Palestinian National Poet's Work To Be in Israeli-Arab Curriculum

The Education Ministry has approved the inclusion of the works of the Palestinian national poet in the Israeli-Arab curriculum starting next year. The additions mark the end of a decades-long struggle to bring controversial writers to an impoverished list, "emasculated" for political reasons. Raymond Marjiya and Omri Meniv report.

al-monitor A picture of late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish hangs at his family's house in the Arab village of Judeida in northern Israel August 11, 2008. Photo by REUTERS/Ammar Awad.

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israel, education

Mar 29, 2012

For the first time, the poems of Mahmoud Darwish, widely considered the Palestinian national poet, will be taught in Arab schools in Israel. High-placed officials in charge of education in the sector have recently instructed the school principals to adopt a new literature curriculum including, in addition to Darwish's poetry, works from Knesset Member and ex-mayor of Nazareth Tawfiq Ziad and poet Samih Al-Qasem. However, authors and poets that are considered controversial are still excluded from the list including Ghassan Kanafani, who was a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and poet Fadwa Tuqan, who defamed Israel Defense Forces soldiers in her work. Ironically, Arab language and literature tracks in Jewish schools have included the option of studying works by Darwish and Kanafani for several years.

The curriculum for Arab literature in schools of the Arab sector is considered the most sensitive of the pedagogical programs of the Education Ministry and the new one has not received final authorization. The curriculum was last updated about thirty years ago, in 1981, and only partially implemented then. Major writers/poets included in it, such as Darwish, were effectively removed from the textbooks. Repeated attempts to obtain a consensus in updating the curriculum with regard to "suitable" poets and writers failed time after time: in 2004, 2007 and 2011.

Last November, Chairman of the Pedagogical Secretariat in the Education Ministry Dr. Zvi Zameret resigned his post, leaving behind an agreed-upon program that had almost been signed and sealed. After his departure, high-level professionals in Arab Education continued to promote the compromise achieved between them and Dr. Zameret during the latter's tenure. In recent weeks, the compromise proposal was presented to school principals and supervisors in the Arab sector, who were required to teach it starting the subsequent school year. Now a final authorization is required from the next pedagogical secretariat chairman, who has not yet been appointed, to give the curriculum the final legal seal of approval.

"Controversial writers" were excluded

The main dispute in the creation of a new study format revolving around two writers: Ghassan Kanafani and Fadwa Tuqan. Kanafani was a member of the PLO and spokesman for the PFLP. He was photographed with one of the Japanese terrorists after the 1972 Lod Airport massacre, an act that raised the ire of many Israelis. About a month later he was killed in an explosion in his car. Tuqan is considered a red flag because of a poem she wrote after waiting for long hours at the Allenby Bridge. She wrote that the hunger of her hatred was so great that it could be satiated only by the livers of IDF soldiers.

In 2007, the education ministry, headed by Minister Yuli Tamir, was ready to approve the curriculum including works by Kanafani and Tuqan. However, the writings of these two authors that were to be included in the list mainly criticized the Arab world or the Palestinians themselves, or dealt with general issues. Even that curriculum was not ultimately approved but was vetoed by Dr. Zameret, who agreed to include poets such as Darwish but vehemently refused to include Kanafani and Tuqan. Yet, Jews in Jewish schools who choose the Arab language stream may study Kanafani (in addition to Darwish).

An "emasculated list"

Dr. Mahmud Abu Fanni, who coordinated the activity of the committee that formulated the curriculum in 2007, clarifies that the objective was to "nurture pluralism and coexistence, while dealing with national identity." But an overview of the list of writers and poets reveals that none touch the sensitive nerves of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Criticism has already been heard from the Arab sector regarding the texts that appear in the new curriculum, but especially the ones that were omitted. "This is an emasculated list," a literature teacher in an Arab school told Maariv. "This is not the Darwish that we know." Professor Mahmoud Ganaim, chairman of the Arabic Language Academy and who also served as chairman of the Committee for the Arab Language for Arab Schools, is certain that the reason for the omitted texts is political. In a conversation with Maariv he cites the harsh discussion he conducted with Dr. Zameret in June 2011. "I expressed my protest over the texts that were omitted and explained that I do not accept the decision," he says. Dr. Zameret and the members of the committee admit that the reason for the removal of the works of the two poets was political, stemming from the sensitivity of the issue.

The education ministry gave the following message: "In 2007 a curriculum of four units was created, but it was frozen since its scope did not meet the by-laws for Bagrut [graduation] eligibility. Currently, the process of adapting the curriculum to the by-laws of Bagrut entitlement is being completed. Since the new curriculum was defined as pertaining to Arab and world literature, international translated works were inserted and others were omitted, such as works by Fadwa Tuqan and Ghassan Kanafani."

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