Literature in Israeli Classrooms

The curriculum still being used for Arabic literature in Arab-area high schools in Israel features poets like the Syrian Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said) and the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish. But these poets were removed from the anthologies used in the classroom on instruction of the curriculum committee’s sole Jewish member, who felt that some of those works could “create an ill spirit.” However, anthologies used by students in Jewish high schools do contain poetry from Darwish, for instance, along with the work of novelists like Naguib Mahfouz and Tawfiq Al-Hakim. So why the discrepancy?

Dr. Mahmud Abu Fanni, the Education Ministry’s veteran supervisor of Arabic studies in the Arab sector, admits that some of the works easily taught to Jewish students would be very difficult to include in the Arab schools’ curriculum. However, he claims that “this time we will not be able to run from Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al-Kassem. It simply isn’t possible.” Abu Fanni is referring to the work of a committee (of which he is the coordinator) that has spent the last two years formulating a new Arab literature curriculum. The committee intends to demand that Arab literature, currently included within Arabic language studies, be recognized as a separate, two-credit subject of study for Arab high schools.

There is more to this story of who teaches what to whom in this Ha’aretz article by Omer Barak, though the why isn’t fully addressed.