So you’re thinking of Birthright: A primer by students who went on birthright for those still considering the trip

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(Photo: Birthright Israel via The Forward)

Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine published this Zine and the original publication can be found at http://issuu.com/tufts-sjp/docs/tuftsbirthrightprimer.

So you’re thinking of Birthright. We have created this publication as a primer for you–so that you may approach your experience in Israel with a more nuanced lens. Taglit-Birthright Israel is a nonprofit organization that sponsors free trips to Israel for many young Jewish adults. The organization identifies its main goals to be: (1) to strengthen the Jewish identity, (2) to strengthen Jewish communities globally, and (3) to strengthen solidarity with Israel.  In other words, the trip will enable you to connect with your cultural and religious heritage as a member of the global Jewish community. Since its inception in 1999, Birthright has brought over 300,000 young Jews to Israel, many of whom have called the experience “life changing.” Birthright represents an incredible opportunity to not only connect with your Judaism but also to travel to a Middle Eastern country, something that most people never get the chance to do.

In an effort to remain a purely cultural trip, however, Taglit Birthright will present you with an image of Israel that is depoliticized and devoid of conflict.  On the trip you will not travel to cities in the West Bank or Gaza nor will you discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They will not tell you that to date the conflict has made more than five million Palestinians into refugees that are unable to return to their homes.  They will not tell you that the West Bank has been under military occupation since 1967 and that although, according to the Israeli government, the Gaza Strip is not technically occupied, Israel still occupies it because it controls the movement of all goods and personnel into the Strip as well as its airspace and waters. They will not talk about politics because they want to create an environment that is as comfortable as possible for you to focus on discovering your cultural heritage.  However, Israel does not exist within an isolation chamber, and unfortunately it is impossible to porce Israel from the political reality of the region.

Therefore, we have drawn upon the experience of Birthrighters past to inform your forthcoming experience.  You will find within this manual some things to keep in mind when listening to your trip leader, testimonies from some of the trip’s past participants, ways to extend your trip, as well as some educational resources.

There is nothing wrong with your desire to connect with your Jewish heritage.  There is nothing immediately wrong with going on Birthright; however, it is wrong to go on this trip without being critical.  You, as an intelligent Tufts student, owe it to yourself to approach this trip with the knowledge that Israel was not a land without a people for a people without a land.  You, as an American, owe it to the millions of Palestinians who are affected by Israel to recognize their plight because your tax dollars are being used to aid the occupation of Palestinian land.  You, as a concerned global citizen, owe it to the world to understand that there is more to Israel than just partying in Tel Aviv, that there are very legitimate criticisms of Israel’s policies.  We hope that you will read what we have compiled for you and remember it when you are in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or the Galillee.

What You Will Hear on Birthright

“We believe that the experience of a trip to Israel is a building block of Jewish identity.” *

What does this mean?

Your relationship with a nation-state, in this case Israel, serves as a foundational, essential element of your relationship with your God and/or your religious traditions.

Is this true?

The land does hold historical significance to the Jewish tradition, and 5 million Jews call it home.  However 5.3 million Jews live in the US, and just over 2 million live everywhere from Iran to South Africa to Morocco to France to the UK.  In terms of population, while the Jewish community certainly includes Israel, it is not limited to Israel, nor does it revolve around Israel.  Furthermore, there is no single prescribed way to be Jewish. By tying Jewish identity to a specific geographic locus, the Birthright organization limits and excludes those Jews around the world without the means or desire to take a trip to Israel.

What aren’t they telling me?

You are not any less Jewish if you cannot or choose not to travel to Israel. You are not any less Jewish if you are critical of Israel. The State of Israel is not a representative of all, or even most, Jewish people.  Zionism is a political movement, and Judaism is a religion. You can choose to what extent you support Israel and how much time you spend there.  This choice does not detract from your connection to Judaism or your Jewish identity.

“During Birthright you will “[discover] Israel and its people” *

What does this mean?

In ten days, you will meet and get to know a portion of the Israeli population that represents the country’s varying peoples and cultures.

Is this true?

No. You will be presented with a very specific and tailored representation of “Israel” and its “people.”  The Jewish Israelis that you meet on the trip will not represent the viewpoints of all Israelis.  There is a growing population of Jewish Israelis who are concerned with ending the occupation of Palestinian lands and fighting for equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel; however, you will unfortunately not meet any of these individuals. You will not encounter two million citizens of Israel who are not Jewish and who are marginalized by the state because they are not Jewish.  You will rarely discuss the West Bank, much of which is under Israeli military rule, and if you do it will be in terms that minimize the reality on the ground.  You will not “discover Israel and its people”  in its entirety unless you venture out on your own.

