Akiva Eldar, 28 December 2009
In a few years, hopefully not too many, Palestine’s education minister will publish a letter to students ahead of the launch of the new curriculum his ministry initiated, in cooperation with the Arafat Heritage Center. The curriculum will extol the work of the Palestinian freedom fighters who were executed by the Israeli occupation forces.
The program will include an essay contest on the life’s work of Raad Sarkaji, Adnan Subuh and Ghassan Abu Shreikh, three young men from Nablus who were shot to death by Israeli soldiers on December 26, 2009, on suspicion of assassinating a Jewish settler on the land of Palestine. “I hope this curriculum, which tells of the devotion of the martyrs to Palestinian independence, will strengthen the students’ bond to and knowledge of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s struggle to establish the state,” the Palestinian minister will write. “I believe that the stories of the martyrs, and their faith and willingness to sacrifice will set an example for our youth.”
True, these lines, with the appropriate changes, are taken from the salutation by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who has initiated new educational activities on the 12 Jewish men who were sent to the gallows or committed suicide during the British Mandate. An official at the Education Ministry said Sa’ar had tapped ministry experts to promote subjects that are close to his heart. The official protested to Haaretz reporter Or Kashti that the minister was injecting his ideology into the study material. A senior historian added that the fact that these 12 men were victims does not justify turning them into a subject of study.
So what should we tell the little girl who lives on Shlomo Ben-Yosef Street who wants to know about the first person sent to the gallows, who took part in an attack on an Arab bus and was hanged by the British on June 29, 1938? What shall we say to the boy from Etzel Street who asks about the the Etzel pre-state underground that set a “price tag” for the foreign occupier? Shall we change the subject, or shall we speak ill of the group that responded to the killing of its members by the British occupier with the murder of more than 70 Arab men, women and children in terror attacks in the markets of mixed cities?
Sa’ar clearly does not want teachers to encourage students to plant bombs on Arab buses. The 12 men who went to the gallows are, for better or worse, part of the Zionist ethos. Nations immortalize and even beautify the stories of the lives and deaths of those who fell on the way to achieving freedom. And we have achieved freedom.
The Palestinians are, at best, halfway there. Of all people, Sa’ar and his colleagues on the right, who foster the heritage of terror and sacrifice, should understand that the Palestinians, too, have a moral and educational obligation to their “fallen.” We are not the only ones who have the right to mention in our history books “the heroes” who “sacrificed themselves” in the struggle against the occupation. Those who extol the Acre prison break that freed Jewish “security prisoners” cannot oppose the release of Palestinian “terrorists” with “blood on their hands” with the goal of releasing captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
However, the ethos of death and the glorification of massacres of Palestinians (or of Jews, such as the case of the Etzel arms ship the Altalena, which was shelled by the newly created Israel Defense Forces) are the complete opposite of the “exemplary values” that Sa’ar writes about in his letter to teachers. The right values – reconciliation, equality and nonviolence – he should seek elsewhere; he should encourage principals to invite to their schools members of Combatants for Peace, a group of young Israelis and Palestinians who have seen each other through their gunsights and decided to lay down their weapons and fight shoulder to shoulder for peace.
Israel’s children can get to know Etzel fighter Shlomo Ben-Yosef, who wrote before his execution that “I am going to die, and I am not sorry at all because I am going to die for my country!” But Israel’s children should also get to know Yitzhak Frankenthal, who founded the Parents Circle. For 15 years, ever since his soldier-son Arik was killed by Hamas, he has not for one day stopped preaching against violence between the two nations and for a release from the burden of the occupation. Thus, perhaps, Israel’s children in 2020, who live on the street named after the men who went to the gallows, will not have to learn about the sacrifices of the soldiers of 2010.