U.S. Tourists Become Israeli Commandos For A Day : Parallels An Israeli firm caters to U.S. and other tourists who want to get a taste of what it's like to be a counterterrorism commando. The center is in the occupied West Bank, an area the Palestinians want as part of a future state.
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U.S. Tourists Become Israeli Commandos For A Day

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U.S. Tourists Become Israeli Commandos For A Day

U.S. Tourists Become Israeli Commandos For A Day

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/180824990/188023088" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now, we'll pay an unusual visit to Israel, a country that draws millions of tourists each year. They come from the religious and historic sights, the archeology and the beach resorts. But what about the chance to see Israeli combat training in action? Well, it turns that this is some tourists' idea of a good time. NPR's Emily Harris has this story from a private academy outside of Jerusalem.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: A couple dozen businessmen from Philadelphia get off the bus at a shooting range tucked among Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank south of Jerusalem.

STEVE GAR: When I shout body, what you're going to do is you're going to snap into the body position.

HARRIS: Before these visitors touch any weapons, instructor Steve Gar takes them through the basics - getting into position to shoot accurately.

GAR: You take your left foot out at a 45-degree angle.

HARRIS: Stopping quickly after running fast.


GAR: How did he stop himself? No jumps. Nothing fancy. Little steps.

HARRIS: And how to shout fire in Hebrew.

GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: This is Caliber Three, a private training facility for security forces that added tourist packages a couple of years ago. Sharon Gat started the place.

SHARON GAT: My mission in life is to teach people, good people, you know, especially Jewish people, how to fight, how to protect themselves.

HARRIS: He says 15,000 tourists, mostly American, come here a year. The group of businessmen here for a couple of hours are on a five-day whirlwind tour of Israel arranged by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Program director Pam Pearlmutter set up the visit to this range.

PAM PEARLMUTTER: Well, I think it gives them the perspective of a soldier who is showing them the fear and how important it is to be strong military to protect themselves.

GAR: OK. Now, level the sights. But it on the blue side.


HARRIS: When the tourists shoot, they aim at white paper targets. When the instructors do an anti-terrorism demo...


HARRIS: ...they aim at a photograph of a man wearing a red and white checked keffiyeh, a traditional Arab headdress also seen as a Palestinian symbol.


HARRIS: Down the hillside, Palestinian farmer Mahamoud Mershed prunes an apple tree. His land has been bordered by Israeli settlements for years now.

MAHAMOUD MERSHED: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: He says he hears shooting from the range all the time, and it scares him. Ali Thawata, the administrator of the Palestinian village closest to the range, says he didn't realize the targets there include a photo of a man in a keffiyeh.

ALI THAWATA: (Through Translator) I'm surprised that they go to that level in order to symbolize they want, to eradicate the Palestinian presence.

GAR: OK, OK. Push-up, push-up, push-up.

HARRIS: Back at Caliber Three, once the day's training is over, instructor Steve Gar asks the group from Philadelphia to help Israel fight terrorism.

GAR: You don't have to do it with guns. I want you guys to do it with your mouths.

HARRIS: He says he wants them to counter an image of Israeli soldiers that he sees portrayed outside of Israel.

GAR: They call IDF, Israeli soldiers, they call us animals. They call us barbarians. They say that we love killing Palestinian children. You've met us. We don't do this 'cause we love killing. I love this country. You got a right to be here, and you got a right to walk around and feel safe here.

HARRIS: Heading back to the bus, David Berkman says he came to this training with an image of Israeli soldiers as hardened, brazen and a little bit callous.

DAVID BERKMAN: Tough, well trained, opinionated. And they are. But there's emotion. There's heart. There's soul.

HARRIS: This was Berkman's first trip to Israel. He wants to come back with his kids, ages 20, 18 and 11. And he says he would absolutely have them go through the kind of experience that he just did. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.


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