Banned Textbook in Israel/Palestine
The title of the article in this week’s Forward (www.forward.com ), “Banned Textbook Offers a Lesson in Mideast Politics” only begins to hint at the sadness that the article reveals. A new book, “Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative” was produced by the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East to tell the history of the region through both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. There are three columns on each page: one presents an Israeli narrative, one a Palestinian narrative, and one a blank column for students to share their own perspectives. The book is meant to respond to the frequent accusations by everyone that their story is never told. Now everyone’s story can be told; yet it seems that ministries of education for both Israel and Palestine have banned the book.
Why ban such a potentially helpful, heart opening text? When our community read The Lemon Tree together, we were moved by the stories of both Israelis and Palestinians being told side-by-side. Yet, there are certainly times that our members bristle at the possibility of having both narratives rub up against each other too closely – especially when it involves the teaching of children.
The children who are meant to be reached by this new curriculum are senior high school students living in Israel/Palestine. I would hope that by the age of 16 or 17, both groups of students would be ready to learn both narratives. I would also hope that those responsible for the education of a next generation in Israel/Palestine would recognize the importance of finding ways to open everyone to the others living near them. How can an Israeli official or a Palestinian official imagine that by banning each other’s stories that there will ever be peace – that there will ever be the understanding needed to build justice?
Fear is clearly at the heart of this book banning: fear that those who learn about each other will no longer be fully supportive of their own people. If support is dependent on hiding facts, it is not real support. Those who feel that they are lied to about their people’s history rarely feel more supportive when they learn the truth. If anything, full openness can lead to full understanding and to even greater support for one’s own people and land, while it can also lead to new and creative ways to honestly open to one’s neighbors.
The idea of banning books is a horrible one in almost every case. In this case, it is also seriously misguided. If the governments of Israel and Palestine are serious about finding a way to live together peacefully and justly, they have taken a clear step backward.
An English version of the textbook is in the planning stages for use in English speaking countries. My hope is that we can show our support for this venture by using the text in our adult and teen educational programs. Maybe our hearts and minds will be opened by this courageous text.