Schule fürs Erinnern / School for Remembrance

Open letter to the Bezirksamt Neukölln and heads of Schools


As parents and educators in Berlin, we are deeply worried about the Neukölln Bezirksamt’s decision to introduce a brochure titled “Mythos#Israel1948” to the schools’ program. The document, produced and published by the external association “Masiyot,” claims to dispel common myths about Israel-Palestine. In effect, this association promotes a vicious kind of historical revisionism. The brochure at hand claims a false and one-sided narrative that trivializes the violent events of 1948 – the Nakba – and exempts Israel from its responsibility for the ongoing displacement and dispossession of the Palestinians since 1948.

The 1948 war and the Nakba are important and sensitive issues that directly concern the familial history and identity of many pupils in Neukölln specifically, and in Berlin generally. While we welcome the intention to educate about these important subjects, their treatment requires pedagogical care, academic scruple, and a critical reflection upon prejudice and the dynamics of racism in the German education system. It is unthinkable that the Bezirksamt should accept a ready-made content package from a clearly revisionistic organization such as “Masyiot” without consulting and gathering resources from a wide range of independent educators, including Palestinian actors.

As their name indicates, “Masyiot” (Hebrew for “tall tales”) has a political agenda of denying the Palestinian narrative, giving a stage to historical revisionism that attempts to revise the scientifically, politically, and socially acknowledged view of history, on both the Zionist and the Palestinian sides of the political map. “Masyiot” effectively erases the Palestinian experience by presenting and interpreting certain historical events in a significantly different way than accepted in current historical scholarship. Therefore, they cannot be considered a reliable or unbiased source for the discussion of such topics in general and more so in schools where our impressionable young children are supposed to be sensitized to critical thinking in a safe environment. With the partial exception of one member,  the document’s authors have no specific academic or pedagogical expertise on the subject of the 1948 war or the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As parents and teachers, we are outraged that such a political organization is allowed to hijack the education of our children.

A full and deep discussion on the academic merits of this brochure would overstretch the limitation of an open letter, but we would like to discuss a sample of the many problematic issues arising in this document. The brochure presents partial, questionable, and distorted versions of historical events and describes the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland as an inevitable result of the “fighting activity” and “voluntary” evictions prompted by “Arabic Propaganda” and merely “individual incidents” of military expulsion. This claim has been refuted many a time and ignores a vast record of research documenting the planned and systematic expulsion of the Palestinian population, along with multiple incidents of massacre, mass executions, and other war crimes committed by the Israeli forces (see Rashid Khalidi, Benny Morris). While discussing the situation of the Palestinian refugees of 1948, the document fails to mention the UN resolution 194(III) affirming the Palestinian right of return and right for compensation, and Israel’s ongoing violation of that decision. It goes to great lengths to relativize and excuse the Israeli occupation and the illegal settlement in the occupied territories (in violation of international law); and finally claims that the occupation of the Gaza Strip ended in 2005 – against a long list of international institutions (including the UN General Assembly and the European Union), organizations, and legal experts disproving this claim (for further references).

Schools must be places of empowerment and open dialogue, where all students are encouraged to express and discuss their identity, background, and heritage without fear of discrimination, criminalization, or dehumanization. All pupils, regardless of their background, deserve truthful and accurate historical knowledge; this is especially true for areas of history that directly affect the families and life situations of many pupils. Indoctrinating pupils in this false version of historical events that denies familial experiences, memories, and testimonies amounts to silencing and gaslighting our children. It can only turn schools into places of suspicion, alienation, and violence. Furthermore, this approach will not protect our children from any kind of racism, including antisemitism, and will exacerbate tensions between Arab and Jewish pupils, who are constantly constructed to be on opposite sides of the struggle against racism. Any educational effort against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of racism must start with mutual acknowledgment and openness toward the other’s perspective. Any reconciliatory dialogue must begin with recognizing injustices, wrongdoings, and suffering in the past and present. By contrast, using materials that turn classrooms into battlefields in the so-called “war of narratives” endangers and harms all pupils, the schools, and the larger community of Neukölln.

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