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Suffering 101

Palestinians and Israelis take an eternal debate into the classroom, leaving the UN stuck in the middle.

A relief, perhaps, to anyone worried about offending Palestinians. Maybe not such a relief to those hoping the U.N. provides refugee children with a fully rounded awareness of history — the history of the people who live right next door.

Holocaust denial is common among Palestinians. That’s because they believe the enormity of the Holocaust diminishes — in the eyes of the world — the significance of their own suffering. The figure of 6 million murdered was made up, they contend, so that it would dwarf the 750,000 Palestinians who lost their homes and became refugees in 1948 when Israel was founded.

Hamas has backers in this regard. Since its international isolation in 2006, the Islamic group has increased its political and financial ties to the Holocaust-denying regime in Tehran. In contrast, Saar, the education minister, didn’t entirely deny the grievance of Israel’s Arab population at the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “It can be said with certainty that Arab Israelis experienced a tragedy in the war [of 1948],” he said. “But there will be no use of the word ‘Nakba,’ whose meaning is similar to Holocaust in this context.”

For Saar it seems to be more a matter of capitalization. That is, 1948 was a catastrophe for the Palestinians, but not a Catastrophe. 

“Nakba” didn’t have a very long run in Israel’s schools. The left-wing education minister, Yuli Tamir, introduced it two years ago to third-grade Arabic-language textbooks. Saar took office this spring as part of a more rightist government.

“The creation of the State of Israel cannot be referred to as a tragedy,” he said, “and the education system in the Arab sector will revise its studies in elementary schools.”

All this is just in time for the return of students to school for the start of a new academic year.

Now that’s a kind of suffering everyone can relate to.