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Israeli textbook "bad for Arabs, bad for Jews"

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Reprinted from AlJazeera


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Leaders of Israel's large Palestinian minority have begun creating an alternative syllabus for Arab schools, in what they are terming "a revolutionary" step towards educational autonomy.

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It will be the first time in Israel's history that the Palestinian minority has tried to wrest control of the curriculum taught in Arab schools from the Israeli education ministry.

The move follows the ministry's decision to revise the civics textbook, a central part of Israel's matriculation exam.

Traditionally, civics has been the only subject that uses the same textbook in both Jewish and Arab schools.

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The changes have triggered a wave of protest from Israeli civics teachers' associations. They have urged members to boycott the new textbook, due to be published in the next few weeks.

The move is likely to face stiff resistance from Israeli officials. Successive governments have refused to countenance educational autonomy for Israel's Palestinian minority.

Israel's 1.6 million Palestinian citizens are a fifth of the population.

Education officials have been accused of downgrading democratic values to place a much greater emphasis on Israel's Jewish character.

Mohammed Barakeh, head of the High Follow-Up Committee, a coalition of the main Palestinian political factions in Israel, told Al-Jazeera that he had approved the decision to issue Arab schools teachers with an alternative civics course.
He said the ministry's new textbook had pushed the Arab education system to "crisis point."

"Our teachers are now being required to present us as immigrants in our own country. And our students are being taught that the Jewish identity of the state is far more important than its democratic identity," he said. "It is time for us to take the initiative and teach our children the true meaning of democratic values."

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Move rightwards

Although Palestinian and Jewish students are segregated in Israel, the curriculum in Arab schools has always been strictly controlled by Jewish officials, Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, told Al-Jazeera.

The Follow-Up Committee has given Ghanem responsibility for overseeing the development of an alternative civics curriculum in time for the next academic year, in September.

The Palestinian leadership in Israel has grown increasingly concerned about the direction taken by the education system since Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-right settler party Jewish Home, took over the education ministry last spring.

Dirasat, a legal and social policy think-tank based in Nazareth, will take charge of writing the new curriculum sent to Arab schools. Dalia Halabi, its director, said a survey of the existing curriculum by Dirasat and ACRI, an Israeli civil rights group, found that it had become increasingly right-wing and nationalist.

"It does not encourage critical thinking or questioning from students," she told Al-Jazeera. "It aims at indoctrination."

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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