JPRS: Reflections of the national narrative on the indigenous Palestinian minority in Israel

JPRS: Reflections of the national narrative on the indigenous Palestinian minority in Israel

Khalid Arar

Kussai Haj Yehia

Fadia Ibrahim*



A narrative is a description and interpretation of reality through a cultural perspective, and it usually expresses a collective memory that is shaped by key images and symbols of a collective-national past (Connerton, 1989). Prominent strategies for the conservation of collective memory, include conducting memorial ceremonies (Anderson, 1991). These ceremonies represent the fundamental principles of a nation and create  an emotional experience that arouses the commitment of individuals towards the nation to which they belong (Smith, 1991).


It is mostly traumatic experiences that compose the collective memory that inspires cohesion and influences the making of different decisions in the present (Keinan, 2015). This article uses critical analysis  to describe changes in the way in which the indigenous Palestinian population in Israel has coped with its narrative discourse since the Nakba and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 until today. Moreover, the article discusses changes that have taken place in the consideration of the Palestinian minority regarding fundamental events in their national struggle in Israel, for example: Nakba Day, and Land Day of 1976 in the face of oppositional reactions through the turning point introduced by the Oslo Peace Process, and the Al-Aqsa and Alquds Intifada (including the events of October 2010). These events and the challenges that they brought have influenced the development of a national narrative among the Palestinian minority in Israel.


In this article we discuss  the challenges that face the indigenous Palestinian minority in Israel in the struggle to develop their unique national narrative due to

(1) the absence of their national narrative in the public arena, most noticeably in the state education system and

(2) their economic dependence on and acceptance of services from government agencies.

However, despite Israeli government efforts to suppress the Palestinian narrative, we note that there are recognizable signs of an oppositional discourse that opposes the official one provided by government institutions, a discourse that the Palestinian minority is developing to maintain its national historical  capital, and to undermine and challenge the Israeli nationalizing narrative that would deny their Palestinian identity. The article ends with some conclusions and insights regarding the topics that have been presented here.



The first challenge: The narrative missing from the government sphere

The Palestinian Arab minority in Israel is defined as an indigenous minority

Palestinian should be eligible to enjoy collective rights (Jabarin, 2012) due to it having been the majority in the area under the British Mandate of Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel - which became a minority as a result of the Palestinian Nakba (disaster) in 1948. The 1948 war brought the expulsion or flight of the majority of Palestinian Arabs beyond the borders of the new state, and/or to villages close to the borders of Israel (Morris, 2004). Moreover, many Palestinian villages within the borders of Israel were not officially recognized by the new state or its residents were recognized solely as residents and not full citizens (Abu-Saad, Yonah & Kaplan, 2000). Israeli citizenship was imposed on all other Palestinian Arabs who remained within the state’s borders (Jamal, 2009).


The State of Israel was established as the realisation of the Zionist dream for the Jewish people. And as such the preference of Jewish nationality over Palestinian nationality was reflected in its definition, symbols and laws. This included the definition of the goals of the state education system, so that the value of nationality was given precedence over democratic values (Arar, 2012). Two main considerations dictated the character of relationships between the Jewish state and its Palestinian minority, security and Zionism (Ghanem, 2001). Zionist ideology supported the “attainment of maximum territory with minimum Palestinians” (Khoury et al., 2013), leaving the Palestinians to struggle to resist massive land appropriations, a struggle that constitutes a major component in Palestinian-Jewish relations in Israel until today (Yiftachel, 2011). Palestinian citizens have therefore suffered from continuous exclusion, discrimination and structural inequality (Agbaria et al., 2015). Against this background, the perception that the Palestinian national narrative competes with the Jewish/Zionist narrative constitutes one of the main characteristics that have directed and continue to direct the education system over the years. This perception is expressed in various operational methods that aspire to prevent or to minimize the development of the Palestinian minority in Israel as a community with its own unique national identity. In consideration of this perception the education sytem in Israel has demonstrated an avoidant approach towards the presentation of the cultural heritage of the Palestinian minority in Israel.


