The most recent and fashionable trend among young Israeli
historians, most of whom are left-wingers, is to rewrite the
history of the Zionist movement and the events leading up to
the founding of the State of Israel. They call what they are
doing "debunking the Zionist myths" but the objective
observer will note that they often do so by replacing one set
of myths -- the Zionist ones -- with another set: the Arab
myths about those times. This approach is incorporated in the
new series of textbooks approved officially by the Ministry
The International Herald Tribune recently ran an
article from the New York Times on the changes taking
place in the way history textbooks approved by the Israeli
Education Ministry are rewriting the events surrounding the
1948 Israel War of Independence.
We quote extensively from the article and leave our readers
to draw the proper conclusions:
Secular Israeli schoolchildren have long been taught that the
Jews have always been surrounded by enemies and that their
victory over five Arab states in the 1948 War of Independence
was a near miracle of David-and-Goliath proportions.
But the start of this school year marks a quiet revolution in
the teaching of Israeli history to most Israeli pupils. New,
officially approved textbooks make plain that many of the
most common Israeli beliefs are as much myth as fact.
The new books say, that it was the Israelis who had the
military edge in the War of Independence. The books say that
many Palestinians left their land not--as has traditionally
been taught-- because they smugly expected the Arab states to
sweep back in victoriously but because they were afraid and,
in some cases, expelled by Israeli soldiers.
The books freely use the term "Palestinian" to refer to a
people and a nationalist movement, unheard-of in the previous
texts. They refer to the Arabic name for the 1948 war--the
Naqba, or catastrophe-- and ask the pupils to put
themselves in the Arabs' shoes and consider how they would
have "felt" about Zionism.
Finally, the books no longer separate Jewish and Israeli
history from other world events but weave them into a single
The "new history" approach that Mr. Naveh and other new
textbook authors are using in their descriptions of the
Israeli-Arab conflict is 10 or 15 years old. It has gained a
growing following among academic scholars and now with a
somewhat larger public after the 1993 Oslo peace agreement
between Israel and the Palestinians.
But while the publication of such revisionism by scholars is
one thing, the inclusion of their perspective in schoolbooks
is clearly something else. "Why not just translate the
Palestinian books for our children and be done with it?" said
Aharon Megged, a novelist and outspoken critic of the new
history, when he was read a passage from a new textbook.
"This is an act of moral suicide that deprives our children
of everything that makes people proud of Israel."
The passage to which Mr. Megged was reacting was from Mr.
Naveh's book and dealt with the War of Independence.
"On nearly every front and in nearly every battle," it reads,
"the Jewish side had the advantage over the Arabs in terms of
planning, organization, operation of equipment and also in
the number of trained fighters who participated in the
The approach of earlier textbooks is typified by the
following from a 1984 Education Ministry book on the years
1939 to 1949: "The numerical standoff between the two sides
in the conflict was horrifyingly unbalanced. The Jewish
community numbered 650,000. The Arab states together came to
40 million. The chances of success were doubtful, and the
Jewish community had to draft every possible fighter for the
defense of the community."
Instead of portraying the early Zionists as pure, peace-
loving pioneers who fell victim to Arab hatred, the new
historians focus on the early leaders' machinations to build
an iron-walled Jewish state regardless of the consequences
for non-Jews residents.
The controversy that this narrative has generated mirrors the
wider dispute in Israel between those who favor more
concessions to the Arabs and those who fear that such
concessions place Israel's legitimacy and its very existence
Clearly, part of what is driving the change in history texts
is the Middle East peace effort.
The accords between the Israelis and Palestinians call on
each side to fight racism and provocation and instruct their
populations in coexistence.
Yet one of the issues that has most troubled Israeli
commentators is the fact that the Palestinians are still
using old Jordanian and Egyptian texts that never mention
Israel and often portray Jews as evil and bloodthirsty.
Apparently, if we thought that the Israeli secular school
system had hit rock bottom, we were mistaken. It has sunk