If I were a teacher

If I were a teacher I would teach the truth: that a people without a land came to a land that had a people, and that it’s theirs at least as much as it’s ours.

Gideon Levy Ha’aretz 29.01.14

If I were a teacher, I would tell my students that the Israel Defence Forces is not a moral army and why it could never be one. I would tell them it’s an occupation army and that the occupation is criminal. If I were a teacher, I would tell my students what happened here in 1948, and in Kibya, and in Kafr Qasem, and in Sabra and Chatila, and Kafr Kana, and in Operation Cast Lead – as well as what happens daily in the occupied territories. If I were a teacher, I would tell my students the truth.

Pete Seeger died this week and one of his songs (originally by Tom Paxton) went like this: “What did you learn in school today/ Dear little boy of mine?/ I learned our Government must be strong/ It’s always right and never wrong/ Our leaders are the finest men/ And we elect them again and again/ That’s what I learned in school today.”

If I were a teacher, I wouldn’t teach my students the lies that the dear little boy in Seeger’s and Paxton’s song learned in school – which both singers were protesting. But protest songs like that are the products of Seeger’s America. Here it’s forbidden to even ask if the IDF is a moral army, the way Adam Verete dared to do at the ORT Greenberg High School in Kiryat Tivon, as he tried to present a different version of things than what’s deemed acceptable. [NOTE: According to its website, “ORT Israel is the leading educational network of comprehensive schools in Israel” and “educates Israel’s youth to become productive, caring and contributing citizens.” As noted in the brief article for which a link is transmitted below, the “Adam Verete affair” to which Levy refers produced a pronouncement by the ORT network “that any teacher who casts doubt on the morality of the army will not be allowed to teach in ORT schools.”]

The truth about the values of the Israeli educational system was best expressed by Zvi Peleg, the director of the network in which Verete teaches: “The credo of the ORT network has several fundamental values. One of them is serving in the IDF. Indeed, that’s how it is. The job of the Israeli educational system is to prepare our girls and boys for army service. That’s a pedagogical poem that’s scary and distorted. In no democratic state does the school system constitute paramilitary service, with the schools as military academies. But that’s exactly why they instil our pupils with all the fears and hatreds and the sense of victimhood and nationalism; it’s the bread and butter of the Israeli school, ideological, conscripted, and militaristic. I would come out against that, if I were a teacher. If I were a civics teacher, I would try to teach my children good citizenship; that IDF service is a necessity, perhaps even an unavoidable one, but it’s not a value, and certainly not a moral one. There’s no connection between morals and the military, and certainly not between morals and the IDF.

I would teach the truth: That the Jewish people is no better than any other nation; that it’s not the chosen people or a light unto the nations, and whoever thinks otherwise is teaching racism and arrogance. That the Holocaust was history’s greatest atrocity, albeit not the only one, and that it obligates its victims to learn the opposite lessons of what they’re being taught. That it isn’t always David (the Israeli) against Goliath (the Arab), and Israel will not survive solely by the sword. That Jews are not always the victims, certainly not the only ones. That no divine promise is a guarantee of sovereignty, and that no holiness justifies mistreatment. That dispossession is dispossession. That it’s permitted to criticize Israel, and even to criticize the IDF. I would not try to turn my students into rightists or leftists; I would try to present them with the truth – actually, truths, not just ours. And that other truth is, that a people without a land came to a land that had a people, and that it’s theirs at least as much as it’s ours. That the Jews don’t have one iota more rights in this land than do the Palestinians. That a Palestinian teenager in this land has exactly the same rights as a Jewish teenager, and often the same aspirations and the same dreams. That democracy is not just elections, which are sometimes also held by the darkest regimes, and it’s not just majority rule, but a whole system of values and rights, first and foremost the protection of minorities, foreigners, the weak, and those who have unconventional views, including teachers. I would teach them that all human beings are born equal, including, believe it or not, Jews and Arabs.

If I were a teacher, I would never work in an ORT school.

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