SHAFAQNA – As the commemoration of “Nakba Day” looms, education officials in the Gaza Strip decry what they see as a deliberate downplaying of the watershed events of 1948 – which led to the creation of Israel – in Palestinian school curricula.
“The current educational curriculum in Palestinian schools tackles national events in a shallow, ambiguous manner,” Anwar al-Baarawi, the assistant deputy education minister in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, told Anadolu Agency.
Al-Baarawi argued that the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s international sponsors, who enjoy close ties with Israel, have pressured Palestinian officials in Ramallah to avoid an exhaustive presentation of the events of the 1948 Nakba in school curricula.
Palestinians mark the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) on May 15 of every year – the date on which the state of Israel was established in 1948 on the land of historical Palestine.
Nakba Day, which is celebrated as “Independence Day” in Israel, commemorates the historical events that led to the destruction of most of Palestine’s political, economic and cultural heritage to make way for the creation of the self-proclaimed Jewish state.
To Palestinians – and Arabs in general – the Nakba encompasses an array of events, from the occupation of most Palestinian land by what Palestinian describe as armed Zionist groups and the displacement of some 800,000 Palestinians, to land confiscations that go on to this day.
The Nakba also applies to dozens of mass killings perpetrated by Zionist groups against Palestinians, in which hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children were killed.
“Some of the Palestinian Authority’s international donors have interests in directing the Palestinian narrative of the Nakba in school curricula,” al-Baarawi said.
Between 1948 and 1967, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip, while Jordan controlled the West Bank. Hence, students in the Gaza Strip studied Egyptian curricula, while their counterparts in the West Bank studied Jordanian ones.
However, following its establishment through the Oslo Accords, the PA assumed control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1994.
In 2006, the PA’s Education Ministry began implementing its own educational curricula in Palestinian schools in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after a six-year drafting process.
Somaya al-Nukhala, who supervises school curricula at the Gaza Strip’s Education Ministry, also decried how the events of the Nakba had been “glossed over” in the PA’s curricula.
“The historical information in Palestinian curricula about the Nakba is scarce; in no way does it do justice to the gravity of the actual events,” al-Nukhala said.
According to al-Nukhala, the Nakba is treated mainly through two poems taught to students in the fifth and 12th grades, respectively.
“There is an entire chapter in the eighth grade National Education curriculum addressing the 1948 Palestinian diaspora and the right of return, but it still contains very little information on the cause [of the Nakba],” she said.
The Palestinian diaspora, which has become one of the largest in the world since 1948, is also tackled “in a limited manner” in the National Education curriculum for Palestinian ninth-graders, according to al-Nukhala.
The National Education textbook for Palestinian ninth-graders, she added, contains some detailed information on the spread of Palestinian refugees across the Arab world and the west.
“The book only skims over the destruction of entire Palestinian villages during the 1948 [Arab-Israeli] war,” she asserted.
“Teachers in the Gaza Strip try to enrich the curricula by recounting to the pupils some crucial Nakba events, which have not been included in school books,” she added.
Yet one PA education official, for his part, denied the Gaza officials’ assertions.
“There was no interference by international donors in the work of the Palestinian curricula’s authors,” said Tharwat Zeid, who leads the supervisory board at the West Bank’s Education Ministry.
Zeid said that Belgium, an international sponsor of the PA, which has funded the drafting of Palestinian school curricula, has not imposed any pressure on Palestinian education officials.
Though he insisted that the portrayal of the Nakba in Palestinian educational curriculum was “good overall,” Zeid said Palestinian education officials nevertheless had “some comments” on the subject.
“These comments were gathered after the curriculum was implemented,” Zeid said. “And they will be taken into consideration.”
He went on to say that the PA’s Education Ministry had plans to “deepen” the curricula’s content, which tackles the main outlines of the Palestinian cause, including the Nakba.
The roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-famous “Balfour Declaration,” called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Jewish immigration rose considerably under the British administration of Palestine, which was consolidated by a League of Nations “mandate” in 1922.
In 1948, a newly-formed state inside historical Palestine – “Israel” – was established.
The Palestinian diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world. Palestinian refugees are now spread across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other countries, while many settled in refugee camps in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The right to return to their homes in historical Palestine remains a key demand for many Palestinians.
The current Ramallah-based unity government – drawn up last summer – has yet to assume full political responsibility for the blockaded Gaza strip amid persistent distrust and animosity between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.