JERUSALEM -- Israel for the first time has approved a textbook acknowledging to the country's minority Palestinian citizens what they have been learning at home for generations: The Jewish state's creation was a tragedy for them.
The updated third-grade primer stirred debate yesterday as soon as the Education Ministry announced its approval for Arab classrooms this fall. Israeli rightists rose in defense of the school system's traditional teaching of history and declared the book itself a tragedy.
Under the title Living Together in Israel, the book describes events of 1948 and 1949, when Israel's creation by the United Nations in what had been British-ruled Palestine prompted an invasion by Arab armies and the displacement of about 700,000 Palestinian Arabs.
Previous editions gave only the Jewish narrative of the war, pointing out the Jews' connection to the Holy Land and their need for a state because of persecution in Europe. That version focused on the heroism of the Israeli forces and referred to the Palestinian flight as voluntary.
The new edition adds the Arab perspective, noting for the first time that many Palestinians were forced from their homes and became refugees after the winners of the war confiscated their land and barred their return.
"When the war ended, the Jews prevailed and Israel and its neighbors signed a truce," a key passage reads. "The Arabs call the war the 'Nakba,' meaning the war of catastrophe and destruction. The Jews call it the War of Independence."
Palestinians who stayed in Israel, and now make up 20 percent of the population, lived until 1966 under military rule that limited their rights, the new text acknowledges.
"The book offers Arab pupils a balanced picture, so that they may put what they are exposed to in their home environment into the proper context," Education Minister Yuli Tamir said in announcing the new edition.
Although the facts presented are not in dispute, teaching them in Israel is. Some Israeli Jews said the book would encourage a growing militancy among Israeli Arabs.
"Once the Arab pupils are taught that the establishment of Israel was a disaster, they might infer that they should be fighting against us," said Limor Livnat, a former education minister from the right-wing Likud Party. "Our very own educational system may be raising a fifth column."
Other critics demanded that Tamir be fired. The education minister is a member of the left-leaning Labor Party and a founder of the advocacy group Peace Now.
Last year, she ordered that maps in school textbooks show the boundary that existed between Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Middle East war, provoking challenges from lawmakers, religious leaders and settler groups who claim the West Bank as part of Israel.
Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.