The eighth-graders of the Hebrew University Secondary School (also known as "Leyada" ) were supposed to tour Hebron yesterday, to meet with local settlers and also with members of Breaking the Silence, a group that collects testimony about the abuse of Palestinians from soldiers who serve in the West Bank. The Education Ministry and the Israel Police approved the initiative to take the students to the occupied territories and to present them a balanced view of what's going on there.
But after news of the visit was published in Haaretz yesterday, police representatives called Michael Sfard, legal adviser of Breaking the Silence, and informed him that due to settler "hysteria" caused by the publicity, the permit for the tour led by representatives of that organization was canceled.
The police's decision to withdraw its approval, on grounds that it would not be able to protect the pupils from settler violence, is serious and unacceptable: The Israel Police was obligated to permit the tour to take place and to secure the participants.
In the end, the tour did take place, led by the school's Shelah (nature, land and society ) teacher, with a few settlers in attendance. One of the latter, Itamar Ben-Gvir, told the pupils that the solution to Hebron's problems was "to encourage the emigration of our enemies" from it. The eighth-graders did not, however, hear the positions of Breaking the Silence.
Leyada should be praised for arranging for its pupils a tour of Hebron that would not expose them solely to settler brainwashing. It is extremely important that, as part of their study of citizenship and democracy, local pupils be exposed to the Israeli occupation, particularly in an area where some of its most difficult manifestations take place: Hebron's Jewish quarter, which thousands of Palestinians have been forced to leave out of fear of the settlers.
If the educational system was doing its job properly, it would be arranging these types of field trips, without the involvement of any political groups. But the so-called heritage curriculum introduced by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar hides the occupation and its injustices from pupils. That is why there is no alternative to allowing nonprofits like Breaking the Silence to fill the void, and thus to give youngsters a glimpse of the darker side of the Jewish settlement in Hebron.