The Nazification of Palestinians in Israeli Schoolbooks

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To justify settler colonialism, Israeli textbooks have weaponised memories of the holocaust, equating Palestinians with the Nazis.  

 

The rhetoric of victimhood and power

The attempt to include Israel, Germany, and Palestine in the same context, which Historians Zimmerman and Zuckerman (2023,11, 84)[1] call “the un-holy Trinity”, is unavoidable. Germany — the country of the historical crime, the Holocaust, Israel — the supposed refuge and safe haven of the victims, and Palestine — whose inhabitants became “the victims of the victims” as Edward Said put it. As Zygmunt Bauman (2000)[2] explained, “victims are not guaranteed to be morally superior to their victimizers, and seldom emerge from the victimization morally ennobled.” He further observes (2000, 14) that the Israeli “hereditary victims” feel they live in a world that “contains the possibility of another Holocaust […] a world populated by the Jew-hating murderers who would not stop short of including them among its victims if given a chance.”

Zimmerman (2023, 32) contends that German nationalism, which served as a model for Jewish nationalism, taught the Jewish nationalists to look for the eternal enemy. Hence, ever since Israel befriended the “other” Germany[3], the role of the eternal enemy was transferred from European anti-Semites and accorded to the Arabs[4] (See Netanyahu’s speech on Holocaust Day 2023). Equating the country’s Muslim neighbors, its Palestinian citizens and its occupied subjects with Nazis, turns them from “the victims of the victims” to accomplices of the German perpetrators (Zimmerman 2023) and provides a powerful incentive to fight and oppress them. Waging war against the Nazified enemy and the risk of dying in this battle have become, according to Zertal (2005, 11)[5] l, “the belated vindication of the fathers’ helplessness in the face of the Nazi enemy. One enemy was combined with the other, and the oppressor turned himself into a victim.”[6]

The Israeli discourse of “a persecuted nation” perceives power not only as a necessary and inevitable derivative of the reality of the Arab–Israeli conflict but also as a redemptive act that retroactively assigns meaning to the Holocaust (Loshitzky 2006). In this discourse, the Arab, particularly the Palestinian, has become the container of Jewish fantasies of power and revenge. Jewish powerlessness and vulnerability, epitomized by the Holocaust, were transformed into a fantasy of absolute power, exercised against the Palestinians as a substitute for the European anti-Semitic goy (gentile).[7] Hence, the lesson drawn from the official account of the Holocaust in schools molds the Zionist subject by denying the “other” — the Palestinians and their suffering. (Ilan Gur-Ze’ev. 1999)[8]

 

Israeli Schoolbooks: the Zionist Subject and Erasure of Arabs

Schoolbooks, as the political and general cultural and social discourse, use the Holocaust to justify Jewish exclusive rights to the land of Palestine.

This civic studies schoolbook, Being Citizens in Israel: A Jewish Democratic State (2016)[9], reiterates time and again that the Jews must maintain their majority in the land because “our people still bleeds.” This schoolbook asserts that the “horrors of the Holocaust and the problem of the displaced people proved to the world unequivocally that the Jewish people needed a national home” (pp. 31, 325) with a Jewish majority. This assertion fails to mention that the “redemption” of the Jewish people in the Land of Palestine was achieved at the expense of the life and freedom of the indigenous Palestinians (Segev 2019)[10].

Schoolbooks justify the ongoing endeavor to distance Palestinian citizens from the land by the need to “Jewify” the entire country. For instance,

“[we must] preserve the national land and protect it from illegal invasion by the non-Jewish population, to acquire land for development in order to prevent [the formation of] a territorial sequence of non-Jewish settlements, lest an Arab sequence brings about the detachment of the Galilee from the state of Israel.”[11]

These feared Arabs are all citizens of Israel, distanced both physically and symbolically. In the social and cultural spheres, Israeli-Palestinian artists, writers, and poets are never referred to as part of Israeli culture, and Palestinians, or Palestine, have no part in the official history. In history and geography school curricula at all grades, not only is the native population excluded, but the land itself is absent (Raz-Krakotzkin 2013, 158)[12]: “The land defined as a homeland has no apparent history of its own in Israeli textbooks.” Israeli “national consciousness was premised on the active erasure of the history of Palestine” (ibid.).

