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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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When the Education Minister Misplaced Hebron

There's no better explanation a student can receive as to why he lives in Israel, than a visit to Hebron. Unfortunately, the new Education Minister does not think so.

children celebrating the returning of Torah scrolls

Photo Credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90

Most people don’t realize how close we were to losing Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) in Bethlehem during Oslo.

Not understanding the historical and religious significance of this holy site, and according to some, not knowing about it at all, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin had originally included the Tomb site in Area A, the section of the Land of Israel that was to be handed over to the Arabs.

Only heartfelt pleas by MKs Chanan Porat (Mafdal) and Menachem Porush (UTJ) succeeded, at the last minute, to rescue our matriarch’s resting place from falling into Arab hands, and likely, the same despicable desecration and destruction that befell Joseph’s tomb in Shechem (Nablus) after the Arabs had received control of that site.

In 1997, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave away 80 percent of the city of Hebron to the Arabs as part of the Wye River Agreement. Today, 97 percent of Hebron is off-limit to Jews. Even now the occasional call can still be heard to expel the Jews from the remaining 3 percent of Hebron, so it would all be handed over to the Arabs.

In 2005, 10,000 Jews were expelled from Gush Katif and northern Shomron.

A common refrain heard from soldiers, police and even the moving people who were evacuating Gush Katif residents was how “normal” the towns of Gush Katif appeared, because they had expected them to be desolate caravans and outposts in the desert.The average Israeli had no idea just how beautiful and robust those places were, and how much they were like every other town in Israel.

In today’s news, the EU is trying to force Israel to divide our land nearly in half using economic threats, and, much like in the case of Gush Katif, only relatively few Israelis know what a magnificent urban sprawl of Jewish life has risen there.

In March 2011, Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar (Likud) introduced a pilot project requiring that, along with a requisite visit to Jerusalem, every student, at least once between the first and twelfth grades, would visit Hebron, the city purchased at full price from the gentiles by Abraham, where our patriarchs and matriarchs are buried.

There was the typical outcry from the radical left, but Sa’ar went ahead with the pilot, and religious and not religious students began to visit Hebron, many for the first time in their lives.

The trips were not used for “indoctrination”, nor for “whitewashing” history. Students were encouraged to have open discussions on the history and politics surrounding the city. Two thousand students have participated in the program to date.

The Hebron pilot was successful and set to expand, and its significance cannot be overstated.

We’ve already seen that it’s easy to throw away or ignore the loss of Kever Rachel, Hebron, and Gush Katif, when you’ve never been there. Too many of our students have a difficulty explaining why they live in Israel and why they aren’t “occupiers”.

But when a student learns in school about his ancestors and his shared history, and then visits the site he has just learned about and discovers that it’s just a short bus ride away from his home, it’s no longer just a textbook fact to be forgotten after the test, it’s a reality that can’t be discarded or ignored.

What Gidon Sa’ar accomplished, and was set to accomplish was astounding.

But what Gidon Sa’ar began to build, the new Education Minister who replaced him, Shai Piron (Yesh Atid), managed to destroy effortlessly.

Upon entering office, Minister Shai Piron introduced a new program, where Hebron is just one of a group of possible sites schools may visit. Other sites, that Piron equated in importance to Hebron, are development towns in the Negev, the Jordan Valley, and “other sites of importance”.

In short, Piron took a unique educational moment, and filed it under “irrelevant.”

I call on Minister Piron to reinstate the program for mandatory visits to Hebron for every school. The importance of this trip, connecting Jewish students to their history, to the birthplace of Jewish civilization, to understanding why they are in Israel, is as important for their education as it is for this country’s future.

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