Not in My School

The Education Ministry sends teens to visit places like Hebron to promote values related to humanism, but among Jews only.

During a recent morning talk show on Channel 2, Efrat Tolkowsky, the mother of a student at the Alliance High School in north Tel Aviv, confronted Daniella Weiss, one of the most influential figures in the territories and the former mayor of the Kedumim settlement.

Tolkowsky came to the TV studio to express the parents’ protest against the annual school trip of 11th-graders to the territories, and in particular against the overnight stay there. She has no problem with a visit to Hebron, she explained, on condition that it is “balanced” by a trip to the South Hebron Hills, to see Palestinians who have been evicted from their land and now live in caves and tents.

Weiss, a brilliant woman with very impressive rhetorical skills, behaved as usual with her chronic Israel-loving goodwill. She also added a heaping dose of disdain and a threatening tone to Tolkowsky, who, according to Weiss, is causing her children “irreversible damage” by not teaching them the “true” history of the Jewish people.

Why irreversible damage? Apparently Weiss believes that there are ages when brainwashing is more effective, and perhaps if people don’t hasten to fill the young minds of high-school students with the ideology of the right of the so-called chosen people to areas that she considers part of the Land of Israel − perhaps the opportunity will be missed and those students, when they grow up, are liable, God forbid, to develop a capacity for critical thinking.

Of course, the debate between Tolkowsky and Weiss ended without any solution − like any debate between believers in Greater Israel and our historical right to land where the Palestinians have lived, and those who are ideologically, morally and politically opposed to that. But the truth is that this debate, which should be continuing among the Israeli public as long as their country continues to be an occupying nation − and certainly as long as our leaders pretend they are ready for diplomatic negotiations − ended a long time ago in the Education Ministry with a knockout in favor of the settlers.

The sons and daughters of opponents of the occupation, these 17-year-old boys and girls, who are already old enough to marry and already have very firm opinions, are being asked to continue to occupy “with their feet,” ostensibly for educational purposes, the same territories that have long since been occupied, one step at a time. They are expected to admire the settlers’ attractive stone houses and gardens without a glance at the miserable dwellings of the Palestinians; they are sent to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs without internalizing the horror of the massacre there in 1994 by Baruch Goldstein, who has become a national hero in the settlements ever since.

They are asked to demonstrate an Israeli presence in Hebron and Jericho, as if that’s just what the Palestinians there need, and to talk to the settlers’ outstanding spokesmen without having an opportunity to also hear what Tolkowsky called “the other side” − in other words, that of the Palestinians, or at least of representatives of the human rights organizations who are active in the territories.

It should be noted that the Education Ministry does not force the so-called “Israeli Journey” (“Masa Yisraeli Mebereishit,” in Hebrew) on the schools. Each school decides whether or not to participate in this optional undertaking. The ministry considers it “an educational, values-based program that deals with increasing Jewish identity and humanistic Zionism among teenagers.”

Because many years have passed since I was released from any ties to the local education system, I may simply have forgotten what my teachers were referring to when they spoke about humanism. However, I’m almost sure that when discussing the concept we mentioned such values as the dignity and human rights of all people everywhere, regardless of religion, race and gender, and also talked about a general viewpoint centering on man rather than the state.

On the other hand, trying to combine Jewish identity, Zionism and humanism in connection with trips to the occupied territories actually leads to a diametrically opposite interpretation, since we are talking here about sympathy for the rights of one side that undermines the rights of the other side. And what the hell is humanistic about denying the civil rights of members of another nation? Apparently the humanism that the Education Ministry is interested in nurturing here is related mainly to sympathy for the problems of settlers who are victims of attacks by Palestinians.

Of course these attacks really are terrible, and everyone recognizes that, regardless of political orientation. But the Education Ministry would do well if, in the context of humanistic education, someone would tell the high-school students about the far greater number of Palestinians who have been killed since 1967, about how they found themselves under curfew for months on end, about the fathers of students their age who were put in administrative detention, about the poverty, the hunger, the harassment and humiliation these people routinely suffer at the hands of their neighbors the settlers, some of whom are living on Palestinian land.

But humanism, according to the ministry, is something that is reserved for only one nation – because, after all, value-related education is based almost entirely (although not in all schools, fortunately) on the belief that there is no injustice that we Israeli Jews are capable of causing others. That’s because we have everything coming to us in the first place, thanks to the virtues of our forefathers, or maybe after the fact − because we have been persecuted, tortured and destroyed by non-Jews and Jew-haters in the Diaspora and by Arabs in the land of those forefathers.

This twisted ideology is reinforced even further by the principal of Alliance High School in her response to this issue, when she claims, “I consider the ‘Israeli Journey’ a must for every high-school graduate, in the sense that it’s the best preparation for the trip to Poland, and that’s why we connect the two trips.”

After all, the Holocaust-centered trip to Poland is also designed to frighten, shock and upset, and at the same time to turn into a sort of victory campaign: to nurture among the youth the feeling that we Jews must not under any circumstances ever be victims again, and that it’s far more preferable to become an aggressor and to consider anyone who is not Jewish an enemy who should be killed before he kills, or at least be imprisoned behind a fence.