What aren’t they telling me?

There are a number of laws codified by the Israeli government that actively discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel.  For instance, the Citizenship and Entry Law (enacted in 2003) denies citizenship for Palestinians who reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who marry Israelis.  Recently, plans have been made by the Israeli government to resettle thousands of Bedouins who live on inconvenient land in the south of Israel.  From 2004 to 2012, 412 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have been demolished, leaving 1,636 people homeless, 879 of who are minors (For more information, go to B’tselem).

“Israel Defense Force is for defense, just look at the name. And Israel must always be prepared to defend itself because it is constantly vulnerable to attack by its Middle Eastern neighbors.”

What does this mean?

Every act of violence committed by the Israel Defense Forces has been a direct response to aggressions initiated by others.

Is this true?

No, the Israel Defense Forces, just like any other army in the world, is aggressive and does carry out offensive attacks.  The 1967 War was the result of the IDF pre-emptively attacking the Egyptian Air Force.   On November 4th, 2008, six months after signing a truce with Hamas, Israel broke the ceasefire and launched a military strike on Hamas that resulted in Operation Cast Lead, a war that resulted in the deaths of 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, and 13 Israelis, including 3 civilians.  The IDF does not only act in defense.

What aren’t they telling me?

Israel is not defenseless.  Israel has one of the strongest militaries in the world and receives 3 billion dollars a year from the US to continue to develop its military capabilities.  It has a defense budget of 16 billion dollars and is the only nation in the Middle East to possess nuclear capabilities.  Yes, there are obvious tensions between Israel and the rest of the Middle East; however, Israel has stronger military capabilities than any other country in the region.

“It is the “birthright” of all young Jews to be able to visit their ancestral homeland.” *

What does this mean?

If you have at least one Jewish relative, you have a right to travel (and move) to Israel whenever you want.

Is this true?

I suppose it’s up to you. Do you feel like Israel is your homeland? Do you feel more connected to the land in Israel than to the land where you were born, where you grew up? Is it your right, by virtue of your being Jewish, to travel to Israel whenever you please, when a Palestinian, who was born there but exiled during the 1948 or 1967 wars, can never return?  These are questions you need to ask yourself.

What aren’t they telling me?

An American, like you, who has never been to Israel, can board a flight from Boston to Ben Gurion Airport without a visa, pass through security, and arrive at a hostel in Tel Aviv in less than a day.  A Palestinian who was born in Israel and subsequently exiled cannot return to Israel without first acquiring the citizenship of another country, which is extremely difficult.  A Palestinian from the West Bank may rquest a one day travel permit; however, the vast majority are denied unless the person is mortally ill or has a job in Israel.  If this person has ever had their house demolished, has a relative who has been wounded by the IDF or is a prisoner in an Israeli jail ,his or her request will be denied automatically by the Shin Bet due to the “prospect of retaliation”.  If none of these conditions apply, 35% of permit requests are denied for unknown reasons.  If this person is rejected and has enough money to pay a lawyer, they may appeal their rejection. If the person does not have money, which is generally the case, he or she can wait for an NGO to appeal his or her case, which will take years.  If the person succeeds, they will acquire a one-day permit that will be available in 14-30 days.  If this person is from Gaza, the process is even more complicated. If you, as an American, want to move to Israel, you will face very few barriers and the Israeli government will in fact aid you in your efforts.  If any Palestinian wants to permanently return to their home or their family’s home in Israel proper, forget about it.

*quotes directly taken from www.birthrightisrael.com

Testimonials from Past Birthrighters

Anna Furman; Tufts ‘13

I went on Birthright the summer after my freshman year.  I went because my sister and brothers went, because I was antsy to travel, and because it was FREE and it was ISRAEL.  What is my relationship to Israel?  Why do I feel connected to a place I’ve never lived?  My relationship comes from learning Hatikvah in Hebrew school and from waving little plastic Israel flags on Yom Ha’atzmaut.  My relationship is saying “Next year in Yerushalayim”  during the High Holy days, Hanukkah, Passover. My relationship is Tzedakah boxes in my synagogue and in my kitchen, having trees dedicated in my name and receiving Israel bonds on my Bat Mitzvah.  Why do I have a relationship to a country I have never (and my parents, and grandparents) lived in? Should I be allowed to have a relationship to this place?

I have studied social conditioning in the context of sex, gender and now in terms of race, and it can be challenging to be able to see how my being female and my being White factors into my particular social location and how my privileges and underprivileges operate in different situations.  But what about the social conditioning I have experienced as an American Jew? What about the social conditioning I received in synagogue, around the dinner table, in the news, and in intimate conversations with my family and friends about allying ourselves with Israel?  “We are Jews and we have always been wandering because we’ve always been PERSECUTED and now we have a HOMELAND and we need to defend it with our LIVES because without it another HOLOCAUST could happen.”  This is the dominant narrative I have been taught and without realizing it, was allowing to frame my worldview.  There is a process involved with trying to unpack and unlearn the narratives I have consumed, and to decide which parts are true. This is not me uncovering some massive myth or following-some-conspiracy-theory-and-trying-to-prove-it-to-you, or trying to be RADICAL! for the sake of being RADICAL! but rather challenging how I have been taught to love and support Israel unconditionally and mapping out why it is problematic.

I remember on Birthright thinking “OK so where’s the part where they brainwash me into loving Israel unconditionally, wanting to marry some nice Jewish (Israeli) boy and make Aaliyah because it’s the most Jewish thing I could do?”  I remember trip leaders and people who had gone on past Birthright trips telling me, “This will change you,” and “You will just feel it,” as if there were some inherent part of me (my soul?) that was always in Israel, that would reconnect with it, and that would confirm for me that this is my homeland. Did I feel it? I kept asking myself, do I feel it… now? What about now? Well, yeah, I felt it.  When we hiked through the Negev desert and looked out on a beautiful expanse of desert sand, when we slept outside in “Bedouin” tents and snuck off to sleep in a fort under the stars, when we woke up at 4 am to hike Masada and when we got to the top and it rained and the old man next to me cried, because, well, it was a miracle.  This land is beautiful and bizarre, I thought. It’s dripping with meaning and history and I want to latch on and drip with it.  But what is this dripping-connection-feeling-thing?  I feel that same connection when I am home in California, swimming in the ocean or hiking a really good trail.  It’s a connection to land and to water that has nothing to do with the land being Israel or California or Boston, but much more: that I am a human being connected to nature.  Call it God or my (Jewish) Soul or a Higher Spirit or whatever you want, but I’ll call it energy.  I didn’t feel this energy because I am American or Californian, and certainly not because I am Jewish.  I feel it cause I am human! 

At the time of my birthright trip, I was surprised with how non-directed and open the trip’s programming seemed–our group leaders asked us questions, asked us to explore parts of our identities and engage in what were (sometimes) meaningful discussions.  By focusing our discussions on our relationship to Israel as Americans and as Jews, we were dissuaded from engaging in real talk—about the Occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli government and the brutal force exerted by the IDF, and also about conservative Jewish political blocs in the US that represent the “mainstream”—and having a real learning experience.

I loved Israel, and at the time I didn’t realize the extent to which I identified with a Zionist narrative that I am part of a group of “chosen” people who have a divine right to live in this land.  The story that Birthright will feed you will (obviously) be very pro-Israel, but it may seem at times to be neutral and unbiased.  Know that your very presence in Israel as an American Jew is not a neutral thing, can never be a neutral thing, because the whole idea that you have a right to travel there because of your birth in a Jewish family is not a given right but a constructed one that falls within a Zionist ideological framework. Question what is meant by “Israel has a right to defend itself,” especially in light of Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza.  What does Israel’s right to defend itself entail? Does Israel have a right to defend itself if “defending itself” results in the death of 50 Gazan civilians (not to mention the 720 civilians injured), and in 2008, the death of 1,400 Gazans under Operation Cast Lead?

If I have one piece of advice for you, it’s to question WHY someone is sending you on a free trip to Israel. But also to GO TO PALESTINE. Un-learn the strategically cryptic narrative you have been fed, the narrative that Israel is great and that you should love and defend it always.

Julia Wedgle; Tufts ‘15

I always knew that I wanted to go on Birthright. It was a Jewish right of passage that I couldn’t wait to experience. I had been to Israel before but only with my family so I was still Birthright eligible, and I thought that made me so lucky. I thought that I would meet my best friends on Birthright at whatever college I went to, and I would hook up with a hot Israeli soldier. When I signed up for Birthright at the end of my freshman year at Tufts my views on Israel/Palestine were already somewhat changing. I had started to see the Palestinian side of the story, but I would still never dare support BDS (Boycott, pestment and Sactions) or step foot into an SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) meeting. 

