Israeli Historical Revisionism Hits American Textbooks – Eman Elshaikh/Muftah

by Newsstand

Palestine refugees, circa 1948

This month, a major American textbook publisher removed a political science textbook from its website, proceeded to destroy as many copies as possible, and vowed to reimburse anyone who had already purchased the book. This was not a reenactment of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, nor was it an effort to correct a factual error in the publication. Rather, as journalist Rania Khalek reported in Electronic Intifada, it was McGraw-Hill capitulating to complaints from a popular Zionist blogger, called the Elder of Ziyon, and other influential pro-Israel individuals, who objected to the content of a figure featured in the textbook.

The image in question depicted a set of maps of historical Palestine, which showed the stages in which Palestinian territory was lost to Israel. Critics described the image as “invented anti-Israel maps.”

The maps are, however, far from “invented.” The existence of historical Palestine and the subsequent forced exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is very well-documented.

Nor are the maps anti-Israel – if they are, then so is the truth, both past and present, about Israel’s actions. The maps depict Israel’s violent and illegal encroachment on Palestinian territory, which continues to this day. As Khalek reported, the chronological maps show the attenuation of Palestinian territory from 1946, one year prior to the invasion of Zionist militias, to 2000, “by which point Palestinian land had been reduced to a handful of tiny non-contiguous enclaves in the occupied West Bank and a sliver of Gaza.”

Why are these maps so offensive to the pro-Israel camp? As Khalek explained in her article:

Such maps present an enormous threat to Zionist ideologues because they have the ability to cut through Israeli propaganda that portrays Palestinian anger and violence as rooted in religious intolerance and irrational hatred rather than a natural reaction to Israel’s colonial expansionism, land theft and ethnic cleansing, all of which continue today.

That is why any time an iteration of these maps breaks into the mainstream, Israel’s advocates rush to censor it.

Israel has, itself, worked hard to censor and revise the truth about its actions in Palestine. Inside Israel, the very mention of the word, “Nakba,” which means catastrophe in Arabic and refers to the mass violent expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, is considered to undermine the state’s legitimacy. Israeli schools are prohibited from educating their students about the Nakba, laws criminalize its commemoration, state archives are sanitized of any records of the event, and the Israeli media broadly denies it ever took place.

What is notable about the McGraw-Hill incident is that it underscores just how powerful the Israeli lobby is in the United States. With the passing of recent state and federal laws penalizing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, skewed media reporting about the Israeli occupation (see herehere, and here), and seemingly unconditional, bipartisan support for Israel, it is clear the Israeli government and its supporters are exerting immense political power in the United States.

Time and again, private actors and organizations affiliated with Israel have effectively shut down anti-Zionist criticism by pledging—or strategically withholding—massive funds. This was evident in the case of Steven Salaita, as well as the controversy surrounding a recent pro-Palestine event at Harvard Law School, which resulted in the reallocation of donor funds that had previously been reserved for use by all the school’s student groups.

There have also been many ludicrous attempts to deny the very existence of the Palestinian people, including Israeli lawmaker Anat Berko’s ignorant claim that Palestinians cannot truly exist because the Arabic language does not have the letter ‘P’, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s statement that “there’s no such thing as a Palestinian,” and former House Representative Newt Gingrich’s comment that Palestinians are an “invented” people.

These attempts to erase and rewrite the history of Palestine and Palestinians must be challenged and replaced by historically accurate and compassionate narratives. To be true allies, we must preserve and celebrate the historical memory and culture of the Palestinians,  a vibrant, resilient people that have existed for centuries.

A Palestinian man dances the traditional Palestinian folk dance, called the dabke, throughout eighteen cities and locations in historical Palestine.

    Israeli Historical Revisionism Hits American Textbooks