Gideon Sa’ar demonstrates his presence

The education minister's plan ignores the ugly present in the city and makes use of young students as political tools on the grown-ups’ playing field.

Palestinian woman looks out window in Hebron_311 (photo credit: The Jewish Community of Hebron)
Palestinian woman looks out window in Hebron_311
(photo credit: The Jewish Community of Hebron)
Hebron is not a legitimate tour destination for Israeli students. Not because there is nothing to learn there about the Jewish people’s past, but because Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s plan ignores the ugly present in the city and makes use of young students as political tools on the grown-ups’ playing field.
Sa’ar’s playing innocent in the face of criticism directed at his proposal to take students on tours across the Green Line – to the very heart of a violent and controversial settlement, and the repeated use of the flag of “Zionism” as a stamp of approval – is a disgrace to the educational system he heads.
Twelve years of schooling did not prepare me in the least bit for the complexity I encountered during my seven months of military service in Hebron.
One tour in the eighth grade would have only increased my ignorance and insensitivity, only to have it later explode in my face during my first days as a soldier in the city.
The plan to bring Israeli students to visit Hebron without mentioning the word “occupation,” the most relevant to the everyday reality there, is part of the “double play” when it comes to the territories in general, and Hebron specifically.
On the one hand, Sa’ar says that Hebron is an integral part of Israel and there is therefore no reason not to encourage schools to tour there. On the other hand, the current government has not operated any differently than its predecessors and the reality on the ground speaks for itself: Hebron has never been annexed to Israel, Israeli law does not apply there, and the sovereign in the territory is the Israeli military, which sends its soldiers to control the population and demonstrate its presence among them.
When the Minister of Education talks about strengthening the connection to Jewish heritage through these tours, and in the same breath claims that their goal is also to demonstrate Israeli presence among the Palestinians so they not be so mistaken as to think that the Jewish settlement in the city is temporary, he is insulting our intelligence with cheap demagoguery and has confused Israeli students with soldiers in his army.
How can anyone claiming to portray objective reality lead young students down Shuhada Street, a sterile street closed to all Palestinians, and talk to them about heritage and values, while ignoring the spray-painted graffiti on the walls which says, “Arabs to the crematoria”? What about the political teachings of Itamar Ben-Gvir and his friends regarding the settlement in Hebron? How can we teach the students about buying the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the longstanding Jewish history in the city while sweeping under the rug the consequences of the military control in place today? Declarations made by the Minister of Education, who operates from within a right-wing government, demonstrate that he is not really interested in exposing Israeli students to a complex reality, nor is he interested in their development of critical thinking skills or their ability to ask difficult questions. Gideon Sa’ar makes use of nice words to cover up the fact that these tours are part of a political indoctrination campaign which takes advantage of the young people of today as the voters of tomorrow. There’s no other way to explain this initiative.
Not one aspect of the Education Ministry’s tours expose the students to the reasons Hebron looks the way it does today. The teachers who guide the tours don’t tell the students how the policy of “separation” has caused thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes, and how military orders have forced the closure of their shops. It also seems that the teachers will neglect to tell their students that this policy began 18 years ago this week, as a response to the murder of 29 Muslim worshipers by a Jewish settler. Will the students be told that Palestinians being punished in response to violence from both sides has become the norm in Hebron over the years, and yes, even when we’re talking about violence directed toward the Palestinians? Israeli students who come to Hebron under the auspices of the Ministry of Education will be given a distorted picture of reality under the guise of objectivity.
Terms like: Curfew, mappings, mock arrests, demonstrations of presence, and “creating a feeling of persecution” will be left out of Gideon Sa’ar’s lesson plan, yet they are central aspects of the daily reality in the city. This is not behavior fit for a minister who truly cares about the education of the next generation. This is not what education looks like; this more resembles brainwashing.
The writer is the executive director of Breaking the Silence.