view of Hebron_311.
(photo credit: David Wilder, the Jewish Community of Hebron)
A while ago I participated in a tour of Hebron for Israeli teachers. The aim of
the tour was not only to explore the heritage-rich, conflict- ridden city, but
also to critically analyze the implications of government-sponsored tours of the
city for Israeli high school students, which were launched under the previous
We visited Me’arat Hamachpela (The Cave of the
Patriarchs), as well as Jewish neighborhoods/settlements within H2 (the
Israeli-controlled section of the city). We learned about the history of Hebron
– Ir Ha’avot (“the City of our Forefathers”), as well as about the city as a
microcosm of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict today and during the course of
the previous century.
The tour ended with a group discussion reflecting
on the day’s proceedings. During this discussion many of the trip participants,
who opposed the continuing Israeli presence in the city, raised their opposition
to the very idea of Israeli student tours in the city, and argued that the
simple act of bringing busloads of students to Hebron made them (as well as
teachers and school administrators) complicit in “the sins of the
An increase in the number of buses arriving would lead to an
expansion of the visitor parking lot, more shekels being spent at The Gutnick
(visitors’) Center, and an even greater state investment in Me’arat Hamachpela
itself as a national heritage site. It was a compelling, but ultimately
For those who oppose what they deem to be the
continuing Israeli occupation of Hebron, one might argue that all Israelis are
in fact complicit in ongoing IDF actions in the city, whether or not they
actually visit it. Moreover, regardless of political or religious persuasion (or
governmental decisions), Hebron is a national heritage site of the Jewish
people. And, just as allowing this fact to dictate Israeli policy-making in 2013
should be considered a political act, ignoring the most basic historic Jewish
religious and national ties to the city by refusing to visit it is also nothing
if not a political act.
More importantly, there is a certain irony in the
fact that trip participants who oppose what they consider to be the
politicization of the Israeli educational system by forcing students on tours of
places such as Hebron, the City of David and Shilo would like to put a stop to
These teachers are correct that tours to these sites which
are not placed in a proper educational context might be one-dimensional and
politicized by their very nature, and even border on indoctrination.
since the Education Ministry now mandates such trips, boycotting them also
represents an overt political act, one which communicates to students that these
sites are treif (not kosher).
More importantly, such a decision
communicates a failure of the Israeli educational system. It presupposes that
Israeli high school students do not possess independent, critical and analytical
thinking skills, and that Israeli high school teachers do not have the ability
to facilitate the development of such skills and/or are unable to place such
tours within an appropriate educational context.
One fellow participant
on my tour even said as much, relating a story about students of her teacher
friend, members of a left-wing Zionist youth movement who were convinced by the
right-wing narratives which they heard on such a tour because the right-wing
personalities they encountered – without regard for their actual arguments –
were simply very exciting and engaging speakers.
I responded by saying
that if that was indeed the case then her friend was probably not a very good
teacher. And, even though the project was the brainchild of former education
minister Gideon Sa’ar, and the decision to mandate the trips was political in
nature, these tours nonetheless offer a platform to enable students to develop
their own independent thoughts about these sites.
More should be expected
of Israeli students and their teachers. Not only are places like Hebron, the
City of David and Shilo not treif for high school student educational tours,
tours to these sites should actually be mandatory.
The author is the
director of Teaching Israel. For more information please visit
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