The Quest for Facts (or Truth?) in the Middle East
December 15, 1999
"Archaeology is... the search for fact. Not truth. If it's truth you're interested in, Doctor Tyree's Philosophy class is right down the hall." These were the words Professor Indiana Jones passed on to his university students, but little did he realize just what kinds of surprising facts and truths he would soon discover on his "last crusade" in search of the Holy Grail. His adventure brought him from America to Europe, and eventually to the Middle East. His final battle against the Nazi thugs took place in Palestine, not far from the present day State of Israel, where the Odyssey World Trek has taken all of us.
Last fall, at the beginning of the school year, Israeli ninth graders were handed brand new textbooks that contained information they had never encountered before. This information was not only new to students, but to Israeli people in general. These new books contradicted much of what they had previously learned and believed, asserting that most of what they new to be true was as much myth as it was fact.
Those that wrote the new information had to sort through myths and facts, like a drawer of mismatched socks. And while sorting, they found myth and fact to be involved together, side by side, in many of the stories about Israeli history, like its 1948 "War of Independence" (known to Palestinians as "Al Naqba"). Eyal Naveh, a history professor at Tel Aviv University who authored some of the new texts writes this about the fight for independence: "On nearly every front and in nearly every battle, the Jewish side had the advantage over the Arabs in terms of planning, organization, operation of equipment, and also in the number of trained fighters who participated in the battle."
Eyal Naveh's account of the battle is strikingly different from the account given in earlier textbooks, as it is in the one presented in the 1984 Education Ministry, a book that "covers" the years 1939-1949. In it we get a very different perspective on the "War of Independence", which goes: "The numerical standoff between the two sides in the conflict was horrifyingly unbalanced. The Jewish community numbered 650,000. The Arab states together came to 40 million. The chances of success were doubtful and the Jewish community had to draft every possible fighter for the defense of the community."
indigenous - originating and living in an area or environment
myth - a fiction or half-truth
revisions - a new version of a book or printed material
These two accounts, which were written within only 15 years of each other, teach us just how important it is to revise history so that it clearly reflects the events of years ago. Don't we view individuals based on what we know of them? And can you see how the old history books could harmfully skew Israeli students' view of their country's founding?
In a way, the revisions taking place in Israel are very similar to the revisions we made when writing about the Native Americans, who, for thousands of years before it was "discovered" and long before England's 13 colonies became established" there, lived in North America. In order to justify our own nation's founding, we too, for 200 years, were educated under a cloud of myths about the existence of America's indigenous peoples, and how we interacted with them. And like us, Israel is now getting rid of her myths as well.
And getting back to these new Israeli texts . . . these texts, approved by the Israeli Ministry of Education, represent the strong effort Israel is making to present historical information more candidly than ever before. Ideally, these efforts will allow future generations of Israelis to understand their history, and that of their neighbors' around them, in a more honest way. Through these efforts students will become more knowledgeable citizens, and, no doubt, apply what they know while attempting to resolve the conflicts that exist in their country.
The Truth in Facts|
New facts and "revisionist history" are not universally accepted (not at first) within Israel or any other country. As new information is discovered, there is still the likelihood that it will be rejected by those simply unwilling to hear it. Searching for historical truth can never be dependent on any one particular textbook or web site. For every "fact" you can find, there will always be several other "facts" that contradict it. Fortunately, for those who are curious, there are infinite resources e.g. books, magazines, documentaries, web sites etc. available for putting together this complex puzzle of conflicts in Israel/Palestine. Although all of these resources take substantial time to go through, and appear confusing, by keeping an open mind you will surely be able to accumulate enough FACTS for you to arrive at a TRUTH you can feel comfortable with.
But, as the Israeli students are now finding out, history can not always be taught with absolute certainty, and our views about what happened in the past, can change with time. As we at the Odyssey introduce you to other young people in Israel/Palestine, I'm sure you'll see that their crusade for knowledge and understanding is much like your own.
Please feel free to send me your questions regarding information you are receiving on the Odyssey web site, the conflict in Israel and the Middle East, or anything at all! I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org
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