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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 May 2007, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Huge gulf in Mid-East narratives
By Claire Bolderson
BBC News, Tel Aviv

Israel national celebration
Israel's independence celebrations gloss over parts of history
If you watch the introductory video at Tel Aviv's Independence Hall Museum you will hear barely a mention of the Arabs who lived in Palestine before Israel became a state.

If you look at a map in an Israeli school text book you are unlikely to find the Green Line, the ceasefire line which until 1967 separated Israel from the Palestinian territories.

Israel stretches to the border with Jordan. It is as if the Palestinians don't exist.

And you won't find the word "Nakba", the "disaster", as Arabs call what befell the Palestinian people when the Israeli state was created in 1948.

If you ask people in Israel about the Nakba the majority don't know what it is
Eyal Danon
As Dr Ruth Firer, a historian at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says, every country is guilty of telling its own version of history and of being the hero of its own story.

"But every narrative has to be flexible enough to let others live by it. If one's own history is written in a way that doesn't let others live by it then we have a problem".

And the problem isn't just on the Israeli side.

Garbled picture

At a girls high school in Ramallah in the West Bank a civics class concentrates on the birth of Palestinian nationalism.

Asked what they know about the history of the Jewish people on the other side of the security barrier, few show much interest or understanding.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
Palestinian refugees claim rights to return to what is now Israel
"Yes we know their history, that they used to cause problems in Britain," says one 16-year-old of why the Jews came to Israel.

"They wanted to get rid of their problems. So they sent them to us because we didn't have anyone to protect us. "

It's a rather garbled picture of the past and when the discussion turns to the subject of the Holocaust, the girls are dismissive.

Yes, they say, they know the Jews were oppressed. But, adds one, "that doesn't give them the right to do the same thing to us".

One-man mission

Does it matter that the Palestinian teenagers treat one of the pivotal events in Jewish history so casually?

Certainly, according to Khaled Kasab Mahameed. He runs the Arab Institute for Holocaust research and education, in Nazareth.

Khaled Mahameed
There is no way to deal with the Israelis if we deny the element that constructs 90% of their personality
Khaled Kasab Mahameed
Its walls are lined with graphic photos of Jewish suffering that he got from Israel's official Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Khaled, an Israeli Arab, takes them with him when he goes on his one-man missions to educate Palestinians in refugee camps.

"We have to understand this picture to understand who we are dealing with," he says.

He believes the Holocaust affects the Israeli character deeply. "There is no way to deal with the Israelis if we deny the element that constructs 90% of their personality."


Dr Ruth Firer agrees. The memory of persecution in Europe is very strong she says.

"It is rooted in our personality". She adds that she wishes the Palestinians understood the Jewish "tragedies" better. But what about understanding theirs?

Eyal Danon works on a project with Israeli Arabs documenting the Arab and Jewish history of Jaffa.

He says that's even more important, but it is also much harder.

Demonstration against Israeli barrier in the West Bank
The two sides now have virtually no contact to learn about the other

"If you ask people in Israel about the Nakba the majority don't know what it is."

He adds that Israelis should study the Nakba, the events surrounding the birth of Israel that resulted in an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fleeing, because it was their responsibility.

Only after Israel's dealt with that he says, can there be dialogue with the Palestinians.

In the 1980s a new generation of Israeli historians started writing about some of the more brutal aspects of their country's origins including expulsions and violence against Arab villagers.

But most of that still hasn't made it into the mainstream narrative.

And today, young people on either side of the conflict have little chance to find out more about each other's present lives let alone the past.

Apart from a few official school exchanges youngsters from the two sides have virtually no contact at all.

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