The exclusion and discrimination towards the Palestinian minority also relates to its collective memory and narrative. Over the years and in different ways there has been a concerted attack on the collective memory of the Palestinian minority and the symbols of its national identity, and excluding Palestinian culture from public spaces (Agbaria et al./ 2015; Haj-Yehia & Lev Tov, 2015). This memory is composed of fundamental events that took place since the establishment of the state, such as Nakba Day, which is seen by the Palestinians as a day of national mourning, commemorating the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people (Ghanem, 2001;Golani & Manna, 2011). There is a legal prohibition against the holding of Nakba Day ceremonies in school or denoting the day in other ways.  Schools that transgress this ruling, are liable to lose the budgetary support of the Treasury (Zaher, 2010). Similar consideration is given to “The massacre at Kfar Qasem in 1956” by Israeli Defence Forces; “Land Day” which constituted a definitive landmark in the Palestinian minority’s struggle against land appropriation and began a process of organized resistance (Khoury et al., 2013); and the Al-Aqsa and Alquds Intifada, including the events of October 2010 when Israeli Defence Forces and police shot and killed 13 Palestinian civilians. Of all the traumatic events that the Palestinians have undergone in Israel, the Nakba is considered the most dramatic and radical trauma. It was felt by previous generations and influences the present generation affecting the relations between the Palestinians and the State of Israel (Keinan, 2015).


In order to reinforce its citizens’ national identity, the nation state uses a strategy of construction of collective memory that is shaped in the form of a narrative, with key images and symbols from the common national past (Connerton, 1989). The main strategy is the holding of national memorial ceremonies (Anderson, 1991). They embody the basic principles of the nation and constitute an emotional experience which stimulates individuals’ commitment to the nation to which they belong (Smith, 1991).


The avoidance and eradication of the memory of the Nakba from the public space in general and in schools in particular stems from the fear that exposure of Jewish youth to the Palestinian narrative might arouse doubt regarding the Jewish-Zionist narrative (Yona, 2015:39). Thus too, over time, the education system has served as the main tool for “nationalization” with the aim of educating the Palestinian students to become Israeli citizens and to obliterate their own national identity, by imposing a pure dominant culture with a competing narrative with continous close supervision (Arar, 2015; Crossley & Tily, 2004) by an intelligence network among the Palestinian minority in general and in particular in the schools (Khoury et al., 2013). Indeed there is a lack of symmetry between the Jewish and Palestinian education systems. While in the Palestinian system the students are taught mainly universal values and contents alongside Jewish and civilian values and their own values are pushed aside, in the Jewish education the students acquire their own national values in an outstanding manner and universal values to a lesser extent (Jubran & Agbaria, 2014). Thus the Palestinian education system serves as a tool for control and merger of the Palestinian minority (Al-Haj, 1996; Arar & Keinan, 2015).


The regulation of the Palestinian narative should conform to the international declarations of human rights and economic, social and cultural rights, which indicate that the right to education should be based on  four principles: adaptability, availability, accessibility and acceptability. (Jabarin, 2014).These principles are hardly noticeable in the Palestinian education in Israel because of the majority’s policy of control over the Palestinian education system both in terms of educational content and examination of school decisions.Tracing the learning programs in the Palestinian education system in Israel shows a lack of compatibility between the contents included in these programs and the above-mentioned principles (Jabarin, 2014), since the main purpose of these programs is to educate Palestinian youth to be subservient without a clear independent identity (Yona, 2015).  For example, civics studies are planned to teach Palestinian students to become Israeli citizens, emphasizing the teaching of the history of the Land of Israel and Zionism and completely ignoring the Palestinian narrative and the national-cultural identity of the Palestinian student (Al-Haj, 1996;Ararm 2012; Knaana, 2015). The basic premises of civics studies are reflected in the text book “Being Israeli citizens” that underlines the two basic foundations  of the state’s nature: Jewish and democratic (Knaana, 2015).


