Israel Police cancelled a government program to allow high school students to tour Hebron with Breaking the Silence on Sunday, after pressure from right-wing settler groups.
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The decision came hours after Haaretz revealed that the Education Ministry would allow students from a Jerusalem high school to visit Hebron on Sunday and meet with members of Breaking the Silence, a group that collects testimony from soldiers who have served in the West Bank.
The program would have marked the first time the Education Ministry has granted a school permission to tour Hebron with Breaking the Silence, which says it seeks to "raise awareness about the reality in the territories and the moral cost of controlling a civilian population."
Students from the school - the Hebrew University Secondary School, better known as Leyada – were to be accompanied not only by their teachers, but also by the Education Ministry's supervisor for the school and deputy director for the district.
The program was meant to be part of an effort to expose students to both sides of the sociopolitical spectrum.
Speaking to Army Radio, a Breaking the Silence spokesperson said that the meeting was cancelled over "pressure and the inability of Hebron police to protect us from settler violence."
"Our tours in Hebron are always coordinated with Hebron police over fears that people will try to harm us. Now, after the story in Haaretz pressure was applied and we won't be able to make it to the meeting," the representative told Army Radio.
In response to the claims made by Breaking the Silence, the Jewish settlement in Hebron said that they were not aware of any threats made against the tour's participants and that they invited the students to visit the city.
Israel Police on its part said that the tour was canceled because Breaking the Silence planned to diverged from their authorized plan.
Around 1,000 high school students have been to Hebron since Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced the ministry's program to encourage visits last year. The itinerary here includes a visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Beit Hadassah museum on the history of Hebron.
The ministry's website says this program "strengthens Jewish tradition among young people in the State of Israel ... and deepens historical knowledge."
On the trip, students planned on visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs, meeting a Palestinian resident and touring the city led by people from Breaking the Silence, a nongovernmental organization. They were also supposed to meet with a resident of the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba and hold a discussion at Beit Hadassah.
"When they announced the [Education Ministry's] initiative last year, I said the condition would be that the students would not be exposed only to part of the tradition, but also to the problematic aspects," said Gilad Amir, Leyada's principal.
"Our students must be exposed to the politics ... to be raised as involved citizens. The greatest concern is that we will raise citizens who aren't interested and don't care. The exposure must be balanced with a variety of opinions."
Amir welcomed what he called "the Education Ministry's open-mindedness in allowing a balanced visit to Hebron."
A parent who declined to be named commented on Sa'ar's initiative. "This whole story is very fraught and uncomfortable in several ways. It's quite clear that the Education Ministry is trying to promote a political line in its tours, and that's not proper for a state agency," the parent said. "Under these conditions, I prefer there to be a minimum balance, and I think Breaking the Silence provides it."
The parent said the visit was to take place a month ago but was postponed because some parents demanded more information and greater parental involvement. The parent said that at a parent-teacher meeting on the trip, "one of the things that came up was the commitment to proper balance, and the school met this condition fairly."
The parent added that the Education Ministry had tried to keep Breaking the Silence out of the visit "and impair the balance to promote a political line, but in the end it agreed."
According to Breaking the Silence's director, Dana Golan, "We were invited to speak, so, as we do with every Israeli group that invites us, we will come with the goal of showing the reality of the occupation and its implications in Hebron."