More than half of Jewish school children in Israel have visited Auschwitz; each year more than 10,000 go on a trip to Poland or on the March of the Living, a pilgrimage to the death camps. They come back shocked and nationalist. These tours mislead the weeping students for a moment as they wrap themselves in the national flag, before and after downing a Vodka Red Bull in their rooms.
These programs bring back thousands of teens who have learned nothing about the danger of fascism, who have heard nothing about morality, humanity and the slippery slope on which a dangerous regime might pull down a complacent society. Just more and more blind faith in strength, xenophobia, fear of the other and inflamed passions. So in their current format, these tours are missed opportunities whose damage is greater than their use.
Now Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar wants to add a tour to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Thousands of teens will be taken in armored buses to the danger zone, accompanied by soldiers and armed bodyguards. A safari in Hebron. During the visit, a curfew will be imposed on the last Palestinians left in the neighborhood. The students will be hurried into the ancient site that is believed to be the Cave of Machpelah - the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs who are probably not buried there. No one will show them what is around them. No one will tell them what happened to the thousands of people who lived near the tomb.
Their guides, the most violent and atrocious of the settlers in the territories, will not tell them what they have done. They will discuss the history of the place with Zionist selectivity. They will tell them about the 1929 Hebron massacre, but not about the 1994 Baruch Goldstein massacre. The students will see a ghost neighborhood around them and will not ask why it is abandoned, and whom the inhabitants were afraid of when they fled.
Here, too, as at Auschwitz, they will only scare them more and more. At Auschwitz they will make them frightened of the Poles and in Hebron of the Arabs. Everyone always wants to annihilate us. They will return from Hebron excited at having touched the ancient stones and even more blinded from not having touched the people who lived alongside those stones. They will see nothing and learn nothing. As at Auschwitz, they will come home even more nationalist: Hebron forever, and the force of arms.
After all, what will they be told? What are the hidden messages? That the sanctity of the place means sovereignty. That the place is sacred to us, but only to us. That there is Abraham but no Ibrahim. That the fact that there is Jewish history here must "sanctify" it, even in the eyes of secular students, whom one would suppose have nothing to do with anything holy. A mixed multitude of fabrications, propaganda and uneducational messages.
If the education minister were true to his job and his image as a relatively enlightened minister, he would have organized a true tour of Hebron. A "Let Us Ascend to Hebron" program? Indeed, but on condition that everything is included: the Jewish tradition and the Jewish injustice.
That will not happen, of course. If Sa'ar were honest, he would have also encouraged heritage tours for the Arab school children in this country. Let the Jewish kids go to Auschwitz and Hebron, and the Arabs to Deir Yassin and Sheikh Munis. They also deserve to learn about the history of their people and their country. It would be better if all Israeli school children, Jews and Arabs, went to all those heritage sites, learning each other's fate. That will not happen either, of course. Instead, we have an education minister who tries to have it all: sitting like a liberal in Tel Aviv's Cafe Tamar with Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich, and as a nationalist, sending students on trips to the occupied Tomb of the Patriarchs.
But the problem, of course, is not who is education minister. The problem is what we are instilling in our students; where we are taking them (and ourselves ) and what we are telling them there. The students who return from the annual field trip to Hebron will be worse students. They will learn to touch history and hide from reality. They will believe that Abraham the patriarch has been buried for thousands of years in Hebron, but they will learn nothing about justice and humanity, which are buried there a thousand times deeper.