Inner entrance to Machpelah 311.
(photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)
One of my regrets, despite having lived in Israel for more than quarter of a
century, is never having visited Hebron. I can still remember the lessons in
heder about the Cave of the Patriarchs, which the Bible relates was bought by
Abraham for 400 shekels as a burial place for his wife, Sarah, and where the
religious believe Abraham himself, and his son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob,
alongside their wives (except for Jacob’s second wife Rachel) are also
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar is determined that Israeli school
pupils should not miss out on a trip to Hebron and has announced his ministry is
planning to expand a pilot curriculum of student tours to the city and the Tomb
of the Patriarchs.
According to the ministry’s text that prepares
students for their visit, the aim of the tour is to strengthen pupils’
“awareness of the ‘land of the patriarchs’ and the patriarchs’ tombs, which
constitutes the cradle of the Jewish nation and a significant landmark in the
Jewish people’s formation.” So far, around 3,000 school students, two-thirds of
whom come from “regular” (i.e. non-religious) schools, have participated on the
But the reason I have never visited Hebron is also the one that
should stop Israeli school children from visiting this West Bank city under the
official auspices of the country’s educational system: Hebron is not just over
the 1967 Green Line, it is also far removed from national consensus. In fact,
Hebron is one of the starkest examples of the iniquities of Israel’s occupation
of the West Bank.
Hebron is a divided city. H1, the main part, is home to
about 140,000 Palestinians. In H2, which houses the old Jewish quarter of the
city, around 800 Jewish settlers live among roughly 30,000 Palestinians. As a
result, life for these 30,000 Palestinians is made unpleasant, with the
Palestinian population’s movements heavily restricted by the IDF. For example,
Shuhada Street, the area’s principal thoroughfare, is empty of Palestinian
pedestrians and Palestinian vehicles.
Tension between Jew and Arab is
high and this city will never be a shining example of co-existence.
enmity runs deep, dating back to the 1929 Arab massacre of the city’s Jews, in
which 66 Jews were killed and more than 100 wounded to more recent days, and
Baruch Goldstein’s massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, when he
killed 26 Palestinian worshippers on Purim. In the aftershock of that mass
killing, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin seriously considered ordering the
removal of Jews from Hebron and it is a matter of regret that he never followed
through on this.
THE EDUCATION minister is well aware of the
contentiousness of the Jewish settlement in Hebron, and the trips his ministry
organizes have a clear political purpose. As Sa’ar said during a Knesset
discussion last week, “We believe Jews will always live in Hebron. We must not
allow the Arabs to have the illusion it will be ever possible to uproot Jews
So, far from being just an educational visit to a national
heritage site, the education minister is seeking to inculcate his right-wing
political agenda into school outings.
And what makes matters worse is
that fact that when a school, such as the Hebrew University Secondary School
(more commonly known as Leyada) tried to expose its students to the other side
of the story by inviting the Breaking the Silence organization to provide its
own input to the tour of the city, alongside the visit planned by the Education
Ministry, the Hebron Police nixed this on alleged security
Breaking the Silence is an organization that provides
testimonies from ex-IDF soldiers about their experience in the West Bank and the
“abuse towards Palestinians, looting and destruction of property” that they say
If school students are to be sent to areas that are at
the heart of the of the country’s internal political argument, then it is
vitally important, as part of the educational process, that they are shown both
sides of the argument, and not just that of the minister who happens to be in
charge at the time.
To be fair to Sa’ar, he was not behind the police’s
decision not to allow the Breaking the Silence tour, but he is aggressively
pushing “heritage” tours for school students that match the settlement
movement’s agenda. With the right-wing extremist Moshe Feiglin’s strong showing
last week in the Likud leadership elections against Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, we can expect to see more Likud ministers and Knesset members seeking
to shore up their nationalistic credentials in order to gain the support of
Feiglin’s Jewish Leadership faction for a slot on the Likud’s next Knesset
If nothing else, we should ask them to at least keep school
children out of their political campaigns.The writer is a former
The Jerusalem Post.