Even though I knew of Israel’s human rights abuses and cried on Yom Hatzmuot, Israeli Independence Day, because we were forgetting about the Palestinians I was still so excited to “return home” and see Israel again. When I stepped of the plane at Ben Gurion International Airport I thought I was in Disneyland, the Disneyland of Judaism. As we drove that first day, we drove by a poor Palestinian village, near a rich Israeli shopping center and I remember thinking why? As the trip continued more and more questions developed in my mind. I would challenge the tour guide at times when he would tell me that Arab-Israelis had full and equal rights. We visited a playground in Sderot that is inside a bomb shelter and I remember thinking wow that is so cool that the kids can play here and be safe, but what about the Palestinian kids across the border, do they have a similar structure? I doubted it. I was shocked when at Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial museum, the tour guide showed us Nazi anti-Semitism and said “anti-Semitism today is expressed as anti-Israel sentiment, all anti-Israel sentiment is anti-Semitic.” I challenged her by reminding her that Israel and Judaism are not the same thing but she simply told me that those who are anti-Israel are “obviously also anti-Semitic.” Why wasn’t it until the last day that I learned my bus driver who I had spent a whole 10 days with was a Bedouin-Israeli? Why didn’t we ever hear his real story?  When we went to the old city market, we couldn’t enter the Arab shuck. “Stop at the Israeli flags, the other side is dangerous,” we were told. The Bedouin village seemed so cool while I was there but later I learned that it was owned by Jews and the Bedouins that “lived there” were actually brought in from a nearby unrecognized village where there houses could be demolished in the blink of an eye.

The most hypocritical part of Birthright for me was the time we spent in the West Bank. You are probably asking yourself what; I thought Birthright doesn’t go to the West Bank. Wrong, we went twice. We went to the Ahava factory and a Dead Sea beach in the heart of the West Bank. Were we told we were in the illegally occupied West Bank? No way, it was only after that I learned this. I later learned that not only is the Ahava factory located in the West Bank but also it is a major boycott target of the BDS movement I now support. Then, the worst offense came, we stayed in a settlement. That’s right, we stayed in an illegal Israeli settlement, Kibbutz Almog. I later learned that Kibbutz Almog, built in 1977, in the Jordan Valley was built on top of a main water vain serving Jericho. But we were told it was not a settlement, explicitly, because “it is legal under Israeli law and settlements refer to illegal communities.” When I later wrote Birthright a letter, explaining my anger that we stayed in a settlement, which I do not support, I got the same response, that it was not illegal. I was lucky because on my trip the word Palestinian was actually mentioned be it very few times. I was lucky because I stayed after Birthright and continued to inform myself. I even went to the west bank with an ICAHD, Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, tour and spent time in an unrecognized Bedouin village.

Today I sit at a JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) conference as I write this and I can proudly say that I am a Jewish member of Tufts SJP.  If you had told me four years ago that I would be wearing a Keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity, today I would have thought you were crazy and laughed in your face. However, going into Birthright with an already critical perspective allowed me to see the problems and avoid the brain washing that Birthright strives for. I don’t necessarily advocate not going on Birthright because for me, I think without it, I would not be where I am today. In Israel/Palestine I realized that my social activism stems from my Judaism and therefore as does my Palestinian Solidarity. Although I am not a religious Jew, I would like to end with a Torah quote “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). This and many other reasons are why after seeing the problems in Israel/Palestine on my Birthright trip and its extension I support Palestine from a Jewish standpoint and vow to stand in solidarity with my Arab brothers and sisters. So here’s to Peace, Justice and Palestine!!

Thank you, Sheldon Adelson!

Liza Behrendt; Organizer at Jewish Voice for Peace Boston

Dear Sheldon,

Thank you!  Without the $140 million you’ve given to Birthright Israel since 2007, I might not have become a Palestine solidarity activist.

Had I not gone on your entirely free trip to Israel, during the devastating 2008 assault on Gaza known as “Operation Cast Lead”, I might not have realized the hypocrisy of a state that claims to provide safety for world Jewry while perpetuating violence and oppression.  Had I not attended a Birthright “mega-event” where thousands of Jews waved Israeli flags and cheered on pop stars and pyrotechnics while bombs fell on Gaza miles away, I might not have realized the dangers of ethnic nationalism.  Had I not rode camels at a pretend Bedouin camp performed for the benefit of our trip, I might not have realized the extent to which Jewish communities deny ethnic cleansing in order to preach persity.

