Hebron is not treif

7 Jul

by Ilan Bloch

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 Ha’Machpela (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 Ha’Machpela 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.

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. And, even though current Education Minister Shay Piron recently cancelled the requirement that schools visit Hebron, I would actually encourage schools to take their students to places like Hebron, Ir David (City of David), Shilo and Gush Etzion. A visit to these charged sites which includes proper in-class preparation, together with reading homework, the selection of a tour educator who aims to present as objective and nuanced approach as possible, and the involvement of guest speakers representing both left-wing and right-wing approaches, can produce a meaningful educational experience, which can allow for students to come to their own individual conclusions. On the other hand, rejecting these places as potential educational tour destinations 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 of students of her friend – a teacher – who were 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 who 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 Gidon 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, Ir David, Shilo and Gush Etzion not treif for high school student educational tours but tours to these sites should actually be mandatory.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel. For more information please visit http://www.teachingisrael.com/.


5 Responses to “Hebron is not treif”

  1. Yefim Pargamanik July 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Mr. Bloch is quite right (in both senses of the word) stating that the student tours in Hebron are of political-indoctrinative rather than educational nature. The refusal to take part in these tours is also a political act of refusal to be a subject of right-wing political indoctrination (he points out himself that the speakers addressing the students are not apolitic historians concerned about scientific knowledge but rightists wishing to instill nationalist sentiments based on history). His conclusion that such tours of Jewish (not Arab-Israeli) students in Hebron (not in Deir Yassin) should be mandatory reveals his not really hidden agenda.

    • Teaching Israel July 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

      Dear Yefim

      Thank you for your comment. If I may be as bold to suggest that you might have missed the subtlety of my argument. I pointed out that on *one specific tour* which I discussed, students were exposed to speakers attempting to instill nationalist sentiments. It should be clear – in the context of the state-sponsored tours there are: a) no requirements to hire a madrich tiyulim who subscribes to a particular political perspective; tour guides can be engaged who aim to present the complexities of the situation in Hebron, and b) no restrictions on engaging left-wing, in addition to right-wing, speakers. I think you are seeing a hidden agenda where there really is none; my argument is simply that: a) to boycott the tours is also political act; b) to refuse to even enter Hebron so as not to be complicit in the occupation is folly because one can be complicit in the occupation while sitting in a North Tel Aviv classroom, and c) that notwithstanding the political nature of the policy decision to launch the tours, the framework still allows for tours which aim to develop independent, critical and analytical thinking amongst students. But, educators need to discharge their duty properly and set up the educational context in which this can happen. These tours should be mandatory in order to expose students to the complexities of the Hebron (or Ir David or Shilo) reality so that they can come to their own conclusions. And, by the way, for very similar reasons, I would certainly support Israeli student tours in Deir Yassin or other depopulated Arab locales.

      Many thanks


      • Yefim Pargamanik July 8, 2013 at 5:43 am #

        Dear Ilan,
        both the original article and your reply to my comment are very interesting not only because of their content but also because of the subjects omitted from the discussion. You mention the evident fact that the Jewish tradition sees in the holy sites of Hebron (or El-Halil) part of its heritage and fail to mention no less evident fact that the same attitude exists in various Muslim and Christian denominations. You approve the Ministry of Education intention to make the visit of Hebron mandatory for the Israeli students but forget that the Israeli students as far as the Ministry is concerned are actually Jewish only students, not Israeli Muslim or Israeli Christian ones who are evidently not Israeli enough for it. By the way, is the Visiting (Gutnik) centre in Hebron ready to accept such Israeli non-Jewish groups and provide the appropriate guidance? Your views on the question of being equally an accomplice to the occupation whether the person stays in Tel-Aviv or visits Hebron may be developed further by saying that there is no difference in this respect whether the person stays in Tel-Aviv or settles in Hebron, so why not make a settlement (at least temporary) in Hebron mandatory as well? Reductio ad absurdum, of course, but you see where exactly this line of reasoning leads. Finally, If the purpose of visiting holy sites of Hebron is as educational as visiting the site of Auschwitz (Oswiecim) take please into account that the visit to Auschwitz is conducted and organised with full consent and cooperation of the local popuation and its authorities. The tours of the Jewish Israeli students to Hebron are organised demonstratively ignoring the wishes of the the vast majority of the population of the city and the idea of asking their consent or cooperation is as far from the organizers and participants as the Moon. That implicitly indoctrinates the students in condescending, arrogant and ethnocentric way of thinking. I would not call that appropriate education and this is the main reason that in current situation such tours IMHO are not recommended.

  2. Teaching Israel July 8, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    Dear Yefim

    Thank you once again for your considered response.

    I see the Ministry of Education decision under former Minister Gidon Sa’ar as political in nature and I oppose educational decisions which are made for political purposes. With that said, considering that the directive is already in place, it presents an opportunity for it to be exploited for sound educational purposes (if tours are planned properly by experienced teachers) and not for the purposes of indoctrination which it was originally intended.

    I accept your point regarding the conflating of “Israeli” and “Jewish.” I am not familiar with how tiyulim/siyyurim/tiyul shnati/hadrachot-guiding work within the Israeli Arab student sector. Are you able to enlighten me in this regard?

    To clarify: The Gutnick (visitors) Center in Hebron is simply a Judaica store and kosher restaurant – it does not provide tour guides. Guides are engaged by the individual schools themselves, tiyulim are planned by the schools’ coordinators, and a well-planned tiyul to Hebron, presenting multiple narratives could constitute a golden educational opportunity.

    The issue of being “complicit in the sins of the occupation” is relatively simple – it is too easy for a teacher/student in North Tel Aviv to not go to Hebron and have it as a case of “out of sight, out of mind,” which I believe is the case for most Israelis. Only by actually going to see the city can one start to critically analyse Israeli policy there; this is something which cannot be done in a classroom. (Even Shovrim Shetika runs siyyurim to Hebron, as opposed to only giving lectures about the issues. Even watching their video of a tour on the Internet is not the same as being there.)

    I do not think tours to Hebron and tours to Auschwitz can be compared as you have done for the simple reason that H2 is under Israeli military rule. The question is not about whether the local Palestinians support the tours or not; the question is continued Israeli military control over H2 – and this question cannot be discussed without being there.

    Do you think it is impossible for a tour of Hebron to present multiple narratives/facilitate the development of independent, critical and analytical thinking amongst students?

    Many thanks


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