Jeff Barak
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
February 5, 2012 - 1:00am

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 buried.

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 program.

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.

The 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 from Hebron.”

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 grounds.

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 they’ve witnessed.

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 list.

If nothing else, we should ask them to at least keep school children out of their political campaigns.


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