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Don't blame the education system for Israel's occupation denial

Ignoring Palestinians, whether the refugees from the 1948 War or those who remained under military rule in the occupied territories, is part and parcel of our Zionist outlook.

By Gil Gertel

Palestinian women cross Qalandiya checkpoint into Jerusalem's A-Ram neighborhood during the first Friday of Ramadan. The Israeli authorities limited crossing to women, children, and men over the age of 40. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian women cross Qalandiya checkpoint into Jerusalem’s A-Ram neighborhood during the first Friday of Ramadan. The Israeli authorities limited crossing to women, children, and men over the age of 40. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

We love to talk about the occupied territories. Because they are silent and they do not throw rocks at us. We have developed a large arsenal of justifications and explanations that we love to repeat to ourselves: this land was promised to us, we were expelled from them, we always yearned for them, they were empty, we bought them with money, we made them bloom, we protected them with blood — thus the occupied territories are ours, and therefore they cannot be occupied.

None of these arguments justify 50 years of military rule over millions of Palestinians bereft of human rights. But we have come up with a strategy: we skip from argument to argument, again and again, until we confuse and tire out our interlocutors. When we argue with ourselves, we are always the victors. We are always right. Until the next attack, until the next argument.

It is easy to talk about the occupied territories — it is harder to talk about occupied people. Israel’s education system did not create this mindset; in fact, it was formed with the beginning of Zionism. A story of a bare land, waiting only for us.

The forgotten people

I know it’s an imaginary story, because even back then there were few who saw it anyway. In 1905 Zionist educator Yitzhak Epstein wrote the following: “We have forgotten one thing: there is an entire nation in this land that we have coveted, one that has held on to it for hundreds of years and never thought about leaving […] thus, when we come to take hold of the country, the question immediately arises: what will the fallahim do, whose fields we will buy?”

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In the wake of the 1948 War, the list of people we forgot only got longer — refugees whom we continued not to see. This is what students read about that period from the “Artzi” textbook, published in 1950: “It is very good that we found a desolate and abandoned land. It is good that every piece of land we obtained is for us […] none of those who hate us (and their numbers are great) can complain that we took someone else’s land.

This textbook was written two years after approximately 750,000 Palestinians were made refugees, before most of their homes were demolished, and when tens of thousands of Jews (many of them refugees) were brought in to live in those homes. And yet we could not see, and we taught or children that it was a good thing that this land was empty, since now we don’t have any enemies (even though their numbers are great), and the house we live in doesn’t belong to anyone else.

A father and daughter take part in the annual ’March of Return’ to the demolished Palestinian village of Kabul in Israel. Although Nakba Day is commemorated on May 15, the 'March of Return' occurs on the same day Israel celebrates its Independence Day, according to the Hebrew calendar, May 10, 2011. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A father and daughter take part in the annual ’March of Return’ to the demolished Palestinian village of Kabul in Israel. Although Nakba Day is commemorated on May 15, the ‘March of Return’ occurs on the same day Israel celebrates its Independence Day, according to the Hebrew calendar, May 10, 2011. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

In 1967, the list of forgotten people grew to include an occupied population, alongside those refugees. But Zionist society, and its education system, had an answer ready: ignoring them. This is what we teach our children, from a fifth-grade textbook: “In 1967, following the Six-Day War, the territories of Judea and Samaria, which were not yet in Israeli hands, came under its control. Today it is populated by both Arabs and Jews. The Arab population, according to estimates, is comprised of 1.5-2.5 million people, who live mostly in urban areas […] the Jewish population is closer to 400,000, who live in approximately 125 settlements.” (pg. 156). How idyllic: those territories “came under our control,” a real miracle. Jews and and Arabs living side by side — the Switzerland of the Middle East.

