Saturday, October 31, 2020

Five Americans left Birthright program in an anti-Occupation move

By Maria Correia - July 03, 2018
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Breaking the Silence] [zionism]

On June 29, a group of five Jewish American women who were on a Birthright visit to Israel, left in the middle of the programme in protest and solidarity with the Palestinian people.

In a live-stream Facebook video that was filmed as the group was leaving, one of the women explains the group’s decision.
She explains to the camera that she was disappointed on a number of occasions, namely as the programme had 'erased the effects of the occupation’, 'avoided questions’ posed by the group, and 'spun things in a biased way’.
Birthright Israel is a programme that offers young Jewish adults (between the ages 18-32) a chance to go to Israel for free to learn about Jewish heritage and culture. Over 75% of partakers are from North America. The programme has in the past been accused of acting as a state propaganda tool.
As the group announced their exit from the programme, they also declared that they would be joining a Breaking the Silence tour in Hebron.
Breaking the Silence is an anti-occupation group formed by ex-Israeli soldiers, which aims to 'expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.’
In the live stream video, the women went on to explain that they had decided to leave the group because the Birthright Israel trip did not offer the education that they were looking for, as they expected to visit their religious homeland alongside grappling with its complexity.
She added that she wanted to raise awareness especially to the young Jewish American community about the one-sidedness of the programme, as it didn’t provide the youth with necessary information.
The women had not planned to leave beforehand but had come to their decision during the visit.
They claim they  had wanted to give the programme a chance but felt that leaving was the right thing to do. They women did not know each other beforehand.
On their way to Hebron, the five women wrote a joint statement and posted it on Twitter.  The statement asserted:
“We came with questions about what’s happening in the occupied territories and wanted to engage with new perspectives, but what became clear over the course of ten days was that Birthright did not want to truthfully engage with our questions. It’s clear that young Jews who have critical questions about Israel are not welcome on Birthright. […] What we’ve seen first hand on this trip is that Birthright is using a political agenda to miseducate tens of thousands of young Jews.” The full statement can be read here.
As they arrived to Hebron in the south of the West Bank, the group was shocked to witness the reality there. One of them referred to it as a ghost town.
Breaking the Silence offers tours in Hebron around the heavily guarded compounds of Israeli settlers, 'in the midst of 200,000 Palestinian inhabitants whose movements are heavily restricted.”
To this case, Birhright responded by ensuring the project rejects promotion of any agenda or any attempt at manipulation by politics.
Birthright has been formally urged by IfNotNow to educate its participants about the occupation.
IfNotNOw has also organized’ Birthright Sendoffs’ where activists meet Birthright participants at the departure airports, handing them information about the occupation and guidelines on how to get the learning they deserve.
Lead photo: Shuhada Street in Hebron - once the main Palestinian market but closed by the Israeli forces in 1994.

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