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Israeli company offers ‘anti-terrorism’ adventure to tourists

In settlement of Efrat, foreigners are taught to fire weapons, tackle assailants to help them understand Israel’s counter-terrorism challenge

Foreign tourists train with a wooden gun as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Foreign tourists train with a wooden gun as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

EFRAT, West Bank (AFP) — The foreigners yell “fire, fire, fire” before shooting their automatic weapons as Israeli instructors look on — but this is no military training.

The 20 or so Jewish tourists from South America are on an “anti-terrorism” course run by former Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. Their targets are balloons nearby.

“The aim of the training is not to teach you how to shoot,” Eitan Cohen, one of the instructors, says to the group, “but to make you understand what we do here in Israel to fight terrorism.”

The tourist attraction offers an unusual option for visitors coming to see Jerusalem’s holy sites or to float in the Dead Sea.

Foreign tourists are taught how to use a gun as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Foreign tourists are taught how to use a gun as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

But while it may be exhilarating or instructive for some, others find it offensive, accusing the company of profiting from Israel’s fears of Palestinian terrorism.

The company is called Caliber 3, located near the Israeli settlement of Efrat south of Jerusalem, and it began in 2003 as a training camp for professional security personnel such as police.

Foreign tourists train with a wooden gun as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Foreign tourists train with a wooden gun as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

The instructors use their experience gained through Israel’s various conflicts.

Since 2009, it has also become an attraction for tourists who are taught how to handle weapons, participate in paintball or learn Krav Maga, the self-defense method using boxing and martial arts developed by the Israeli military.

They pay a little over $100 to participate.

One program sees the tourists stumble onto a “terrorist attack” in a simulated market with plastic fruits and wooden stalls.

Foreign tourists train with a wooden gun as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Foreign tourists train with a wooden gun as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Instructors are disguised, including one wearing a Palestinian-style headscarf.

Suddenly, instructors in fatigues yell at the tourists to get on the ground, then they stop an assailant with a knife — who is not the person with the headscarf. Cohen, 41, debriefs them and tells them to always be alert in a crowd.

He has a Rambo-like look: fatigues, sunglasses perched on his forehead, rifle slung over his shoulder and a pistol on his belt.

Caliber 3’s website says he is a former sniper and member of elite police units.

“I’m going to show you the values of soldiers in the Israeli army and how we fight against terrorists,” he says to the tourists, who take photos of him with Israeli flags in the background.

Dan Cohen, 49, came from Venezuela with his family to vacation in Israel and decided to add the training to his itinerary.

While his children play paintball nearby, he and his wife Lili listen attentively to the instructor before a crash course in handling automatic weapons and firing at a balloon stuck to a target.

“We came here thinking we were going to do something completely different,” he says, adding they wanted to learn “how to shoot” and “react in a terrorist situation, God forbid.”

“But what we really learned is how the soldiers make quick decisions and understand what is wrong and what is right in these situations, and how hard it is to understand.”

Foreign tourists react as Israeli intructors neutralize a man during a simulation of a knife attack at a market as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Foreign tourists react as Israeli intructors neutralize a man during a simulation of a knife attack at a market as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

But some Palestinians say they see the company as another insult.

Mohammed Burjieh, a 38-year-old teacher in the neighboring village of Massara, cut off from Efrat by Israel’s controversial security barrier, accuses Caliber 3 of exploiting fears over terrorism.

“The settlers who run this company create fear (of Palestinians) among tourists so they spread it when returning to their countries,” he says.

Foreign tourists watch an Israeli instructor demonstrating how to use a dog to neutralize an attacker during a simulation as they participate in a two hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Foreign tourists watch an Israeli instructor demonstrating how to use a dog to neutralize an attacker during a simulation as they participate in a two-hour anti-terror course at the Caliber 3 shooting range, near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Around 25,000 tourists, mainly American, but also Chinese, Canadian and South Americans, participated in the training last year, according to the firm.

Another instructor, Yoav Fleishman, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Combat Instructor,” says “we are explaining to tourists the difficulties of this war, which is very different from classic warfare.”

After the tourists complete the two-hour training, Cohen provides an assessment, but also a message.

“We must protect civilians while keeping our moral values,” he says to applause.

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