Birthrights walk off tour in Israel
... join peace now activists
For the second time in a month members of the all-paid Birthright Israel tour leave the excursion and opt to learn from anti-occupation activists.
Another group of Taglit-Birthright Israel participants left the tour opting instead to take part in solidarity visits with Peace Now activists who advocate for a two-state solution.
During a scheduled visit to the City of David, eight Birthright participants from the United States chose to leave the 10-day tour entirely and went with Peace Now activists to visit the Palestinian Sumreem family within the city. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Ir David Foundation have been trying to evict this family since 1991, saying they are 'reclaiming' the home and land for a Jewish family.
Two weeks ago several youths walked off a different Birthright trip in favor of a touring Hebron with anti-occupation army veterans' group Breaking the Silence.
Birthright, an organization begun in 1999 that claims to provides free educational tours of Israel to Jewish youths between 18 and 26, says that once participants leave the tour they aren’t allowed back.
Those who left the tour say they did so because they couldn’t get answers from Birthright guides about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its people.
"We think that part of the story is the occupation and unfortunately Birthright will not show us this reality, they try to leave the occupation out of the story," said one of the people who left the Birthright tour.
Becky Wasserman, 26 from Boston, told Haaretz: "we tried to point during the tour to the fact that they won't speak to us about the occupation, but we got no answers."
She added, "They gave us a map of Israel that doesn't have the West Bank borders depicted on it. It's really unfortunate because Birthright is often the only opportunity for young Americans to learn about what's going on."
Wasserman said she did not plan to leave the tour when she first arrived but was disappointed by Birthrights’ ignoring the Israeli takeover of Palestinian lands, so got in touch with Israeli activists.
The group of eight who walked off the recent tour say they intend to continue touring the West Bank and East Jerusalem the territories where Palestinians are relegated to by the Israeli government. They plan to visit Khal al-Ahmar, the Bedouin village slated for demolition by Israel. The eight were told by Birthright that their return tickets would be canceled.
Birthright Israel responded by saying that: "50,000 young Jews from all over the world have taken part in Birthright so far and it is the leading educational initiative in the Jewish world."
The organization says its choosing to be apolitical by not addressing the 50-year Palestinian-Israeli conflict during its tours.
"Birthright believes in the ability of the participants to formulate their views and opinions themselves. That is why Birthright will not allow groups with any political agenda to sidetrack the plans for the tours. Participants who interfere with the experience of their friends in the groups for any political objectives will forfeit their deposit and their plane ticket."
Peace Now said in a statement: "We were glad to meet today the young Americans who left the Birthright tour to hear about the situation in Silwan and the story of the Sumreen family, who is in danger of being evacuated for the benefit of settlers."
The group vowed to continue to "present… the complex reality that created by the occupation, especially in Jerusalem."