Opinion

School Field Trips That Whitewash the Occupation

School trips are advancing a political agenda. It’s time to keep the kids at home

City of David in East Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

A few days ago, parents of students at a high school in central Israel received a laconic notice; their children’s annual field trip would be to the City of David in East Jerusalem, which is run by the Ir David Foundation, or Elad. Parents at a different school were told the next trip (the Hebrew word was “giha,” commonly translated as “sortie,” in a military context) as part of their social geography field studies would be to a settlement. To learn about the limestone formations typical of the area, presumably.

In both cases, no explanation was given and no discussion resulted, even though we’re talking about a act no less political than the rewritten civics textbook or sending members of the religious Zionist Garin Torani movement to teach in secular schools.

For many years now school trips have been conducted in a kind of sterile environment, as devoid of Arabs as possible. This is another expression of the Education Ministry’s war against the Green Line and all its ramifications. Like the increasing religious indoctrination, this process is being carried out under the pretense of national interest. But as with other issues protested by groups of secular parents in recent months, there is no reason to cooperate with this blurring of reality.

Outgoing Supreme Court President Miriam Naor recently strengthened the position that seeks to counter the pretense that this is natural and routine. Naor, who is retiring this week, refused to allow a representative of the judiciary to attend a state ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the settlements, organized by Culture Minister Miri Regev and Education Minister Naftali Bennett in Gush Etzion. She explained her decision by saying, “The court system refrains from participating in any event that involves public controversy, particularly when the platform is given solely to one side.” This precise description can also be applied to trips that whitewash the occupation; they are also devoted solely to the position of one side.

Two weeks ago Haaretz published Education Ministry figures on school field trips, obtained through a Freedom of Information request filed by the Hatzlaha consumer organization. The figures showed most students who visited Kiryat Arba and Susya in the south Hebron hills were from religious schools, but with the City of David the picture is different. The Mikdash Educational Center has also slid into secular education, wrapped in reconstructions of the Temple. Most of the Land of Israel study organizations are religious and their activities are conducted within the Education Ministry’s Jewish culture department. In 2016 the combined budget of these institutions was 20 million shekels ($5.7 million).

But one needn’t go as far as Susya or the City of David to understand the degree to which these visits are politically skewed. For field trips around Jerusalem the ministry’s suggestions include “The Mountain as the Cradle of the Nation,” a workshop that depicts the stories of the Bible and the words of God as historical fact.

Every proposal for such a trip starts with the declaration: “The centrality of life on the mountain in the life of the nation during the years of exile is evident in the yearning for the Land of Israel, Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb on the main mountain.” It concludes: “It is my responsibility to strengthen my connection to the cultural heritage of the Jewish people, which is planted on the mountain, as the foundation of my Jewish and national identity.”

It’s no coincidence that in the past, students were referred to a video made by the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, according to which “The story of every Jew begins in Judea and Samaria.”

The lip service the program pays to “the variety of opinions in Israeli society” cannot obscure the one-sided message. The Palestinians are almost totally absent; the past and the future belong solely to the Jews. This is the educational foundation that allows Bennett and the right wing to ignore millions of people who are living without basic rights.

Along with the revised civics textbook and the activities of the Jewish identity centers (in secular schools, of course), school trips are also advancing a political agenda. It’s time to keep the kids at home.