Santa Ana School District Struggles With How to Teach Palestinian & Israeli History

Here is another phony issue of the Left—how do we teach about Israel and the Palestinians?  Not difficult—TELL THE TRUTH.  Only when you are biased do you need to worry about how to teach history.  Like CRT, which makes up history, the Middle East is an ideological war fought in the schools.  End the war, teach the truth.

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“For Palestinians like Judeh, whose family is from the town of Turmus Aya in the occupied West Bank, the Nakba is still going on.

“We’re not making anything up. This stuff is real. The occupation is real. The oppression and the systematic cleansing of Palestine for Israel is real,” she said.

“I’m not asking for Israelis to leave Palestine. I’m asking them to stop occupying it. And for us to live in peace.”

This is why it is hard teach—it is emotional, ideological and political.  Any wonder government schools are worthless—they worry about politics and ideology, not education and truth.

Santa Ana School District Struggles With How to Teach Palestinian & Israeli History

BY HOSAM ELATTAR AND BRANDON PHO, VoICe of Orange County,  5/23/23

Years after voting to make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement – before the state did so itself – Santa Ana Unified School District officials are facing a unique challenge as educators developing curriculum.  

Teaching the history of both Israel and Palestine alongside each other, in a manner that both sides see as fair and accurate. 

In April, trustees approved two ethnic studies courses aimed at providing students lessons on one of the world’s most precarious land disputes – one that has killed 6,269 Palestinians and 293 Israelis between 2008 and 2023, according to the United Nations.

But newly-adopted course material has drawn pushback from two of the region’s largest local Jewish advocacy voices – the local Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation of Orange County – which have criticized the instructional materials as antisemitic and one-sided.

That kind of feedback from Jewish advocacy groups prompted district officials to rethink their approach.

That prospect has local Arab American civic leaders questioning whether Israel’s occupation of Palestine might get a cleansed portrayal. 

Or whether Palestinian voices will be fairly presented along with the realities of life in Gaza and the West Bank.

Mirvette Judeh, a Palestinian American and Buena Park city commissioner, said in a Thursday phone interview it’s about time the history of Palestinians gets told.

A history, she said, that people often try to erase.

“These facts should not equate to antisemitism. They should equate to a sense of urgency that something needs to be done,” she said. “I hope the district doesn’t revise it because they took a step in the right direction.”

Judeh said Palestinians deserve a seat at the table when it comes to these discussions.

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She defends the materials in the curriculum as giving an accurate glimpse of what is happening in Palestine.

She adds that the curriculum could even go deeper.

Others see the material differently.

Peter Levi, regional director of the local ADL chapter, said Santa Ana Unified School District’s course provides “a biased view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” a narrow view of Jewish history, glosses over the history of the region, and omits how Jewish people ended up in Israel.

“What we seem to lack is a lot of the accurate representations of the history as well as the present,” he said in a Friday interview. “No other Jewish communities around the world are mentioned at all.” 

Erik Ludwig, CEO of the Jewish Federation of OC, lambasted the course as a “direct assault on the Jewish Community” in a May 5 news release.

“Source material for the courses includes antisemitic and anti-Israel misrepresentations – from ethnic cleansing to framing Jews as colonizers in our ancestral home to the exclusion of the history of Jewish refugees from Arab states – that are defamatory toward Judaism and the Jewish people,” Ludwig wrote.

Santa Ana Unified School district trustees will be holding a board meeting tonight at 6 p.m. where the Palestinian Youth Movement group is calling on people to show up and speak against revisions to the course.

The Council on American Islamic Relation – Greater Los Angeles are calling on residents to email trustees and urge the district to not alter the ethnic studies courses. 

The Arab American Civic Council is taking similar action.

“The course includes a brief discussion framing the origins of the Palestinian dispossession in its proper historical context as the result of arbitrarily drawn colonial borders at the end of the Second World War,” reads a statement from the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of the organization, said in a Thursday phone interview that he didn’t see anything antisemitic with the courses.

“Had it been, we would have been among the first to condemn such curriculum. The last thing we need is to teach any curriculum that promotes any form of bigotry, whether it’s Islamophobia or antisemitism,” Ayloush said.

District to Consider Course Revisions 

District spokesperson Fermin Leal said in a May 18 phone interview they’re discussing potential course revisions with input from OC’s Jewish Federation. 

“This is an ongoing conversation that we’re having with our Jewish Federation of Orange County, along with other Jewish organizations to ensure that we’re providing a fair and balanced curricula for our students,” he said.

“We’re definitely willing to reexamine.”

Leal said in a Monday text message that Superintendent Jerry Almendarez met with the Latino Muslim Unity group and that other meetings are planned with “groups and representatives from the Jewish, Palestinian, and Muslim communities.”

It comes after a meeting this month between Almendarez and Ludwig, one which Almendarez publicly announced at the school board’s regular May 9 meeting.

“We recognize that the complex content requires careful consideration,” Almendarez said. 

