In Pictures: 'Commando tourism' in Israel

Counter-terrorism training centre in West Bank settlement allows tourists to shoot at targets of Arab men.


The Caliber 3 Academy in Gush Etzyon, a bloc of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, has become a renowned training centre for both professionals and amateurs alike, where people come from around the world to be trained in counter-terrorism techniques.

On any given training day, the trainers at Caliber 3 instruct Israeli citizens and tourists, adults and children, in emergency response tactics and "krav maga", a self-defence system developed for the militaries of Israel and Hungary that consists of a wide combination of techniques sourced from boxing, muay thai, wing chun, judo, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and grappling - along with realistic fight training.

The company was founded in 2002 by Israeli colonel Sharon Gat, who is also the CEO. The shooting ranges are filled with photo targets of Arab men wearing keffiyahs. But Gat stresses that the training is not intended to teach how to attack or provoke terrorists, but only for protection. "Even if the targets are Arabs and they don't like Jews, we don't shoot people that are not intended to make a terrorist act," Gat says.

Visitors from the United States and Russia are among the many who come to the academy looking for a different type of tourism. Caliber 3 advertises this as "commando tourism", where people can train alongside seasoned veterans with real-life counter-terrorism experience. One woman, Margo, came from New York with her young son Harry to learn self-defence. Mary, from Fishers, Indiana, came with her entire family for a good time during their vacation in Israel.

"They are mostly American and Russian Jews who have relatives or friends in the colonies," says Gat of the tourists. "They want to understand what it means to live in a climate of war where you must defend 24/7 from the Palestinians."

The academy includes three shooting ranges, a dining room, a krav maga gym and a tactical training centre. Caliber 3 is dedicated to Captain Hagai Hayim Lev, a 24-year-old Israeli soldier killed in 2002 during a military operation in southern Gaza.