GUSH ETZION SETTLEMENT, West Bank (Reuters) – Taking in the scene of a simulated fruit market in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, a group of tourists ponders whether a poster-size figure of an Arab man holding a cellphone is a threat and should be shot.
The aim of the mock scenario is to teach rapt foreign visitors how to deal with an attack on a market. It is part of a counter-terrorism “boot camp” organized by Caliber 3, a company set up by a colonel in the Israeli army reserves.
Entrance to the gated compound in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc – built on land the Palestinians want for their own state – costs $115 for adults and $85 for children.
Admission includes watching former Israeli commandos take down an “attacker” and other means to thwart assaults, including the use of an attack dog. Adults can shoot live rounds at a firing range.
While most of those signing up are American visitors, there have also been tourists from China, Japan, India and South America, keen to experience Israeli-style security training in an attraction condemned by the Palestinian mayor of the nearby town and an anti-settlement group.
The facility opened in 2003, running courses for security guards during a Palestinian uprising that included suicide bombings and shooting attacks and which was met by Israeli military operations across the West Bank. After the intifada subsided, tourist visits began in 2009.
The man in charge, Colonel Sharon Gat, said staff stressed the importance of vigilance and caution. The Arab man depicted on his cellphone was deemed innocent by the instructors, so the target did not end up being shot.
“In two hours you can’t become a professional, but we give visitors some awareness of what it means to secure yourself, your community and your family,” said Gat.
“Many (visitors) have heard from their friends (about us), that this was the highlight of their trip to Israel and that is why they come. They know it’s an attraction…