Deleting the various histories of the land over the past two millennia was imperative for the fabrication of what Pierre Nora calls “the cult of continuity,” which serves to justify “our” ways. Thus, the cult of Jewish continuity is construed at the expense of the real continuity or the history of the land, and this imagined “continuity” endows the Jews with “natural and historical rights” to the land, as is specified in the Declaration of Independence, and justifies Israel’s expansion across its international borders. Therefore, schoolbook maps rarely show Palestinian cities and national or cultural sites, either within Israel or in Occupied Palestine (Peled Elhanan 2012)[13].

Israeli outposts, which segment occupied Palestine into “an archipelago of disconnected compartments” (Lloyd 2012,73)[14] that are impassable for Palestinians, are described in geography textbooks as part of a sequence of Israeli settlements within the country’s borders by virtue of the erasure of the Palestinian towns and villages. Geography schoolbooks are titled The Land of Israel rather than the State of Israel. The maps we find in schoolbooks and in all public posters do not depict the state of Israel but “Eretz Israel.” (Peled-Elhanan 2009.)[15] Ignoring the borders and the native population is part of a systematic attempt to “de-Arabise” the land and its social geography, but above all, its history (Pappe 2017).[16]

Schoolbooks legitimize these settler-colonial practices to the younger generation, although colonialism, oppression and occupation are considered crimes in the Western world, especially after WWII and the Holocaust. Israeli schoolbooks use the Holocaust as an example of what might happen to Jewish Israelis if they are not alert and allow the Palestinians to grow and threaten Israel’s existence or replace the Nazi exterminators. This view was already voiced by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in 1951 when he justified the demand for reparations from Germany. He argued that the agreement’s goal was to prevent the Jews from returning to their situation before the Holocaust: “We do not want the Arab Nazis to come and slaughter us,” he said. (Segev 2019, 481). [17]

Jewish powerlessness and vulnerability, epitomized by the Holocaust, were transformed into a fantasy of absolute power, exercised against the Palestinians as a substitute for the European anti-Semitic goy (gentile).

The Nazification of Palestinians

“There are thousands of Eichmanns near the borders of Israel. One hundred and fifty meters from the courtroom where the Eichman trial took place, there is a border, and behind that border, thousands of Eichmanns lie in wait, proclaiming explicitly, ‘what Eichmann has not completed, we will.’” (Davar Daily newspaper, June 12, 1961.)[18]

Schoolbooks, which reflect the orientation of the authorities, have adhered to this comparison ever since.

Schoolbooks explain that Israelis, who always die a “beautiful death” in worthy battles, were unable to understand or sympathize with Holocaust victims who died an ugly and degrading one until they themselves felt that they were about to die an ugly, humiliating “Holocaust-like” death at the hands of the Arab enemies and Palestinian terrorists. Only then could they gain a sense of their vulnerability and helplessness, or in other words, their “Jewishness.” One example is the Gulf War when Israelis felt they would indeed be slaughtered like sheep for being Jewish (Zukerman 1993)[19]. This feeling amplified the fear of a new Holocaust and facilitated identification with Holocaust victims, according to Israeli schoolbooks.

In the 2017 history matriculation exam, the following question appeared in the section titled “The Formation of Holocaust Remembrance”:

“Consider the following events:

The murder of (Israeli) athletes in Munich (by Palestinian terrorists in 1972), The Yom Kippur War (1973), The (Palestinian) terrorist attack in Maalot (1974).

Choose one of these events and explain its impact on the formation of Holocaust remembrance (10 points).”

In a textbook titled Focus on History (2020)[20], which summarizes the major topics students are required to study for their final examination, the chapter about the Holocaust is titled “The formation of Holocaust Remembrance in Israel” (pp.134-136). These three pages do not address the Holocaust as such but rather survey the changes in the conception of the Shoah and its commemoration among the Israeli public. The book briefly traces the trajectory of Israeli attitudes toward the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors from the 1950s onward.

The text explains that what primarily led the Israeli public to truly identify with Holocaust victims were several events linked to the Arab countries’ aggression and the Palestinians’ violent resistance to Israel’s occupation of their land, which is presented in this chapter and in all other schoolbooks, as inexplicable heinous attacks on innocent Jews.

The first of these events, reports Focus, is the 1967 war in which Israel conquered parts of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt and occupied the whole of Palestine in just six days. However, during what was termed “the waiting period” — the three weeks of indecision before Israel attacked its neighbors — a sense of imminent catastrophe prevailed in the country as the Israeli public lived in great fear of being on the verge of extermination again.

The 1973 war, too, is portrayed by Focus as an event that made Israelis feel like Holocaust victims. This war, although won by Israel, forced it to “return” some of the territories it had conquered from Syria and Egypt in 1967. In both wars, the text emphasizes, Israelis experienced “loss, bereavement, and existential danger, which allowed them to identify more easily with Holocaust survivors and allocate a place of honor to their stories in Israeli society” (p.136, bold in the original).

