Hundreds of American adventure-seekers have found the latest thrill at a West Bank firing range, shooting pictures of Arab-looking targets and learning a new version of Israeli patriotism.
The company, Caliber 3, offers a two-hour “tourist course” – a lecture about anti-terrorism tactics, hand-to-hand and related combat skills, and a lesson in how to shoot.
Located in the occupied West Bank, just where the real training camp for Israeli soldiers and bodyguards has operated since 2002, it is attracting more and more tourists, giving them the real taste of an anti-terrorist operation with Arab-like mannequins posing as targets.
“We came to show the kids how the Israelis protect themselves and to have a good time,” Norman Solomon, a former LA real estate agent and brainchild behind Caliber 3, said in between shots.
Rachel Frogel, a young mother of four young children all under the age of 10, says “it’s a fun experience for the whole family.”
“We’re touring Israel, and this is part of the Israel experience, and it’s something that you could only do in Israel, and it’s very exciting,” she says.
What makes the issue more sensitive is that the shooting school lies in the West Bank Settlement bloc of Gush Etzion in Southern Jerusalem, where more than 340,000 Israeli settlers live.
The UN considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law. Regular clashes occur in the disputed region and reports of violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians have been escalating over the last few months.
And despite all the delight from travelers, the morality of this gun toting operation is causing a stir in Israel.
The “special encounter that cannot be experienced anywhere else except on the battlefield” is not the image some local residents want to project.
“For years we have been looking to change the perception of Israeli residents of Judaea and Samaria and more specifically of Gush Etzion,” says Yoram Bitane, a former head of tourism development for the region. “The image given by Caliber 3 is contrary to that goal,” he added.
Israeli soldiers supervise an American tourist firing a gun as she participates in an introductory course to handling firearms at the Caliber 3 shooting range located near the West Bank settlement of Efrat (AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana)