Palestinian identity under attack in Israel

Earlier in April, the Israeli Ministry of Education decided to add a question about the Holocaust to the matriculation exam of Arab students.

Because the state has banned any study of the Nakba– going so far as to strike the word from the textbooks– the move has drawn sharp criticism in Israel’s Palestinian community.

The Abraham Fund — a joint Jewish-Arab organization that advocates for equality within in Israel — remarked that, “It is important that Arab students learn about the Holocaust and understand the history and pain of the Jewish people… At the same time, it is important that Jewish students learn about the history of the Palestinian minority in Israel, especially those aspects tied to the state of Israel and her existence.”

Sawsan Zaher is a Palestinian who was born and raised in Israel. An attorney at Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Zaher recalls that she did not learn about the Nakba until she studied it on her own, in her early twenties.

“I finished high school without being able to study Palestinian history–about what was here before 1948, about the nakba.”

“And if the parents [of Palestinian students] aren’t political?” she adds. “That’s it.”

The decision to add a question about the Holocaust comes in the wake of the “Nakba Law,” which was passed by the Knesset last month.

The new legislation states that municipalities, public institutions, or organizations that receive public funds will be fined for marking the Nakba or expressing feelings of mourning about Israel’s establishment.

The law was slammed by both Jewish and Arab members of Knesset. “On this day, the thought police is being established in Israel,” Isaac Herzog of the right-wing Labor party said.

Both the Nakba Law and the change to the matriculation exam come just months after a principal of a public school in Yafo, the historically Arab city that was annexed by the Tel Aviv municipality in 1950, forbade students from speaking Arabic.

About half of the school’s students are Palestinian citizens of Israel. While all classes are taught in Hebrew, the principal’s decision forbade Palestinian students from speaking Arabic amongst themselves.

Russian-speaking students, however, are allowed to use their mother tongue.

( / 30.04.2011)

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