My Birthright tour-guide told us that Arabs have wanted to kill Jews forever, that they are “like mosquitos”  we must swat away.  He expected us to listen to his bus-ride lectures and fear the “terrorists” on the other side of the walls, then to feel relief and safety when we see Jewish holy sites guarded by the Israeli Defense Forces.  Most importantly, he expected us to have a jolly, drunken time at hotel bars and beach parties where we could celebrate our homeland and hopefully even make some Jewish babies. 

The stories he told us felt at odds with my rudimentary understanding of the Israeli occupation, so I asked questions from a place of genuine curiosity.  When I asked about illegal Israeli settlements, the wall cutting off parts of the West Bank, or the disproportionate death toll piling up in Gaza, I was called “stupid” and told that my questions were “bullshit.”  The president of Oranim, my Birthright tour contractor, pointed me out to a crowd of hundreds of Birthright participants and said I represented “the biggest problem with the global Jewish community.”  My questions were so threatening that, at Ben Gurion airport on the return trip, I was separated from my tour group in security.  Five separate officials interrogated me about my opinions on the Palestinians before I was allowed to board the plane.  Thank you, Sheldon, for letting me know that I was a threat to the status quo in the Jewish community.

Sheldon, we both understand that Birthright’s strategy isn’t to convince participants that Israel is right.  The strategy is to provide a physically and emotionally draining emersion experience aiming to reconstruct Jewish identity around support for the Jewish state.  We both know that it makes little difference when participants say, “I’m going on this trip cause it’s free, but I won’t be brainwashed.” They might not be brainwashed to explicitly support Israel’s violent and expansionist policies, but they will likely develop a loyalty to Israel that is more fearful and less critical.  Birthright participants are christened with the Birthright brand, added to the list of almost 300,000 diaspora Jews who make up what Israeli officials call “the most successful project in the Jewish world.”  The individuals’ opinions formed by the Birthright experience are secondary to the growth of Birthright as an institution that is redefining what it means to grow up Jewish in the diaspora.

Thank you, Sheldon, but unfortunately I won’t let you redefine Judaism for me.  My Judaism is about building community based in compassion and justice for all peoples, something that Birthright Israel simply cannot provide.  My Judaism is about supporting the Palestinians in their struggle for equality and freedom.  Your $140 million won’t change that.

Love,

Liza

Extending Your Stay

Many people who go on Birthright choose to extend their stay in Israel/Palestine beyond the end of their 10-day program. Birthright should be the start of your exploration of the Israel/Palestine issue, not the end. Alternative tour organizations give travelers the opportunity to learn about the Palestinian narratives and realities that are underrepresented in mainstream Israel education and organized trips.

How to Extend Your Trip: Submit an Extension Request Form via email on the Taglit-Birthright website through Gil Travel (google “Gil’s Travel Taglit-Birthright Israel Trip Extensions”). The request takes up to 10 days to process so try to plan ahead (however late requests are frequently accepted). Extension fees should not exceed $100-130.

Alternative Touring Options

1. Breaking the Silence

*Tour to South Hebron Hills and the city of Hebron led by former IDF soldiers, NIS 70/person ($20)

*Register at www.breakingthesilence.org.il/tours/4, email [email protected]

2. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)

*Tours to East Jerusalem, Greater Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, NIS 150-250/person ($40-60), 2-5 hour

tours, depart from ICAHD office in downtown West Jerusalem

*Register at www.ICAHD.org/tours, email [email protected] or call + 972-2-6245560.

3. Alternative Tours with Windows for Peace

*Full-day tour to Hebron and the AIDA Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, departs from Jerusalem train station,

*Email [email protected] or fill out a questionnaire at http://www.win-peace.org/?page_id=1072

4. Green Olive Tours

*Tours to Jenin, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, the Galilee and other Palestinian cities

*Homestay and overnight options in guest houses/hostels also available

*Register at http://www.toursinenglish.com/ or call 972 03-721-9540

5. Alternative Tourism Group (ATG)

*Tours to Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Tel Aviv/Jaffa, Nazareth, Palestinian refugee camps, Bedouin

communities, and Israeli West Bank settlements

*Email [email protected] to register, or call 0522 934 415 or 0598 944 142 for last minute booking

6. Machsom Watch

*Tours of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and IDF checkpoints led by a group of Israeli women peace activists

*Contact [email protected] or call 055-664-1797 to schedule a tour. More info at

http://www.machsomwatch.org/en

Can I travel to the West Bank without a tour? YES! It is cheap, safe, and relatively easy to travel to the West Bank on your own. Here’s how: Catch a bus/sheirut at the Jerusalem bus station, one block from Damascus Gate. Busses are frequent and cost no more than NIS 10 ($3). Bus #18 goes to Ramallah, and you easily can catch busses from Ramallah to other Palestinian cities.