An additional example is the learning program in geography, which clearly denies any affinity of the Palestinian minority to the land, while highlighting the Hebrew names given to different locations (Khamaisy, 2014). The learning program in Arabic is void of any contents with a national hue, and Palestinian students are not exposed to literary works of Palestinian authors (Jaber, 2014); in contrast, the Jewish education system that sees language as a major component in the development of national identity and a national self-identity for its students invests serious efforts in the promotion of the Hebrew language and literature (Jabarin & Agbaria, 2014). Despite the separation that exists between Palestinian and Jewish education systems and schools, Palestinian students are forced to study Jewish history, and Hebrew literature and poetry.


In the Palestinian education system, after the establishment of the state, Palestinian teachers were forbidden to discuss political issues that might stimulate national feelings among the students. The establishment expected the teachers to depress any tendency among students to the reinforcement of a Palestinian identity, to educate them in the spirit of Israeli citizenship, to the extent of self-denial and self-negation towards the Jewish majority. On the other hand, the Palestinian minority community expected their teachers to educate future generations to their own national values and Palestinian culture. This demand from the Palestinian community is supported by international declarations of human rights (Al Haj, 1996; Mi’ari, 1978) which Israel has endorsed and which grant the Palestinian minority the right to realize their collective rights, and primarily to maintain the characteristics of their culture and national identity (Agbaria et al., 2015).


On this foundation, some of the teachers and principals in the Palestinian education system have invested time and effort in constructing a covert education program undermining the official values and narratives. Additionally, they recognize that national memorial ceremonies constitute a strategy for the construction of collective memory and the fostering of national identity and try to find ways to use this strategy without breaking the law (Arar & Ibrahim, 2016).


The state’s efforts to impose the Jewish-Zionist narrative and collective Jewish identity on the Palestinian education system have not ceased.  A striking example of this is the corpus of “100 concepts in Zionist Heritage and Democracy” that was introduced into the learning program in 2003. According to Agbaria and Mustafa (2013) this “official knowledge” has given birth to “opposing knowledge” that is expressed in a reactive program: “Identity and affiliation: A project proposing fundamental concepts for Palestinian students”. The “Identity and affiliation” program contributed significantly to the decision to annul the “100 concepts program” in 2006 and represented the legitimization of civil action that could disrupt the colonialist relations expressed in the imposition of the Jewish narrative on Palestinian pupils.


Moreover, the higher education sphere also provides fertile ground for the construction of national consciousness. On the higher education campuses students are exposed to an academic discourse that  is largely enlisted for the Jewish national narrative relating to the history of the violent dispute with the Palestinian students’ nation. However, this discourse often reinforces the old circles of identity and inspires the Palestinian students to clarify their sources for ownership of their own personal and national history, identity and culture (Arar, 2015; Arar & Haj-Yehia, 2016),


Having examined the way in which narrative is used by the government in the field of education, we now examine the use of narrative in the public sphere.



The second challenge: Economic dependence and acceptance of services from government agencies

The development of a collective identity and establishment of a Palestinian narrative constitutes a challenge which is not easy for the Palestinian minority in Israel. This is a minority that mostly avoids political and national involvement and is financially dependent on the Jewish majority, enduring poverty and marginality in the allocation of resources, especially since the Palestinian family that traditionally made a living from agriculture, found itself deprived of its lands, and thus family members were forced to search for a living in Jewish towns (Ghanem, 2001).


In addition to the economic factor, the daily contact between the two national groups has accelerated the process of “Israelization” among members of the Palestinian minority and connected them to the state in various life domains, so that they have become bilingual and bicultural (Smouha, 2013). This rapid process delays concern for the national facet including the development of a national narrative.


These changes have led the Palestinian minority to undergo at least partial “modernization” of their lifestyle and in their thinking as a result of their exposure to Israeli living standards and the Jewish majority acts as a reference group for them. Smouha (2013) claims that the Palestinians see their integration as an opportunity to access resources and a less traditional lifestyle without needing to assimilate into Jewish society. Additionally, the Palestinians have to receive basic services from government agencies, i.e. medical and welfare services etc.


Overshadowed by the above-described official government discourse and the economic dependence of the Palestinians on state services, Palestinian public discourse has developed an oppositional narrative as described in the next section.



Recognizable signs of an oppositional discourse

Reviewing the factors that delay the maintenance of cultural-national identity and collective memory of the Palestinian minority in Israel, we find a reality of intentionally structured exclusion of this culture from the public sphere in Israel (Haj-Yehia & Lev-Tov, 2015).


Is it possible to preserve these identities in the two main channels: formal and informal? As we saw formal discourse is dictated by and serves the supremacy of the Jewish majority narrative, while systematically pushing aside the Palestinian narrative (Arar & Ibrahim, 2016), for example: there has been fierce public dispute regarding the study of the poetry of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. In the informal channels, initiatives such as public museums, libraries, and cultural centers have continuously discriminated against and ignored or excluded Palestinian heritage in terms of policies and budgets, and Palestinian initiatives in this field are required to express loyalty to the state in order to receive state budgets (Haj-Yehia & Lev-Tov, 2015). The present Minister of Culture, for example, cancelled the budget for Palestinian artists, whom she claimed were undermining state security with their artistic work.


Nevertheless despite these factors and the competing Jewish-Zionist narrative, the Palestinians have been able to exploit the sparse resources available to them in order to preserve their cultural heritage and history and especially to commemorate the Nakba, thus raising awareness to its existence and consequences (Keinan, 2015).  This responsibility was borne independently by the Palestinian society and has helped to promote the maintenance of Palestinian identity with all its components (Haj-Yehia & Lev-Tov, 2015).


In the 1960s, Palestinian researchers undertook the leadership of this project and began to invest efforts to research and preserve Palestinian cultural heritage in research institutes in Palestinian universities in the West Bank, especially in Beir Zeit University (Jarad, 2006).  During the 1970s education foundations and associations were established by public organizations in Palestinian society in Israel and consequently Palestinian political and cultural awareness grew, especially after the events of Land Day on 30th March, 1976. Yet the main engagement of Palestinians in Israel took place in the 1980s, led mainly by local researchers who found an academic base in the Palestinian universities in the West Bank (Rabinowitz & Abu-Baker, 2002). There were also some authors and poets who contributed to this project and enlisted their creative work to the preservation and organization of Palestinian culture including Samih AlQasem, Tawfiq Ziad, Rashid Hussein, Emil Habibi, Emil Tuma, Salman Natur and others. Their public works helped to advance the revival of folk and traditional culture and to preserve the collective Palestinian national memory (Jamal, 2010).


In the 1980s, new heritage centers aspired to document, preserve and foster the values of Palestinian culture while helping to raise awareness among Palestinian society in Israel to this heritage (Haj-Yehia & Lev Tov, 2015); these included:

(1) The “Mahmoud Darwish Cultural Center” in Nazereth, established and managed by the municipality (but with no political affinity) in memory of the Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish. The center aims primarily to foster cultural activities and promote all aspects of Palestinian culture in Nazareth and its hinterland, including activities to preserve verbal and material Palestinian heritage;

(2) The Taibe Center for Heritage Revival was established at the beginning of the 1980s to maintain the cultural infrastructure of Palestinian society in Israel and to prevent its distortion or disappearance. It focuses on several activities: (a) planning and performing broad cultural festivals with abundant cultural content devoted to Palestinian heritage preservation through creativity (b) Conferences and seminars dealing with the state of Palestinian culture in Israel (c) Research and publication on the Palestinian heritage, in addition to the publication of the Knaan journal dealing with political, literary and heritage issues.

(3) The Sakhnin Municipal Museum for Palestinian Arab Heritage and Culture was established in Sakhnin in 1990 and it was the first museum dedicated to Palestinian cultural heritage. The museum is unique since it was established in a history building founded during the Ottoman period for the regional governor Mussa Abu-Ria as a result of the cooperation between the Center for Cultural Revival in Taibe, the Sakhnin municipality and the Knaan Institute. The museum’s goals include the conservation of Palestinian heritage and emphasis on its national and cultural character, and guidance for researchers and students in their writings on subjects connected with Palestinian heritage. The museum houses 25,000 historic items divided into several departments representing the traditional Palestinian Arab home (Shay, 2008).


