Civic Studies ( אזרחות ) is a mandatory subject in Israeli high schools. Without it, the student can’t graduate. And that’s the way it should be. Much is discussed in Civic Studies: the role of the state, sovereignty, the rights and duties of citizens, the court system, and much more. The idea is to introduce the real world to youngsters, my daughters included.
Only lately, it’s become too real.
One such case involves Adam Verta, a Civic Studies teacher near Galilee. During a lesson, he questioned the morals of the Israeli military. A girl student opposed his views and later complained to the school. The teacher was brought before a disciplinary hearing and his job was placed in jeopardy. The classroom incident ignited a fireball in the media, each camp claiming the high road. People supporting the student (mostly right-wing) said the teacher acted recklessly, that he incited against the State, discouraged young men and women from enlisting, and demoralized soldiers in uniform. People supporting the teacher (mostly left-wing) cited freedom of speech.
My opinion? If the teacher brought up his views in class and did not preach and coerce, and if he opened up the discussion and allowed other views – I’m all for it. It’s not a physics or chemistry class where everything’s formulaic and exact. It’s a civics class. Nothing’s clear-cut. Life is messy. It involves human beings. Classrooms are where opinions and views should be heard. In not there, then where?
Right-wing settlers in the West Bank believe the land there is God-given to them. And when Israeli soldiers are called to settle disputes, the settlers spit on the Israeli soldiers, insult them, throw paint on their faces. It that not demoralizing?
The teacher was allowed back in the class. He still has a job. No one’s happy, least of all the teacher.
Here’s another civics lesson, this one involving the film “5 Broken Cameras.” Nominated for an Oscar in the foreign-film category last year, it tells of the life of a Palestinian in the West Bank during the time Israel built the Security Fence to block terrorists from infiltrating and killing innocent Israelis. He filmed the daily hardships of being trapped from behind the tall concrete fence, movement restricted, life forever changed, for him and his children.
This year, the Israeli Ministry of Education allowed the film to be shown to high school juniors and seniors, as part of the “cultural curriculum.” I applaud such action and bravery. 17 and 18 year-olds, a year before military duty are old enough to view the film, discuss it in class and draw their own conclusions.
Maybe both Arabs and Jews will become more civilized. But I doubt it. In my daughters’ school, Israeli Jews say horrible things about Arabs when they’re not around to hear it. I’m sure Arabs say equally horrible things about Jews.
So much mistrust.
And this all takes place in a year which the Ministry of Education rolled out a campaign titled: “The Other is Me.” It loosely means that we are all similar and let’s learn about the other within, and in turn, learn about ourselves. But that’s hard to do when most Arab Israelis know Hebrew but very few Jewish Israelis know Arabic. Arabic is a mandatory “foreign” language in high school, as is English. Yet few take Arabic seriously, many drop out or do the minimum.
This year the Ministry is dropping Arabic, making it an elective. That’s wrong. Like it or not, Israel is in the Middle East. Yes, the Arabs boycott Israel. Left with no choice, Israel plays soccer and basketball against England and France, and not Saudi Arabia. It ships its oranges to Berlin, its knowhow to Wall Street. But Israelis can’t swim or walk away from the Middle East or from itself because 20% of its population is Arab. The Arabs here live in a Jewish state. They learn Hebrew from a young age. Why shouldn’t the Jewish Israelis learn Arabic? I’m not talking about the high-brow, literary complex Arabic that even the educated Arabs can’t follow. I’m talking about spoken, conversational, everyday Arabic.
If this will not break the ice, then let’s at least break pita bread together. And that’s my civics lesson for today.
The bell is ringing.
Go and play, Arabs and Jews.
——————————————————————————————————————————Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com