For an open and critical education – including over the Green Line

28 Jul

by Ilan Bloch

My recent article “Hebron is not treif” (Jerusalem Post, 21 July, 2013) received praise from many right-wingers. It seems that some readers ignored the peshat (literal meaning) of what I wrote and instead, reading between and around the lines, and through their own ideological lens, labeled me as a supporter of the ongoing Israeli presence in H2 (Israeli-occupied Hebron). The article aimed to promote open and critical education, and not right-wing (or left-wing) policies.

Notwithstanding this, and even though current Education Minister Shay Piron recently cancelled the requirement that schools visit Hebron, I would still actually encourage schools to take their students to places like Hebron, Ir David (City of David), Shilo and Gush Etzion. Certainly, as I wrote, 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, 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. To be clear — even in the context of a state-sponsored tour there are a) no requirements to hire a tour guide 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. 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 out of bounds.

Eliminating visiting Hebron – clearly a Jewish national heritage site – from school trips so as not to be complicit in the sins of the occupation (such as the recent arrest of Wa’adi Maswada, a five-year old Palestinian child – obviously under the age of criminal responsibility) is folly; an Israeli teacher or student sitting in a North Tel Aviv classroom is still complicit in IDF actions, which are also being executed in their name, even as you read this article. To really understand the complexities of the city one must visit it. And, even though the decision of former Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar to send students on mandatory trips to Hebron was completely political in nature, the framework can still be used for proper educational purposes. Educators need to discharge their duty adequately and set up educational contexts which facilitate the development of independent, critical and analytical thinking amongst students. This can, and should, be done within the framework of a tour to Hebron.

These tours should most definitely include presentations of the narratives of Shovrim Shetika (Breaking the Silence), the Hebron Jewish Community, B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government and opposition and the Palestinians who live in H2. Hebron truly is a microcosm of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and to even attempt to understand it properly one must be there. It is vital for educators to present multiple and competing perspectives and to facilitate amongst students a process of critical analysis, which will lead them to come to their own independent conclusions.

As an educator (as opposed to as an individual citizen), it is irrelevant to me whether these conclusions are that students want to donate money to the Hebron Jewish community and even become residents themselves, viewing the settlement enterprise there as the pinnacle of chalutziot (pioneering) and Jewish values, or that Israel should disengage from Hebron because the ongoing Israeli presence in the city is a crime of moral turpitude, which is a betrayal of Jewish and Israeli values. But, either way, it is simply too difficult to understand the city without stepping foot within it. It would be wrong to leave students ignorant of the complexity of the city and of the ongoing Israeli control/occupation of the Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, and in order to educate them one actually needs to cross the Green Line – on a properly structured educational tour. Otherwise Hebron (and the rest of Judea and Samaria) will remain “out of sight, out of mind,” (so much more so because of the West Bank barrier) something which will certainly not produce any educational benefit whatsoever.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.

Visit http://www.teachingisrael.com/ for more details.

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