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Poland, Israel sign deal to restore youth trips

22.03.2023 18:30
Poland and Israel have signed an agreement that allows for the resumption of Israeli youth trips to Poland, while at the same time guaranteeing Poland the right to organise youth trips to Israel along the same lines, according to officials.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau (right) and Israels Eli Cohen (left) sign an agreement on Israeli youth trips to Poland and Polish youth trips to Israel, in Warsaw, on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau (right) and Israel's Eli Cohen (left) sign an agreement on Israeli youth trips to Poland and Polish youth trips to Israel, in Warsaw, on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.PAP/Marcin Obara

The deal was signed by Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau and his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Warsaw on Wednesday, Polish state news agency PAP reported. 

After Israeli Holocaust school trips to Poland were suspended last year, “the issue has been the subject of intense Polish-Israeli discussions in recent months,” Poland’s foreign ministry said.

Announcing the signing of the agreement at a joint news conference with Cohen, Poland’s Rau said: “We note with satisfaction that the Israeli side has approached our stance with understanding and accepted the Polish position.”

Poland’s top diplomat said that “the agreement closes a certain stage in bilateral relations and opens the perspectives of balanced, equal and reciprocal relations.”

‘Equality and reciprocity’

Rau told reporters: “First, the overriding principle we have adopted is the equality of parties and the reciprocity of services.”

He added: “And so the agreement streamlines and optimises the previously dispersed rules for the organisation of Israeli educational trips to Poland. It also guarantees the Polish side the possibility of organising Polish educational trips to Israel along the same lines.” 

Also under the deal, “an important feature of youth trips will be meetings between Polish and Israeli peers,” the Polish foreign minister added.

He told the media that “shared meetings are the best antidote to harmful and false perceptions.”

Rau announced that the programme of Israeli school trips to Poland would be expanded to include “not just visits to Holocaust-related sites,” but also “teaching about the history of Poland, the near-thousand-year legacy of Polish Jews and the equally long Polish-Jewish relations, which, over its century-long span, were usually harmonious.”

Host country to provide security  

The Polish foreign minister stated that, under the new agreement, “the responsibility for ensuring the security of Israeli youth groups visiting Poland and Polish youth groups visiting Israel, will rest with the host country."

He said this principle was “notable, given the controversy caused in the past by the presence of armed Israeli officials during Holocaust school trips to Poland.”

Rau said Israel shared the Polish view that “Poland is a safe country, for Israelis, Jews and other foreigners, and there is no need for stepped-up security coordination with the Israeli side during standard situations.”

Poland’s top diplomat declared that his country “is prepared to allow Israeli youth trips almost immediately, in line with Polish law and the new agreement.”

“We expect the Israeli side to show similar openness to Polish youth trips to Israel,” Rau concluded.

Israel, Poland share 'rich history' and 'common future': Cohen

Meanwhile, Israel’s Cohen also hailed the agreement, and told reporters in English that he “came here to restore the relationship between our countries,” according to The Times of Israel.

The Israeli foreign minister declared: “I am convinced that Israel and Poland share not only a rich history but also a common future, and it is our responsibility to build it together.”

Cohen later said in a tweet: "Today I met with the Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau. We agreed on the Polish Ambassador's return to Israel and on ending the tensions between our countries."

He added: "We also signed an agreement about the return of Israeli youth delegations to Poland. Poland is a significant actor in Europe today, and together we will continue to promote issues such as the determined fight against Iran's nuclear plan."

Rite of passage

Young Jewish Israelis traditionally take summer trips to Poland, including visits to former Nazi-built death camps to study the Holocaust and pay tribute to those murdered, The Times of Israel has reported.

The trip has long been considered a rite of passage in Israeli education and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some 40,000 Israeli students participated each year, according to the timesofisrael.com website.

However, in June last year the tours were halted due to a dispute over their content and security issues, according to news reports.


Source: PAP, tvp.infoThe Times of Israel 

Click on the audio player above to listen to a report by Radio Poland's Ada Janiszewska.