This infantilizing image of reality is taught in high schools as well. Here is an excerpt from “Israel in the 21st Century,” which prepares students for their matriculation exams: “Settlement in Judea and Samaria has taken place throughout the years under conditions of both political and security-based uncertainty […] the geographical proximity between Jewish and Arab settlements bring about violent confrontations between the two populations, which harms the security of the settlements and along the roads. Thus, in order to improve the accessibility of the Jewish settlements and security on the roads, the roads leading to Arab settlements were separated from those leading to the Jewish settlements, and the presence of IDF forces in the area was increased.” (pg. 207)

Israeli authorities uproot olive trees in order to pave a settler bypass road, Izbat Tabib, West Bank, January 16, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Israeli authorities uproot olive trees in order to pave a settler bypass road, Izbat Tabib, West Bank, January 16, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Military occupation? Military rule? No, no, no! It is the geographical proximity that “brought about” the violence, and because of that violence IDF presence was increased. An inverted, distorted world in which the army is seen as the consequence, not as the reason for the violence. And in order to pour salt on the wounds, we bask in the fact that we have an excellent education system, since after all, the second stated goal of the Israeli education system is to “develop respect for human rights, basic freedoms, democratic principles, rule of law, different cultures, and educating toward peace and tolerance in interpersonal relations as well as between nations.” You see? We’re okay. Show me one Arab country that has such nice education goals.

The first step: Ending the occupation

Fifty years without occupied people, neither in Israel nor in its education curriculum. Those who have passed through this system grow up to be parents, teachers, and authors of educational textbooks. The occupied don’t exist, just as their parents, refugees, didn’t exist.

In Hebrew education, ever since the inception of Zionism, facts could not actually be taught in the class. Nor could they be brought to the public sphere, including the media. Parents, teachers, and students are not primed enough to see. This becomes clear Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s persecution of Breaking the Silence. Just don’t break the silence, or the blindness.

Hebrew education hasn’t changed during the years of the occupation, since ignoring it has been the only way to deal with the terrible reality for which we are responsible. But the education system itself does not have the power to change reality. Schools are not the place to fix what adults cannot see. The cause and effect are opposite: education cannot bring peace and an end to the occupation. The first step to fixing our education is ending the occupation.

Gil Gertel is an educator and a blogger at Local Call, where this post was originally published in Hebrew.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Strange: According to the Oslo agreement (signed both by Israel and Ramallah) more than 90 % of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria are under the “Palestinian” authority government. Israel takes care of the security. Which occupation?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        A nice little set of devious euphemisms there. Par for the course. As Noam Sheizaf argued five years ago, today, Oslo is the occupation:

        “…regardless of the things Oslo was meant to be, it’s clear – and way more important – what it has become: the primary legal tool serving the occupation.
        The agreement over the division of the land – handing the large urban areas to the Palestinians, the rural villages to Palestinian “administrative control,” and the rest to Israel – is now being treated by Israel as the de-facto annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank, also known as Area C. (The situation of the Palestinians in areas A and B is not much better: they need Israel’s approval to travel outside the West Bank and sometimes even within it, and they suffer from what has become the tiny tyranny of the Palestinian Authority.)
        In Area C, Israel is building new settlements, universities and cultural centers; excavating natural resources and using them on the Israeli market; and displacing thousands of Palestinians living there – a massive human and civil rights violation that is condemned by the international community but at the same time accepted and even enabled by the insistence on keeping the Oslo Accords as the main diplomatic and legal framework on the ground. All those nice diplomats working so hard to save Oslo and the peace process are really saving the occupation.”
        https://972mag.com/an-agreement-on-indefinite-occupation-oslo-celebrates-19-years/55788/

        Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          For us, the Six Day war launched exactly 50 years ago was a war of survival and of liberation of Eretz Israel. Most Israeli agree with me.

          Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          Facts only please, no claptrap. There has never been any “Palestinian” State. The Judea and the Samaria were illegally annexed by The Jordan Kingdom in 1952 and except the GB and the Pakistan nobody recognized this annexation. The Oslo agreement was signed by the PLO which was not obliged to sign. More than 90 % of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria live under the Ramalah government and Israel has nothing to do if the “Palestinian” artificial entity is corrupted. The Jewish country gives work to thousands of Arabs from the A zone. You can see them in all Israel, mainly in Jerusalem. According to Oslo, the C zone would remain on Israeli control. There are only a few thousands of Arabs living in this zone. So what occupation? If you think that Oslo was a bad agreement, write a letter to Clinton.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Wow. You know, we observe over and over that the right wing visitors here sound so brain washed, so blithe, so impervious to facts, so cult-like, so impossibly self-righteous. From this article you can see where it comes from. It’s no wonder–they’ve grown up in this kind of Orwellian, reality-erasing propaganda–excuse me–education system.