“SAUSD is committed to constantly refining courses (and) curriculum to provide students with the opportunity to become informed citizens who are better equipped to navigate complex issues in the world around them.” 

“SAUSD is committed to ensuring all communities are respected.”

Judeh said that it is important to tell stories of all historically marginalized groups so students can feel seen and heard.

“For Palestinians, the reason it’s crucial is for the occupation to end,” Judeh said. “It’s 75 years and going strong. This is not history, this is the present. This is still happening today.”

public agenda for the Apr. 25 meeting where school board members approved two ethnic studies classes included a host of materials. 

Material for the courses include a video from B’Tselem – an Israeli Human Rights group Firing Zone 918 – An Exercise in War Crimes, a video from Vox news entitled “The Israeli-Palestine Conflict: a brief, simple history,” as well as a video from Insider News entitled “How Israel’s Blockade on Gaza Forced Palestinian Fisherman Inland.”

Written material includes an Opinion Article in the Middle Eastern Mirror as well as an AP article entitled “UN agency: Israel’s Gaza blockade has devastated economy.”

One of the classes – Ethnic Studies, World Histories for 10th graders includes a book titled “The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing” by Michael Mann, a Research Professor of Sociology at UCLA.

In the other class – Ethnic Studies: World Geography, one of the essential questions asked to 9-12 graders who take the class is: How has the settlement of Israelis after WWII changed the socio-economic status and sovereignty of Palestinians over time?

The Nakba

Trustees’ decision to approve the courses came less than a month before the 75th anniversary of what Palestinians commemorate as the Nakba or “catastrophe” when hundreds and thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homeland and thousands of them were killed between 1947-1949.

The Nakba took place around the creation of Israel.

In 1947, after the Holocaust that saw at least 6 million Jews killed by Nazis, the United Nations approved a proposal to divide the British controlled Palestine in two – an Arab state: Palestine and a Jewish state: Israel. 

The decision sparked neighboring Arab countries to invade Israel in 1948 and triggered a war. 

On Thursday, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, along with other organizations, hosted Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, a member of Parliament in South Africa, to speak at Santa Ana High School about the Nakba.

His grandfather, Nelson Mandela, was a leader in the movement to end South African apartheid — an oppressive system, which Palestinians and human rights groups like Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch and B’Tselem liken to the situation Israel has imposed on Palestinians.

Amnesty International says Israel has committed “apartheid” through home demolitions, property seizures, forced evictions as well as through “a system of laws and policies that keep Palestinians restricted to enclaves, subject to several measures that control their lives, and segregated from Jewish Israelis” reads a 2022 report on Israel.

In a brief interview after the event, Zwelivelile said educators must bring accurate knowledge to their students and continue to educate them on the issue.

“We will be very happy to come and give talks to these young people so that they get the proper narrative. We do not want to slander and distort the Palestinian struggle,” he said.

During his speech, Zwelivelile called Israel an Apartheid State.

“The story of the Nakba – ethnic cleansing and genocide is not unlike the stories we know and lived through under the brutal Apartheid colonial regime in South Africa,” he said.

“On the contrary, it is widely regarded as a more brutal, more cruel and more inhumane than anything we experienced in apartheid South Africa.”

Levi,regional director of the local ADL chapter, adamantly disagrees that Israel is an apartheid state and said likening Israel to an apartheid state is “used to question the legitimacy of the world’s only Jewish state.”

“That label is inaccurate and offensive and is often used simply to delegitimize and denigrate Israel as a whole, rather than addressing the particular issues that state policy has towards Palestinians,” he said.

Levi contends there are legitimate criticisms of Israel and that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve sovereignty and security.

The situation at Santa Ana Unified School District also comes after the ADL in March reported 55 anti-semitic incidents in OC and Long Beach in 2022 including 2 assaults – the most assaults ever recorded in the region. 

The group also reported a record high increase in antisemitism in the state and across the country.

What’s Next?

Ayloush, the executive director of the local chapter of Council on American Islamic Relations, said the push back against the course is not about combating antisemitism or misrepresentations, but about erasing Palestinian history.

“This is specifically about denying the Palestinian Nakba or catastrophe, and denying the root cause of the Palestinian people’s dispossession,” Ayloush said.

“Conflating legitimate criticism with antisemitism is unacceptable. It is again a shameful and immoral way to silence and stifle such criticism.”

For Palestinians like Judeh, whose family is from the town of Turmus Aya in the occupied West Bank, the Nakba is still going on.

“We’re not making anything up. This stuff is real. The occupation is real. The oppression and the systematic cleansing of Palestine for Israel is real,” she said.

“I’m not asking for Israelis to leave Palestine. I’m asking them to stop occupying it. And for us to live in peace.”

Levi said there is plenty of room for everyone’s history to be included in the courses.

“The goal here is not to exclude any group. But the idea is, let’s give what is historically accurate without denigrating any group,” he said. 

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

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