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TWO VERSIONS OF HISTORY

When Israel's education ministry announced that history textbooks for third-graders would now include a heretofore unmentionable truth - that the creation of a homeland for Jews in 1948 resulted in the exile of 700,000 Palestinians - it seemed an enlightened step.

For the last 59 years, Israeli elementary school textbooks have taught only the Jewish version of events: The outcome of the Arab-Israeli war was justifiable because of Jews' historic roots in the Holy Land and their need for a permanent refuge from persecution. The Palestinian exodus from Israel, called the Nakba (catastrophe) by Arabs, was nowhere to be found.

The education ministry's apparent openness, however, is deceptive. For the new textbooks will be printed only in Arabic and distributed only to Arab classrooms. Hebrew editions of Living Together in Israel won't be revised. Some education officials sought to amend Jews' textbooks too, but they were overruled by those who said Jewish third-graders cannot understand divergent interpretations of history.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir says the new books will help Arab children reconcile the history they learn at home with the history they are taught in school. But Jewish children, who are less likely to hear the Palestinian version of events in their homes, need this information even more than their Arab peers.

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