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        No. Facts are facts. After that it’s all mechanics

        Reply to Comment
    3. Firentis

      Everyone that doesn’t agree with me is brainwashed is effectively the new argument being pushed by the extreme left in Israel. This is their way of not having to engage with people that disagree with them. It isn’t that they have done a terrible job of addressing the legitimate concerns of Israeli people. It is that they are facing a homogenous brainwashed mass and so there is nothing they can do.

      Clearly it is a cult. A whole country is a cult. A cult with a free press, free politics, an educated population, a well-travelled population, a population that speaks foreign languages, a population with relatives in foreign countries, a population that is diverse in its origins, a population that is current with music and entertainment abroad. Really brilliant narrative there.

      Oh, and of course the usual ‘blame the occupation for everything’ narrative. “If we want to address the shrinking population of unicorns in the area the first thing to do is to end the occupation”. “If we want to address the problem of obnoxious children talking in movie theaters the first thing to do is end the occupation”.

      Oh well. The Left cycles through narratives once every two or three years. I suppose this is the new one. Israel is a cult.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Indeed. It amounts to a national cult. It is not such an odd idea. Or an unprecedented one. The Germans were the most educated, culturally sophisticated, intellectually accomplished, musically sophisticated people on earth when they succumbed. They too had a left that the populace got entrained to view as “extreme” and doing a “terrible job.” Weimar liberals were scorned too by the populace who resented the Berlin bubble as much as the periphery resents the Tel Aviv bubble. The Germans were more sophisticated culturally than Israelis can pretend to be. Before the catastrophe. (Today they are still sophisticated, but wise liberal democrats—they’ve seen it all—they know better. Israelis as a whole strike me as political adolescents alongside the German political adults. Feiglin and Smotrich and Bennett are political adolescent males. They are all full of hot blooded urges but have no idea of the consequences.)

        Your words speak to the Israeli mindset. “I’m current with music. I’ve got my European connections. That’s the important thing.” But the few substantial publications that actually tell the truth about what’s going on, Haaretz and 972?–well, “they are ‘leftist,’ so I can comfortable dismiss them.”

        Not one of you ever engages with the actual truth-telling +972 Magazine does. Instead what you do is not show up at all at the most uncomfortable articles, the ones that show unequivocally how awful things really are. The ones you know you can’t spin. Then you are scarce. You show up at the ones where you think you can get a foot in the door because the writer gets some funding from Europe, or is an educator, or whatever. And then you attack, ad hominem, without ever really engaging the truths in the articles. I’ve watched you people for some time now. I know of what I speak.

        The left represented by Haaretz is not “extreme” politically or security-wise to any objective outside observer and it has not done a terrible job of addressing the legitimate concerns of Israeli people, but like Breaking the Silence, Israelis, head in the sand, simply don’t want to listen.
        Brainwashed? Insular? Ignorant about what goes on a few kilometers away and what sick things their settlers and troops do, but au courant on the latest happenings in Berlin, Paris, London and Liechtenstein? Yup.

        Free press? Free politics? You’ve got a Las Vegas casino magnate-bankrolled free sheet slavishly pushing the Prime minister’s line and it’s read far more than anything else in Israel and Israelis openly dismiss the single left of center publication, Haaretz, and refuse to read it. And everything is reduced to “is it leftist”? Yes, it amounts to a cult. A quasi-fascist cult. Spearheaded by Bezalel Smotrich. And Naftali Bennett and Ayalet Shaked, who are Smotrich’s more presentable face. And you’ve got all sorts of NGO persecution laws cooking to squelch any free politics whatsoever.

