How do Israeli educational institutions go about teaching the Nakba? According to Wikipedia it can be summarized as following:

The Nakba ("catastrophe", or "cataclysm"'), also known as the Palestinian Catastrophe, was the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland in 1948, and the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian people.

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    How do schools in the Arab world teach the displacement of Jews from their countries in the same year?
    – Michael
    Mar 5, 2022 at 2:40
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    @Michael: I don't know. But I wonder how Europe were to respond if say the muslim minority in Britain decided to take over Britain by military means and establish an Islamic caliphate? I don't think very favourably. How do you think France or Germany would, under this hypothetical situation, treat their own muslim minorities? Mar 5, 2022 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


It depends.

Yes, some schools teach it, some don't, and in varying ways.

First, some context. The word Nakba has a variety of uses. To some people, it refers specifically to the expulsion of mostly Arabs from Palestine in 1948 (seemingly the usage in the question, and what I'm following here). To others, it is synonymous with the founding of Israel itself. Some Palestinian activists consider it an ongoing state rather than a one-time event, whereas some Israeli activists have argued for consideration of the expulsion and voluntary flight of Jews from Arab countries to Israel as a form of Nakba. As such, the various quotes in the answer might define the word slightly differently.

One major reason this distinction is relevant is because one might imagine that a school might accurately represent the expulsion and killing of Palestinians carried out during the founding of Israel, but not portrary it as something negative. Indeed, at least as of 2011, this was a common portrayal of the Nakba in schools, at least according to at least one academic:

The killing of Palestinians is depicted as something that was necessary for the survival of the nascent Jewish state, she claims. "It's not that the massacres are denied, they are represented in Israeli school books as something that in the long run was good for the Jewish state. For example, Deir Yassin [a pre-1948 Palestinian village close to Jerusalem] was a terrible slaughter by Israeli soldiers. In school books they tell you that this massacre initiated the massive flight of Arabs from Israel and enabled the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. So it was for the best. Maybe it was unfortunate, but in the long run the consequences for us were good."

That said, at least one textbook apparently omitted the subject altogether:

The history textbooks for high school approved by the Ministry of Education do not present a uniform narrative. In fact, one textbook omits the subject altogether while another treats it in a superficial and biased way.

History and Memory in the Israeli Educational System: The Portrayal of the Arab-Israeli Conflict in History Textbooks (1948-2000)

However, according to Wikipedia, newer textbooks tend to be somewhat more balanced:

From the late 1970s onward, many newspaper articles and scholarly studies, as well as some 1948 war veterans' memoirs, began to present the balanced/critical narrative. This has become more common since the late 1980s, to the fact that since then the vast majority of newspaper articles and studies, and a third of the veterans' memoirs, have presented a more balanced narrative. Since the 1990s, also textbooks used in the educational system, some without approval of the Ministry of Education, began to present the balanced narrative.

As one of the sources referenced noted, some later Israeli textbooks (closer to the 2000s) took a more critical view:

The years 1998–1999, however, witnessed the publication of a new generation of textbooks, written according to a new history curriculum, which differ substantially from previous textbooks. The textbook for junior high does not elaborate on the issue but it states that “during the battles many of the country’s Arabs were expelled. Some ran away before the arrival of the Jews to the village or to the Arab neighborhood in the city, and some were expelled by the occupying force.” It also adds that “more than 600,000 Arabs were uprooted from their places in the country and were settled in refugee camps.”79 The teacher’s guide for this textbook is more explicit, instructing the teacher to emphasize that “in this war over the home and the land there were acts of expulsion by the victors. When the [Jewish] forces conquered the mixed cities and Arab villages, Arab Palestinians were expelled on more than one occasion. This is why the Arabs call this period al-nakba (the disaster or holocaust).” Another junior high textbook explained that in certain areas, where good-neighborly relations existed between Jews and Arabs, there was an “explicit order not to expel Arabs,” but “the expulsion of the Arab population of Lydda and Ramla was confirmed by the political leadership.” This depiction stands in sharp contrast to the narrative of the first- and second-generation textbooks.

History and Memory in the Israeli Educational System: The Portrayal of the Arab-Israeli Conflict in History Textbooks (1948-2000)

Relatively recently, some prominent Israeli educators have also advocated for schools to teach it:

Former education minister Shai Piron said Monday he believes students at Israeli schools should be exposed to varied and even opposing views regarding the establishment of the State of Israel, including the Palestinian “Nakba” narrative, according to which the founding of the Jewish state in 1948 is considered a national tragedy.

Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv, Piron, a Yesh Atid party MK, said that “political education” requires of teachers to expose their students to a wide range of different narratives and opinions, according to Army Radio.

The statement by Piron broke a long-standing taboo in mainstream Israel, which has traditionally downplayed the Nakba narrative. Recent legislative efforts by nationalist lawmakers have attempted to pull funding from schools that mark the Nakba.

However, a countervailing current has promoted the opposite trend, downplaying the expulsion in textbooks:

Israel's education ministry has ordered the removal of the word nakba – Arabic for the "catastrophe" of the 1948 war – from a school textbook for young Arab children, it has been announced.

The decision – which will alter books aimed at eight- and nine-year-old Arab pupils – will be seen as a blunt assertion by Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud-led government of Israel's historical narrative over the Palestinian one.

So overall, I would say that:

  1. Israeili schools generally teach about the Palestinians who were killed or expelled during the 1948 conflict, but often present it as justified or positive.
  2. However, this is not universally true: some textbooks encourage recognizing the Nakba as negative; conversely, others gloss over it altogether.
  • This is a good answer! The articles you cite speak of textbooks in broad terms, so I wonder if there is any breakdown of books for different age groups? It is likely that textbooks for university students in history would approach the subject differently than textbooks meant for preteen children. Another interesting point is when the subject is introduced to students. Eight or nine (as the article cites) is a very young age for learning about the subject. Apr 19, 2019 at 0:20
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    @BjörnLindqvist - If the information is presented in an objective manner, which is not the case, since Israeli and even Palestinian textbooks are full of propagandistic elements, it doens't strike me as too early.
    – Obie 2.0
    Apr 19, 2019 at 2:18
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    @KeithMcClary - It would indeed have been very curious if anyone had done anything to attack European-Americans of any stripe in Israel. Most Jewish Palestinians, before the foundation of the modern state of Israel, were not from the United States, but descendents of recent immigrants from Europe and the Middle East (c. 1600-1900), Jewish populations that remained in Palestine after various diasporas or conquests, or both. Not to say that there were not a few Americans, of course.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 21, 2021 at 18:33
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    Of course, even with respect to American Jews, whether they are "European-American" is an interesting question. Certainly, many are descended from Ashkenazi Jews (who lived in Eastern Europe after the Babylonian conquest), and Sephardic Jews (who lived in Western Europe) as opposed to the Mizrahi lineages (who lived in the Middle East). However, their origin is in the Middle East, and they practiced a high degree of endogamy, as well as conserving their language and much of their culture (with local additions, of course). One might equally consider them "Middle Eastern American", I suppose.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 21, 2021 at 18:45
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    @KeithMcClary - Even then, that depends on how you think about these things. Presumably, you consider Jews American if they were born in the United States of America, even if their ancestors came from Europe (recently) or the Middle East (further back). By that same standard, as of around 1922, I would hazard a guess that some 15% of the population of Palestine (and a majority of Jews) were Palestinian Jews, not Europeans or Americans of any sort. Of course, there was a ton of (legal and illegal) Jewish immigration from Europe between then and 1947, so was that true in 1947? I don't know.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 21, 2021 at 19:40

As someone who was educated in Israel during my first 10 years of schooling, I can say that back in the 90-00s the Nakba was not prominently discussed in Israeli textbooks. I have learned about the Nakba (even the word or the fact that the Palestinians had this concept) from foreign outlets or Israeli news reporting manifestations. This was not addressed, personally, during my years of schooling.

We refer to these times as the War of Independence. It is discussed how Israel was attacked by all its neighboring countries and that the Palestinians have escaped their homes or stayed.

The active expelling of Arab people from the territories is rarely discussed and at best it is said to not be a governmental decision but was done by factors in the field and in the moment (i.e. it was not a target of the government - rather a collateral of the events). Some schools mention the massacres of Dir Yassin as an example of Israel's recklessness during the war. Such examples are given in the context of educating that "not everything is holy in war" and that "not all the means justify the goals".

I believe that, in the near future, the Nakba will not be educated in the primary years of schooling in any different matter than I described. Currently, there is a dispute about the measures and the extent of the events of the Nakba. Academically, this is considered a politicized subject where a distinction between story and facts is hard (from both sides of the equation, Israeli and Palestinian sources are conflicting). Let alone that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is far from peaceful or calm, which obviously makes it harder to sympathize with the other side.

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