Other “grave security events” that exposed the “weakness and vulnerability” of the Jews in Israel and led them to identify with Holocaust victims were, according to this textbook, the aforementioned ones: 1. the murder of the Israeli athletes in Munich during the Olympic games in 1972 “on the land of Germany” by a Palestinian terror organization. This event “made room for bereavement and pain and facilitated identification with Holocaust survivors.” 2. The Ma’alot attack: “In 1974, terrorists invaded the Jewish settlement Maalot and took hostages: teachers and students. The attempt to rescue them failed, and twenty-two of them were killed. “This traumatic event exposed the weakness and vulnerability of Israelis in the face of terror and led them to adopt a different attitude toward Holocaust survivors.”

In this incident, as one schoolbook (Barnavi1998, 244) reveals, Prime Minister Rabin refused to negotiate with the terrorists from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who took over the school in an attempt to negotiate the release of their twenty-three comrades jailed in Israel. Though the 2020 Focus textbook alludes that it was unclear who shot the children, it portrays the event as an arbitrary heinous slaughter of Jews by Jew-haters.

The third event that made Israelis identify with Holocaust survivors was, according to Focus, the hijacking of an Air France aircraft to Entebbe by Palestinian and German terrorists in 1976. The book asserts: “Like other terrorist attacks, this event also exposed the weakness and the vulnerability of the Israelis against their enemies and enabled many Israelis to identify with Holocaust survivors and to be attentive to their stories.”

In addition to the de-contextualization of the attacks, Focus 2020 reiterates, in the description of each of the events, the “exposure of Israeli weakness and vulnerability,” thereby prompting students to forget or ignore Israel’s powerful army, its nuclear weapons and its remarkable military victories. It conceals the occupation of Palestine, Israel’s oppressive rule over five million Palestinians, and the collective punishments meted out following the terrorist attacks.

The textbook equates both Israeli civilians and soldiers to the helpless, unarmed and unprepared Jewish victims in the European ghettos. The Israeli Jews who vowed never to resemble “these other Jews” who did not fight back are once again cast as the victims of murderous, hateful, and gratuitous attacks by anti-Semites. The colonized oppressed Palestinians, who are generally depicted as primitive, vile, lawless and underdeveloped (Peled-Elhanan, 2012), are transformed in the Focus chapter into almighty Nazis.

Other means of Palestinian Nazification to be found in the schoolbooks are the equation of Arafat to Hitler (Barnavi 1998 quoting PM Begin) and the recurring reference to the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, who met with Hitler and allegedly urged him to exterminate the Jews (Hertz,2015). In making this assertion, the books fall into line with an ongoing political discourse at the highest level. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion was the first to make this allegation, and Prime Minister Netanyahu amplified it decades later when he accused the Mufti of instigating the Final Solution, flying in the face of historical evidence. (Zimmerman 2023, Bauer 2022).[21] However, this discourse seems to have more influence on some history schoolbooks. [22]

Enlisting the authority of leaders, the books quote former foreign minister Abba Eban, who spoke of Israel’s “Auschwitz borders,” and former prime minister Begin, who declared that Israel’s attack on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon had saved us “from another Treblinka” (Peled-Elhanan 2012).

 

In conclusion, nothing positive is ever written about the Palestinians or the Arab countries, their cultures are never described, and they are all portrayed as seeking to “exterminate us again,” as if they were the direct successors of Nazi Germany (e.g. Mishol’s textbook 2014 speaks about “Arab Antisemitism”). In the words of the celebrated Israeli author David Grossman,

“The Israelis, the citizens of the strongest military power in the region, are once again, with strange enthusiasm, walling themselves up behind their sense of persecution, [seeing themselves as] vulnerable victims. The Palestinian threat, ridiculous in terms of the balance of power but effective in its results, has returned Israel, with depressing speed, to the experience of living in fear of total destruction. This, of course, justifies a brutal response to the threat.”[23]

Therefore, it appears that Israeli education’s interest, as manifested in the Focus and other textbooks, is to echo the political-military discourse and re-enact the trauma.

 

 

 

[1] Zimmerman Moshe and Zuckerman Moshe 2023. Thinking Germany. An Israeli dialogue. Tel Aviv. Resling Publishers.

[2] The Holocaust’s Life as a Ghost. In: Social Theory after the Holocaust Edited by Fine, Robert and Charles Turner. Liverpool University Press.

