Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar rebuffed a teachers' protest concerning planned school trips to Hebron, telling Israel Radio on Monday that the only issue with such excursions is that they haven't been taking place in the last forty years.

Sa'ar comments came after, on Sunday, and for the first time in Israel's history, more than 200 teachers signed a letter declaring that they would refuse to participate in an Education Ministry program to take pupils on "heritage tours" in Hebron.

"In February 2011, you announced a new tour program called Ascending to Hebron," some 260 teachers wrote yesterday to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.

"Introducing the program to schools is a manipulative use of pupils and teachers, who will be forced to become political pawns. Since we're dedicated to education, our conscience prevents us from becoming agents of such a policy," the letter said.

On Monday, Sa'ar rejected any criticism of the planed trips, saying that "it's to the discredit of the education system that this hasn't happened in the last 40 years."

"I didn't receive any protest letter, their letter was sent to Haaretz to serve their campaign against us," Sa'ar alleged, saying: "One teacher charged me of Zionist indoctrination. You see? Being Zionist is now an accusation."

The education minister also referred to last week's cancellation of a planned Hebron school tour lead by Jerusalem-based NGO called Breaking the Silence, a group of ex-soldiers who relay what they deem to be the daily reality of IDF presence in the West Bank.

"There's no need to balance out Shelach teachers [from the Education Ministry's heritage program] with an organization like Breaking the Silence which aided the Goldstone report," Sa'ar added, referring to the UN mission to investigate the Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza led by former South African justice Richrad Goldstone.

The controversial "heritage tours" curriculum has until now been geared only toward students in the Jerusalem school district; but last week, Sa'ar announced that it would be available to students across the country.

So far some 2,000 secular and 1,000 religious high school students have visited the the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Beit Hadassah. So far, the program has not been made compulsory but the teachers fear that is the next step.

Students from a Jerusalem high school were prohibited by security forces yesterday from touring Hebron with a group of former Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

The planned tour, organized by a, was scheduled to provide students with testimony from IDF soldiers and veterans who have served in the West Bank. However, security forces reportedly informed Breaking the Silence officials yesterday that its members would not be allowed to accompany the students on their visit to the West Bank city.

In their protest letter, the teachers opposed Sa'ar's plan to spend millions of shekels - the amount was undisclosed by the Education Ministry - to fund the tours.

"You claim that the purpose of these tours isn't political," the letter reads.

"But in your visit to Shiloh you announced their aim openly: 'It's good to come to the settlements. Its good that the settlements flourish. One should not allow the Arabs to harbor the illusion that one day there won't be Jews here. Jews will always live here and any other illusion is an obstacle to peace.' That is the reason we're called to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Shiloh. By using the national education system, you wish to strengthen and perpetuate the Jewish settlements in these areas. To this end, the reality in Hebron is presented in a partial and tendentious manner. Concealing the political reality is a political action."

Read this article in Hebrew