Hebron is not treif

Not only are places like Hebron, City of David and Shilo not kosher for high school educational tours, such tours should be mandatory.

view of Hebron_311 (photo credit: David Wilder, the Jewish Community of Hebron)
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 Netanyahu government.
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 occupation.”
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 unconvincing, argument.
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 trips.
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.
But, 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 www.teachingisrael.com.