Wildcat Birthright! Yesterday two more Birthright tours of Israel were struck by walkouts in Jerusalem. Two from one group, six from another group– making 13 in all to stage these walkouts (and the dissidents are overwhelmingly women).
Birthright offers free trips to Israel for Jews 18-26, paid for by Israel supporters. One of these tours was about to visit the “City of David,” the settlement just south of the Old City walls that is confiscating Palestinian properties in Silwan. The young people refused to take part in the settlement tour, preferring to meet the Sumarin family, which has faced endless eviction threats from the settler-state, and then to meet Palestinians at the great Wadi Hilweh information center in Silwan.
A member of the Sumarin family honors the solidarity: “Truly this is something important for us and this house, your coming here.”
The dissenters have posted a two-hour video on Facebook. The walkout this time was a lot more tranquil than the last one, in which the dissenters were all but threatened with their lives for wanting to see the occupation.
The highlights of the video are when a young dissident says they were told that, “If you think Birthright has an agenda, then why are you here? Which made me wonder whether Birthright has any place for someone like me who is curious about the occupation and wants to hear about Palestinians as well as Israelis.”
Later this same dissident confesses, “I was shaking” when the group announced the decision to walk out to their friends. “It felt like a big risk.” Then they met the Palestinians and the feeling of risk vanished when the young Jews saw what these people are experiencing. A transcendent moment of empathy and personal transformation (at 1:20; and P.S. I would love to put a name on these important comments).
A leader of the walkout relates the propaganda view of Palestinians from inside Birthright:
Something we’ve been hearing on our trip is that Palestinians do suffer and they pay a really high cost, but it’s in the name of Israel and the name of security for Israel… We know that that cost is too high, and the occupation is a moral disaster.
More highlights from the video:
–One participant knew there was something obviously wrong with the Birthright trip when the group was given maps depicting the West Bank as Judea and Samaria– “which is very disturbing to me, it literally covers up the occupation that is happening.” More: “I came on Birthright to connect with my Judaism and experience Israel. For me what that meant was learning the whole truth about Israel, which meant the occupation and meeting Palestinians. [But I was told] I would be getting the Israeli perspective, and that would be it. Unfortunately for me that was a heartbreaking moment.”
–A young leader of the breakaway of six dissidents speaks with emotion about how difficult but important the rupture is. “[This] is really hard for us. But we’ve had a hard time with some of the misinformation and some of the generalizations we’ve been hearing… This is a real opportunity for us to take a stand… against endless occupation and for freedom and equality… I can’t be more clear about what a difficult decision this is for us to make…. [but] I’ve never felt more Jewish…. Something we’ve been hearing on our trip is that Palestinians do suffer and they pay a really high cost, but it’s in the name of Israel and the name of security for Israel… We know that that cost is too high, and the occupation is a moral disaster and that as Jews it’s so important for us to stand with the people that we know are also oppressed.”
–A dissident from the second breakaway group, of two: “After being invited to ask hard questions and then trying to do that and being told no– we were told if you think Birthright has an agenda, then why are you here? Which made me wonder whether Birthright has any place for someone like me who is curious about the occupation and wants to hear about Palestinians as well as Israelis…. I couldn’t imagine going into that building [the city of David] and touring around. As if that wasn’t a political thing to do, a complicit thing to do. I was shaking when I talked about that. I felt like breaking away like that was a big risk to take. But when we came here and met up with other people who also wanted to see the whole truth and hear from people who were living under occupation, it felt — [different/unintelligible].”
–A dissident was most struck by the lengths that Birthright had to go not to show the young people the occupation, when it was so close at hand, a short walk away. “It was pulling teeth to say occupation, pulling teeth to even say West Bank.”