[3] A term coined by Ben Gurion. Diplomatic relations were established between Germany and Israel on 12 May 1965

[4]. Naveh 2018; Segev, 1993; Zuckerman, 1993; Zertal 2005.

[5] Zertal, Edith. 2005. Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood. Translated by Chaya Galai. Cambridge Middle East Studies series. New York: Cambridge University Press

[6] Loshitzky, Yosefa. 2006. “Pathologising Memory from the Holocaust to the Intifada.” Third Text, Vol. 20, Issue 3/4, May/July: 327—335. Third Text ISSN 0952-8822 print/ISSN 1475-5297 online © Third Text (2006) www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/09528820600853761

[7] Loshitzky, Yosefa. 2006. “Pathologising Memory from the Holocaust to the Intifada.” Third Text 20 (Issue 3/4, May-July), 327—335.

[8] Gur-Ze’ev, Ilan. 1999. Philosophy, Politics and Education in Israel. University of Haifa and Zamora-Bitan Publishers (Hebrew).

[9] Alperson, Bilhah, Dubi Tamir, and Dana Shtrakman. 2016. Being Citizens in Israel a Jewish Democratic State. Jerusalem: Published by the Ministry of Education.

[10] Segev, Tom. 2019. A State at Any Cost. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Illustrated edition.

[11] The Geography of the Land of Israel. 2003, 240.

[12] Raz-Krakotzkin, Amnon. 2013. “History Textbooks and the Limits of Israeli Consciousness.” In: Shapira, Anita and Penslar, Derek J., Eds. Israeli Historical Revisionism from Left to Right. Routledge.155-173.

[13] Peled-Elhanan, Nurit. 2012. Palestine in Israeli School Books Ideology and Propaganda in Education. London: I.B. Tauris.

[14] Lloyd, David. 2012. Settler Colonialism and the State of Exception: The Example of Israel/PalestineIn: Jabary, Omar; Salamanca, Mezna Qato, Kareem Rabie and Sobhi Samour Eds. Past is Present: Settler Colonialism in Palestine. Edited by Australia: Swinburne Institute for Social Research. 59-80.

[15] Peled-Elhanan, Nurit. 2009a. “The Geography of Hostility Discursive and Semiotic Means of Transforming Realities in Geography Schoolbooks.” Journal of Visual Literacy, vol. 27 (2). Taylor and Francis Online. 179-208.

[16] Pappe, Ilan. 2017. Ten Myths about Israel. Verso.

As recently as 13.10.2021, far-right Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich shouted at the Arab members of the Israeli Parliament: “You are here by mistake. Ben-Gurion should have finished the job.” www.timesofisrael.com/smotrich-at-knesset-ben-gurion-should-have-finished-the-job-thrown-out-arabs/

[17] Sources used by Segev: Carlebach 1951; Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Mark Dvorzhetski to the Mapai Central Committee, Dec. 13, 1951; Ya’akov Sharett 2007, pp. 253, 221ff., 237ff.

[18]  Yosef Almogi, Mapai’s Secretary General in an electoral speech during the Eichmann trial in 1961.

[19] Zuckerman, Moshe. 1993. Shoa in the Sealed Room: The Shoah in the Israeli Press during the Gulf War. Zuckerman Publishing.

[20] Cohen, Sagi. 2020. Mikud History. Rehes Publishers.

[21] Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer (15.12.2022). “What does Netanyahu know about the Holocaust? Not much”. www.nytimes.com/2015/10/22/world/middleeast/netanyahu-saying-palestinian-mufti-inspired-holocaust-draws-broad-criticism.html

vol. 26, no. 3/4, 2014, pp. 13—37. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/43922000.

Bauer, Yehuda 2013. www.haaretz.com/2013-02-21/ty-article/.premium/prof-bibi-doesnt-know-history-strategy/0000017f-f824-d2d5-a9ff-f8ac65880000.

Bauer Yehuda 15.12.2022. What does Netanyahu know about the Holocaust? Not much. www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/2022-12-15/ty-article-opinion/.premium/00000185-15be-d041-a3ad-15ffa6ff0000

[22] See for instance Herf, Jeffrey. “Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Nazis and the Holocaust: The Origins, Nature and Aftereffects of Collaboration.” Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 26, no. 3/4, 2014, pp. 13—37. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/43922000.

[23] Grossman, David. 2002. “Israel Has Won for Now, But What Is Victory When It Brings No Hope?” The Guardian, G2, September 30, 2002. 3 — 22.

 

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