Students from a Jerusalem high school were prohibited by security forces yesterday from touring Hebron with a group of former Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
The planned tour, organized by a Jerusalem-based group called Breaking the Silence, was scheduled to provide students with testimony from IDF soldiers and veterans who have served in the West Bank. However, security forces reportedly informed Breaking the Silence officials yesterday that its members would not be allowed to accompany the students on their visit to the West Bank city.
The tour - organized for students from the Hebrew University Secondary School, better known as Leyada - had been previously approved by the Education Ministry.
According to attorney Michael Sfard, who represents Breaking the Silence, his office received a call yesterday morning from the police, who informed the organization that the tour had been canceled. Police sources subsequently noted that the decision had come from the IDF.
Right-wing extremists from Hebron unofficially joined the tour "to supervise" the visit, according to those present at the event. Police reportedly did nothing to prevent activists Itamar Ben-Gvir, Baruch Marzel, Noam Arnon and Anat Cohen from accompanying the students during their visit to the city and allegedly disrupting the event.
The tour had been scheduled to include a visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Beit Hadassah, as well as a meeting with a Palestinian resident of the city and a trip to the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. However, after the school bus was delayed at the entrance to Hebron for more than an hour due to the change in the plans, the school decided not to meet with residents of the city's Jewish enclave without the presence of Breaking the Silence representatives.
"It's anti-democratic and censorship," said one of the 14-year-old students in the group. "They aren't allowing someone to speak to us because of their opinion, only because [the settlers] said that if someone [from Breaking the Silence] came in, they would beat him."
Breaking the Silence director Dana Golan slammed the decision not to allow her group to join the tour. "I was sorry to see that once again the Hebron Police are capitulating to the thuggery of the settlers," she said.
"Israeli students who come to Hebron need to be aware of the reality in the field, and we will continue to fight for our right to guide and expose them to the implications of the occupation in the city," Golan added.
"The issue of tours in Hebron led by the Breaking the Silence organization has been a familiar one that has been dealt with for years," said a statement yesterday from the IDF Spokesman's Office.
"A [High Court of Justice] petition filed a number of years ago by the organization was rejected after [the court upheld] the state's position that tours of this kind require stringent security arrangements in order ensure the safety of the participants and the residents of the area, and must therefore be coordinated in advance with the security forces," the statement continued. Because this specific tour, which received much media play, was not included in activities approved in advance, it could not take place."
Right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir said, "It is very unfortunate that teachers from a school that calls itself pluralistic and a supervisor from the Education Ministry tried to silence me and shut my mouth, but it didn't really help them, as evidenced by the number of students who asked me for my phone number at the end of the tour."
"I wish to send a bouquet of flowers to Yehuda Shaul and his friends [from Breaking the Silence]," he added. "Until today, the likelihood of students from Leyada meeting with settlers from Hebron was very low. Thanks to Yehuda Shaul, this is going to change."
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