Western Wall
The Western Wall in Jerusalem Photo by David Bachar
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More than 400,000 children visited Jerusalem on school field trips from September through January of the current school year, compared to about 200,000 for the entire school year two years ago, according to figures released yesterday by the Education Ministry.

The ministry expects that by the end of the school year next month, the numbers will hit half a million. The data was released in advance of Jerusalem Day, which is tomorrow.

The ministry's data also reveals that about 73,000 students have visited the City of David archaeological site, which is located south of the Old City and run by the Elad organization, while some 17,000 children have gone to the Temple Mount. Ministry staffers who deal with field trips said that while the number visiting the Temple Mount has been relatively small until now, primarily due to security concerns, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud ) recently secured the required approval from the security authorities.

Sa'ar issued a directive requiring schools to offer their students at least three visits to the capital during their 12 years of primary and secondary education. The ministry also recently launched a program to facilitate such visits, with an estimated budget of NIS 15 million. Priority in receiving grants from this fund goes to schools from peripheral areas of the country.

According to the ministry's data, the Western Wall is the most popular destination for school groups, followed by the Jewish Quarter and then the City of David. That site - located in the primarily Arab neighborhood of Silwan, where the Elad organization is encouraging Jews to take up residence - is also where Sa'ar launched the ministry's assistance program.

A teacher who accompanied a field trip to the City of David, which dates from the earliest period of Jerusalem's Jewish history, said the guides at the site delivered "indoctrination, which certainly has an impact on the students. The guides stress how this place was the cradle of Jewish history. Even if this is correct, no attention is given to the Palestinians who live a few meters away, to the multinational history of Jerusalem or the conflicts that characterize the city."

The teacher, who asked not to be identified, added: "When they show a student just the Jewish aspect of Jerusalem, he learns to ignore the 'other,' the Palestinians. In a few months, [the student] will meet them [as soldiers at army] checkpoints. And there, too, their treatment as objects, who can be made to wait in line for hours, will continue."

Ze'ev Degani, principal of Tel Aviv's Gymnasia Herzliya high school, agreed. "Jerusalem has many facets, from both a religious and a national perspective, and students ought to get to know these facets, including the fact that this is a city of two peoples," he said.

Degani's school is now planning the itinerary for its next field trip to Jerusalem. "Our students," he stated, "will also see the holy sites of Christianity and Islam, in an effort to expose them to the multireligious and multinational aspects of Jerusalem."