On my most recent Interfaith Peace Builders Delegation, we took a tour of the Israeli settlements built around occupied East Jerusalem, and noticed the construction of new Jewish housing units and nearby destruction of Palestinian homes. At one of the settlement vistas was a plaque explaining the horizon of hills and buildings. Only the Jewish sites were referenced. The Palestinian towns, the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque... none of it was marked on the map. "From a young age, we are taught not to see Palestinians, because to see Palestinians would complicate our lives," Yahav, our Israeli tour guide from the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions said.
Reported in the news today, Israeli "Education Minister Gideon Saar has instructed that Arab sector textbooks not teach that the establishment of the State of Israel was a catastrophe for Arabs." All articles note that Jewish Israeli textbooks have never used the term Nakba, catastrophe in Arabic, in complete ignorance or even denial of the Palestinian disaster that took place in 1948. As is stated by the group Zochrot who attempts to bring the Nakba into Israeli consciousness and Israeli society, "The Nakba has no place in the language, the landscape, the environment, and the memory of the Jewish collective in Israel."
There are 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel out of a population of 7 million. Many of them are internally displaced and refugees from the 1948 war. The Nakba, and Israel's independence, is a central aspect of their identity and their political reality. The Nakba was the destruction of the villages and cities, the killing, the expulsion and erasure of Palestinian culture.
This move by the Education Minister is not very surprising in light of a recent bill that has preliminarily passed, which will deny all state funds linked not only to the commemoration of Nakba, but also "prevent the government from supporting activities that reject the state's democratic character, as well as basic democratic principles such as popular sovereignty, human rights, separation of powers, rule of law and an independent judiciary." In a democratic country with a large non-Jewish population, an open discussion about the reality of the democracy of the state should be unquestionable, especially provided the different applications of the law and human rights to Israel's Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Israel's fascist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman drafted the original bill which would have banned all Nakba commemorations with penalties of up to three years in prison for violation of the law.
In Israel's attempt to "erase this memory from the collective consciousness and from the landscape... the Israelis, study in [their] schools that the Jews came to Israel to transform the desert into a blooming country, because we were a 'people without a land' returning to a 'land without a people.'" In a recent Haaretz article Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian Israeli who represents the Balad party in Israel's Knesset stated it well: "This is the only country which enacts a law to rewrite history... They fear the word Nakba like a criminal fears his victim."