From the 1990s, a socio-political awakening was observed, lasting till the present, and bringing an increased awareness of the need to document and maintain Palestinian cultural heritage. This was expressed in the establishment of civil associations and organizations dealing with the development of education, social and cultural services (Rabinowitz & Abu-Baker, 2002) and tracing the sources of Palestinian heritage. The First Intifada in the occupied territories in 1987 and the Israel-Palestine Peace Process in 1993 played a major role in the Palestinian minority’s coping with the issue of their national and cultural identity.


The end of the 1990s brought technological developments that allowed Palestinians to access their historic, cultural and national heritage through the Internet and direct contact with the Arab world, through computer programs, testimonies, pictures, films and music (Jamal, 2010). The events of the “Second Intifada” had a most profound effect, sharpening Palestinian national consciousness and leading to the publication of the Palestinian Arab “Vision” document by four Palestinian public organizations in Israel, setting out their vision for the future of the Palestinian minority and including the demand to recognize the “Nakba”, or in other words the Palestinian narrative (Ussitzki-Lazar & Kabha, 2008). Thus too, since the 1990s several Palestinian galleries, museums and private collections have opened in Israel including:

(1) The Modern Arts Gallery in Um-al-Fahem, established in 1996 in the town of Um-al-Fahem by a group of local residents and artists, headed by the present director of the gallery, the artist Said Abu-Shaqra. The establishment of the gallery was inspired by the aspiration to bring modern high-quality art to the town and its inhabitants and to present authentic Arab and especially Palestinian Arab art. The gallery conducts research, documentation and preservation of the historic Palestinian heritage. Its historical activities have guided Palestinian researchers, including wide-ranging projects using filmed historical interviews and collections of historical pictures.

(2) The Tawfiq Ziad Institute for National Culture and Creativity established in 1996 in Nazareth in memory of the famous poet, member of Knesset and mayor of Nazereth Tawfiq Ziad. The Institute deals with the conservation of Palestinian cultural heritage and promotes various activities and projects such as: the collection, recording, and publication of the work of Tawfiq Ziad that represents an important part of the difficult history of the Palestinian people in Israel, and support for the performance of research on Palestinian literature, song, thinking and history. The Institute awards prizes to encourage writing in the fields of local and international creativity and has established a Palestinian library that includes all works of Palestinian Arab writers and poets through all periods of the Palestinian people that constitutes an academic resource for researchers and all those who take an interest in this field.

(3) The Association for Arab Culture was established in 1988 by Palestinian intellectuals, academics and political activists to reinforce and consolidate Palestinian national and cultural identity among Palestinian Arabs in Israel. The association’s projects include the “Identity and Belonging” project which holds identity summer camps; tours get to know the country and to revive the memory of the Nakba; seminars on the subject of national and democratic identity; workshops and conferences to reinforce the Arabic language as a central component of Arab culture; and training tour guides for familiarization tours of the uprooted villages.

(4) The Mada alCarmel Center for Applied Social Research was established in 2000 in Haifa, in order to encourage and further theoretical and applied research in Palestinian society in Israel. One of its main goals is to supply a data base and intellectual environment suitable for the learning needs of Palestinians in Israel for their collective future and their relations with the state, with the Palestinian people and with the Arab nation.

(5) The Shuhadaa Museum – Kafr Qasem was established in Kafr Qasem in the Triangle region of Israel in 2006 as a public initiative under the auspices of the local government, 50 years after the massacre at Kafr Qasem. The purpose for the museum was to increase awareness among the Palestinian community in Israel concerning the massacre of 49 of the village’s residents including women and children by the Israeli Border Guards in Kafr Qasem during the period of the military regime on 29th October 1956. The museum collection includes important historical testimonies concerning the massacre.  The museum also exhibits a collection of art works by artists from Kafr Qasem and other villages, portraying the massacre and art in commemoration of the Nakba, presented by the Palestinian architect Fuad Azzam “Panorama of the Massacre”.


In addition to the establishment of these museums, galleries and cultural centers, various smaller, private centers and institutions have sprung up such as: the Fatma Gallery for Palestinian Arab Heritage, established in 2000 in Um-al-Fahum in Wadi Arah as a private initiative by one of the village’s residents.  Who had built up a private varied collection of historical items, focusing especially on work tools of traditional Palestinian farmers before the introduction of modernization in agriculture (Shay, 2008).