What to expect: You will likely be asked to get out of the bus, present your passport, and walk through security checkpoints with your fellow passengers. This is typical procedure that Palestinians and Arab-Israeli citizens must go through every day.  Don’t be alarmed: with your American passport you can travel anywhere in the West Bank and you should not experience any problems at the border. The trip from Jerusalem to Ramallah will take 30 minutes or more depending on checkpoint stops and the security situation.

Remember: People speak English; they will be welcoming and happy to answer any questions.

Dress appropriately, try not to wear shorts or low cut shirts.

Reading List

More on the Occupation…

“Middle East peace talks: Where they stand”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11138790

“Bad Intentions: New Jerusalem Settlements and the Prospects for Peace (and Negotiations)” by Hagit Ofran (Director, Settlement Watch project: Israeli Peace Now movement) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hagit-ofran/post_1329_b_788152.html

Occupation 101 (full length film can be found on Youtube)

More on Negotiations…

Q&A: Resuming direct Middle East peace talks

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11038890

“An end to the occupation first” by Akiva Eldar

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/an-end-to-the-occupation-first-1.330318

On the Palestine Papers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VTAmLnOLZM

More on Gaza…

Guide: Eased Gaza blockade

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle+east-10520844

Q&A Israeli deadly raid on aid flotilla

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10203726

Brain-dead on both sides by Stephen Walt

http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/11/16/brain_dead_on_both_sides

More on internal issues in Israel

2012: The year democracy ends by Noam Sheizaf

http://972mag.com/2012-the-year-democracy-ends/31935/

The Other Citizens of Israel by Ahmad Tibi

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/opinion/22iht-edtibi.html?_r=2&ref=global

The Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) has compiled a number of fact sheets having to do with various aspects of the conflict, all of which can be found here: http://imeu.net/news/factsheets.shtml

To my friends who are considering a Birthright trip,

I write anonymously not because I do not want you to know my name, but because writing my name puts me at risk of getting through the Israeli airport. Year after year, Birthright participants skip ahead of me in the line I have been pulled out of.  I watch as excited faces enter Israel, while I walk with an officer to a room and wait for an interrogation. Hours of waiting later, I reject my Palestinian identity that lingers in my name. I’m not as Arab as they think, I try to convince the officer with my American passport.  This is a shame I hope no one will have to experience: to reject oneself in order to return home.  My only tie to the place where my great grandparents, grandparents, father, and where I went to school is my mother.  As an American I can go to most places as long as I reject my other half. As long as I refrain using certain words such as “political words” that will guarantee my exile.  For that reason, I don’t write those words and I never will. I do not have that privilege. For Palestinians, a homeland is not our “birthright”. I think of this when I see Birthright groups mounting that famous camel ride.  A spitting beast and a Bedouin boy are all so foreign, authentic, and exciting.  But my friend, you don’t know the best of it: this land and this camel is yours, not the boy’s. This is your exotic welcome home in a land in which he has no place.  He will wear that familiar tight smile, a silent smile of colonial submission. This camel, this ride, this land…it’s all part of Birthright, Manifest Destiny if you will. I’ve seen it too many times in real time and on Facebook. The stage is set: American teenager and camel in center, the boy edging to the picture’s frame.  And while the Birthright groups move from room to room of this new house of a country, we awkwardly stand between their frames. Place a golden Israeli coin into our dirt-caked palms, and we stand a little further from the picture.

When you go on this trip, recognize that you have been put in a place of power.  Remember that you are not to blame, but do not be surprised when the fight for equality beckons you.  I hope you will never have to reject your Jewish identity in front of an officer. You do not have to answer to this call, but just dare to hear it.  I also hope that you will not accept excuses of security when you learn that others don’t share your “birthright”  to the place they call home. Think about how many times the word Palestinian is mentioned on your “apolitical” trip.  Think about the places you are going to. Think about the infrastructures of “security” in place all for the sake of a safe, fun, and segregated “birthright”.

You do not have to know all the facts to know the meaning of peace. You know that peace is not a state in which some identities must be silenced.  It is a state in which everyone has a birthright to freedom.

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