains a story by Eliezer Smolly about a 12-year-old Jewish boy who was caught by Arabs in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. In the fictional account, the Arabs attach explosives to the boy’s body and send him back to the Jewish fighters where the bomb explodes.

″This is brainwashing of children to hate Arabs,″ said Daniel Bar-Tal, a lecturer on psychology at the University of Tel Aviv.

A serious dilemma facing educators in formulating study programs about Jewish-Arab relations is how to shape future generations of Israelis to be both humane and moral and at the same time be capable of killing Arab enemies in defense of their country.

Mrs. Moskowitz, in an interview, said even careful balance in the current curriculum has not prevented complaints from parents that the course was too multi-sided and confused the students ″instead of presenting them with the view that Israel has an inalienable right to this country.″

Mrs. Moskowitz said she is compiling material for a new textbook to be taught at state-run high schools. It will reflect recent developments in Arab- Israeli relations such as the U.S.-mediated 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.

The other course in the civics curriculum dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict is called ″Living Together″ and was put together by a number of educators, including Har-Even of the Van Leer Institute.

Chosen by about one-third of the teachers for instructing high school teachers, the course ″is designed to bring home the basic fact that one of every six Israelis (in the nation of four million) is an Arab entitled to equal rights,″ Har-Even said.

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