‘Birthright’ goes to Lebanon: Israel admits popular tourist attraction is located on Lebanese land

Israel/PalestineMiddle East
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Misgav Am
Young Leadership Israel Advocacy Program visits Misgav Am on a trip organized by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee in 2011. (Photo: Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee)

Two weeks ago Israeli authorities admitted that a kibbutz and popular tourist destination called Misgav Am is situated on land inside the borders of Lebanon. The admission came after the kibbutz residents filed an application with the Ministry of Interior to re-zone a section of the town from agricultural to residential, and the government responded that their approval was pending “the withdrawal towards Israeli borders and amending the Blue Line,” according to al-Akhbar, which picked up the story from the Israeli daily Maariv. al-Akhbar English says this is the first time Israeli officials have acknowledged that the kibbutz is partially built in Israel’s northern neighbor, on land confiscated from the village of Adaisseh. 

The villagers of Adaisseh, Lebanon, have known since the 1920s that Jewish settlers were stealing their land. First the Sykes-Picot agreement (dividing Ottoman lands between the British and French, winners in World War I) gobbled up hundreds of dunams. Additional confiscations took place just before 1948 and again during the 1970s when Israeli forces occupied Southern Lebanon. In the late 1970s Adaisseh’s then-mayor filed a complaint with the United Nations. The current mayor told al-Akhbar that at the time the Israeli ambassador said, “the appropriation of land is a precautionary measure. When Palestinian fighters withdraw, we will leave the land.”

Then in 2000, Israeli soldiers withdrew from Lebanon and a decade later the region was de-mined. However, the Lebanese land was never returned to the original owners and now it is situated beyond a barbed wire fence and a 7-meter high concrete separation wall constructed in 2012. On the Lebanese side of the barrier is a flower garden that Israel complained about to the United Nations. Israel said the flowers were too high. Beyond the wall on the Israeli side–but not entirely in Israel–is Misgav Am, which doubles as a popular tourist location.

Israel’s admission leaves one organization in a very tight spot. Birthright, the program to provide free trips to Israel for young Jews who don’t live there, uses the kibbutz as a premier destination to preach about a Jewish homeland from the hills of Southern Lebanon. And the dramatic landscape of Misgav Am seems to do the trick, awakening some young people’s national Jewish identity. At nearly 3,000 ft. in elevation visitors can see the Mediterranean Sea, both Lebanon and Syria, and the farmland of the Galilee made arable by the Jewish National Fund’s infamous swamp-draining project during the early years of statehood.

“Today was awesome going to Misgav Am,” one student exclaimed in a blog post three months ago. “This is my HOME!”

Another Birthrighter who traveled to the kibbutz a year earlier glowingly described his “overwhelming pride” for his “homeland” in a separate entry:

Our next journey would take us to the Misgav-Am Kibbutz, where our goal was to hear the opinion of a very interesting and knowledgeable 4-war veteran Jew. The Kibbutz was located directly on the border of Israel and Lebanon, and as a result the man’s shpeil focused on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I cannot understate this man’s passion and pride for Judaism and Israel as a whole, and he fully outlined his very politically incorrect opinion on the subject. I cannot speak for the group but I know this interaction opened my eyes to the conflict that exists every day in the Middle East, and left me with an overwhelming pride for my religion and my homeland.

Unfortunately the Birthrighter was not only in Israel, he was over the Blue Line—in Lebanon. Misgav Am’s visitor center website lists Birthright as a distinguished client; and the kibbutz is named as a stop on Birthright’s website.

This is not the first time Birthright has wandered over borders in its eagerness to proclaim a homeland for Jewish youths. In July 2010 a video emerged of an Australian group visiting Hebron. Guide Daniel Goodman took participants to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and stated, “this is the roots of our people.” This move into occupied territory sparked admonishment from an American Birthright representative, but approval from an Israeli one. Haaretz reported that Robert Aronson, President of the Birthright Israel Foundation, said that visiting Hebron was “clearly against Birthright policy.”

But the Misgav Am journey raises a larger question about the concept of preaching a Jewish homeland in territory that is within the boundaries of another sovereign nation. There are no Jewish heritage sites at Misgav Am, but the kibbutz is situated on a strategic point that overlooks villages in Southern Lebanon. And what of the young recruits who discovered their Jewish identity on the hilltop? Birthright may not have known that its destination is over the border, but the mistake just shows the project’s purpose: cynically swindling college students with biblical-looking scenery.

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