Another important factor that significantly helps the formulation of a national narrative among the Palestinian minority in Israel is the rapid development of the Internet and its deep penetration into the life of Palestinian society in Israel. Virtual networks opened up to the leading groups of young Palestinian population in Israel, offering new broad and effective possibilities in conservation, documentation and endowment of the legacy of their oral history and cultural heritage. Today, Palestinian students in Israel have an expansive choice of online alternatives to connect and engage with content and materials reflecting their culture and their unique national identity.



Concluding remarks

Since the Nakhba and the establishment of the State of Israel, the basic social and cultural infrastructure of Palestinian society was almost entirely destroyed. The Palestinian minority in Israel found itself isolated from the former leaders of Palestinian culture and cut off from the culture of the Arab world. The Palestinian minority that remained within Israel’s borders were unable to continue with the development of their national narrative due to lack of civil, cultural centers and the absence of the Palestinian elite after the Nakhba. In contrast, the Israeli government exploited this opportunity in order to expose its Palestinian citizens to Israeli, Jewish and Zionist motives through the formal education system and other institutions. Over time, these governmental acts distanced many Palestinian citizens from the connection to their national narrative as well as their culture and history. However, in the late seventies, in the years following various tragic national incidents, especially Land Day in 1976, there has been an inner awakening among the Palestinian minority, providing the context for conservation activities, documentation and endowment of a national narrative and cultural heritage among its members. The peak of this awakening, we find in recent years as a result of concerted efforts of private organizations and civil associations. The common denominator of these organizations is their informal private enterprise and lack of contact with the Israeli authorities.


With all the importance of this variety of channels, including innovative informal initiatives and activities in the field of history and cultural heritage of the Palestinian minority in Israel, which we have presented, they cannot act as a substitute for the full enablement provided by formal education. They also cannot act as a substitute for government recognition and funding of Palestinian public museums and cultural centers and their impact on the most capital intensive impressive displays.


It is clear that the integration and strength of any social group, relies on its affinity to an alternative and distinct cultural system which creates its unique cultural identity. Therefore, formal education in schools and informal educational activities in local community are both significant channels for the construction and strengthening of national narrative and cultural identity of youth.


Despite the beneficial activities of various informal cultural centers in conserving the Palestinian national narrative in Israel, various other varieties of formal and informal education of the Palestinian youth in Israel could also bring them to reveal the main elements of Palestinian culture, highlighting its originality and focusing on rooted beliefs and values that can enrich all aspects of their lives.


In order to accomplish this, there is a need to follow up on the issue of equality of the Palestinian citizens in Israel, emphasizing the need for equality for the Palestinian collective, creating the necessary conditions for an effective partnership at the national as well as the different collective levels. Equality will ensure the Palestinians self-management in the field of education, especially cultural aspects of education, thus ensuring the rights of the Palestinian minority to deal with particular issues which have seemingly disappeared historically, such as their national narrative.



About the Authors

Khalid Arar (PhD) is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership & Higher Education at the College for Academic Studies and Seminar Hakibutzim College of Education. His studies focuses in issues of diversity, equity and ethnicity in educational leadership and higher education. His most recent books include, Life Stories of Arab Women in Leadership and Management: Challenges and Changes (with Tamar Shapira, 2015, in Hebrew); Arab women in management and leadership (2013, Palgrave, with Tamar Shapira; Faisal Azaiza and Rachel Hertz Lazarowitz); Higher Education among the Palestinian Minority in Israel (2016, Palgrave, with Kussai Haj-Yehia).

Kussai Haj Yehia (PhD) is a senior lecturer in Beit Berl College and head of the Master Degree Program in Education and Arab Culture at The Beit Berl Academic College, Israel. He has completed his post-doctoral studies in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph in Canada and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Fadia Ibrahim (M.ed) has been working as an Arabic teacher at Deir Hanna School and research assistant in graduate school of education at Sakhnin Academic College for Teacher Education. Recently, she has been interested in researching Arab teachers and school principal’s identity formation and higher education among high school graduates.




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