Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and senior ministry officials toured Hebron on Tuesday, to gain a sense of what school children who tour the city as part of their studies experience.
Last year, some 4,000 students, mainly from non-Orthodox public schools, visited Hebron as part of a program instituted by the Education Ministry under Sa'ar's aegis.
Sa'ar, accompanied by director general Dalit Stauber and chairwoman of the ministry's pedagogic affairs, Prof. Ofra Mayseless, began the day with a visit to Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, north of Hebron, whose male members and defenders were massacred by the Jordanian Legion during the 1948 War of Independence.
After viewing an audio-visual presentation about the site, Sa'ar said, "The education system has no position on political questions, with regard to a final status arrangement with our neighbors ... but it is inconceivable for the ministry not to have a position on inculcating historical awareness, the facts, our roots."
During the tour, a teacher read Biblical sources that mentioned Hebron, and noted that the Bible "gives validity to our possession of the country."
After a short prayer at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the officials took a relatively quiet walk down Shuhada Street, one of Hebron's main arteries, on which Palestinians are not allowed to walk or drive, toward Avraham Avinu Synagogue.
At the synagogue they met Miriam Sasson, who fled Hebron with her family during the 1929 Hebron riots. "God sent us an angel instead of a devil," Sasson said emotionally, telling her audience how a Palestinian saved her family by hiding them in his butcher shop, and thus they escaped the massacre.
"The thing that is important to express is our right to this land," Sa'ar concluded at the end of Sasson's story.
Hebron residents greeted the government employees with signs that read: "We paid, we bought it, it's ours!" and "In the end, the birth rate will decide things."
The large yellow taxis with the green Palestinian license plates, the concrete blockades and the soldiers with their armored vests accompanying the visitors every step of the way were not discussed on the tour with the ministry officials. So journalists who were accompanying the visitors asked one of the guides at what point such issues, which reveal the complexity of life in Hebron, would be addressed. "We answer questions that arise," Yoram, the guide, responded.
"As a guide, I explain who Dr. Baruch Goldstein was, [that he] went into a Muslim mosque and murdered 28 Palestinians," Yoram said. "We explain [to the students] that this is a complex reality, that the activities of the Palestinians in the area have been restricted, that they received compensation to move to the Arab [part of] town following terror attacks and bloodshed.
"But we make sure to stress that the Jews came back here as the result of a government decision, if you wish, a Labor government decision." Yoram added that the field trips he leads are "entirely educational with a nationalist affinity," and adds "we have to remember that on the political scale there are always extreme ends."
All the ministry officials who took the tour deemed the day very successful during a "dialogue circle" that was held in the local council building in the nearby town of Kiryat Arba before lunch and welcome speeches by their new hosts.
"I am glad we are here together," Stauber said to her colleagues. "There is great significance to our shared experiences."
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