        No one is under any illusions that anything but outside pressure will change anything.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          When all else fails, throw the National Socialists into the conversation! It’s like the old lawyer’s motto “when the law is against you, argue the facts, and when the facts are against you, argue the law”. Well, the facts are always against Ben so he needs an extraneous diversion to get his fellow “progressives” activated.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The Israeli Lawmaker Heralding Genocide Against Palestinians
            Deputy Speaker Bezalel Smotrich’s admiration for the biblical genocidaire Joshua bin Nun leads him to adopt values that resemble those of the German SS
            http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.791115
            “Tomer Persico quoted remarks that MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) made recently at a conference of religious Zionists, where he presented his plan to offer the Palestinians three options: leave the territories, continue to live there with second-class status, or continue resisting, in which case “the Israel Defense Forces will know what to do.” These are chilling words that are liable to lead Israel into committing the horrific crime of genocide.
            It’s hard to believe that an elected representative of a party in the governing coalition could raise the option of genocide if the Palestinians don’t accept the terms he’s willing to offer them: either emigration, or life under an apartheid regime based on principles of Jewish law, which would be even worse than the one that existed in South Africa. Smotrich, a deputy speaker of the Knesset, is the most senior government figure to date to say unabashedly that the option of genocide is on the table if the Palestinians don’t agree to our terms – and it’s clear they won’t agree…..”

            Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          The first paragraph can be summarized as “everyone I don’t like is a Nazi, everyone that doesn’t agree with me is in a cult. Most Israelis don’t agree with me so it must be a cult.”.

          The second and third paragraph consists of “everyone I do like is a truth-telling angel whose motives should not be questioned” along with some strange complaint about my lack of participation in certain articles. Oh dear, I didn’t know you cared.

          The fourth paragraph is more of the same. We are supposed to trust whatever Haaretz or Breaking the Silence or any other politically-motivated NGO say as if it came down from god himself. That is the “truth” and there is only one truth. Yet it is people that are cynical about them that are the cult. Brilliant.

          Yes, we have a newspaper funded by a Las Vegas casino magnate. We also have a plethora of other newspapers and a rather critical media as you clearly noticed since you are arguing in the comment section of an Israeli site and are using Israeli sources to argue your points. You are practically a Haaretz cut and paste monkey and then you come around questioning whether Israel has a free media.

          And yes, we have free politics, with leftist, rightist, Arab, religious, ultra-orthodox, Russian, secular, and centrist parties all well represented. A lot of them don’t like each other. Welcome to politics in a free society.

          We also have a very healthy NGO landscape, with some having gone wayward due to massive inflows of foreign government money. We will hopefully fix that and stop foreign governments from interfering so blatantly in our internal affairs.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Bruce Gould

      What Occupation? some still ask. This Occupation – David Shulman reviews The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East, The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine, In Search of Modern Palestinian Nationhood, Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict.

      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/06/22/israels-irrational-rationality/

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        For us, the Six Day war launched exactly 50 years ago was a war of survival and of liberation of Eretz Israel. Most Israeli agree with me.

        Reply to Comment
    5. i_like_ike52

      You want to talk about denial? What about all the Palestinians lies about there never being a Temple in Jerusalem, and denying the very existence of a Jewish nation with roots in the country. It is THIS denial that is preventing peace and the achievement of a compromise peace. They have convinced themselves of these lies and thus their leaders have painted themselves into a corner which prevents any real give and take negotiations with Israel. They prefer the continuation of the current situation (i.e. “the occupation”) than telling the truth to their own people that they are going to have to compromise.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Pepper Wingate

      What a load of codswallop! Perhaps the author forgets what was left for Jews in Europe in 1945, or what Jews were facing in the Middle East. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Jews were a displaced people with nowhere else to go. It suited the US to have Jews go to Palestine. It had been promised to them many times and snatched away as often. Americans were terrified that they would be forced to take far more Jews than they were prepared to take. Israel was a godsend and there were already Jews there and had been for centuries. No, Jews occupied no ones land. Some Jews were relocated to the area where they were indigenous. 1967 they recaptured land stolen from them but they refused to do to Arabs what had been done to Jews in 1948. They let them live and stay in the land they had recaptured.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This reads like you read the first paragraph and lost patience and skipped right to the comments section, missing the rest of the article beginning with the second paragraph:

        “None of these arguments justify 50 years of military rule over millions of Palestinians bereft of human rights. But we have come up with a strategy: we skip from argument to argument, again and again, until we confuse and tire out our interlocutors. When we argue with ourselves, we are always the victors. We are always right….”

        Reply to Comment