Elon Glickman knew something wasn’t right while on his tour of Israel.
On July 18, Glickman and a handful of young Jewish Americans were participating in a guided heritage tour sponsored by an organization called Birthright Israel. As part of the tour, they were given maps — but those maps were alarming to Glickman: They had erased Palestine completely.
Glickman asked the guide why Gaza and the West Bank — both Palestinian territories — were missing from the map. The guide said the state of Israel believes those areas are part of Israel.
But that didn’t sit right with Glickman.
“It’s not fair,” Glickman said to the guide, as shown in a video of the encounter. “The people who live [in Palestine] can’t vote, they’re under military occupation, their water is being controlled by someone else, and they can’t get access to it. And their lives are like a living hell because they can’t even see their families in Jerusalem … the roads are constantly controlled, they have to go through all these checkpoints.”
As Glickman and the others found out, Birthright Israel doesn’t allow participants to visit Palestinian land or openly discuss their occupation. This refusal to acknowledge or expose the harsh realities of Palestinians living under occupation is a problem Glickman felt he had to give voice to: “It feels like the equivalent of going to the Jim Crow South during segregation and not talking about segregation.”
After speaking out, he and seven others chose to walk off their tour and instead meet and learn from Palestinian families facing eviction.
By refusing to show the Occupation @birthright has erected a metaphorical wall between young American Jews and Palestinians. With the help of other Jewish institutions this wall has become so high that many don’t even realize it’s there. They think it’s the sky.
— Elon Glickman 🔥 (@elonTglickman) July 20, 2018
There’s no getting around it: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a polarizing issue.
While the Holy Land is significant to the three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), thousands of years of violent conflict has raised the question of who is the rightful owner of the land. In 1967, Israel gained control and occupied Palestinian land. Since then, Israel has built more than 500,000 illegal settlements and forced 7 million Palestinians to flee their homes.
In order to strengthen the connection between the Jewish identity and Israel, Birthright Israel offers free trips to young Jewish people worldwide. But a sizable portion of Birthright Israel’s funding comes from the Israeli government with substantial donations coming from private donors, like Sheldon Adelson, an American casino magnate and an influential right-wing financier.
But as young Jewish people are discovering, these Birthright tours aren’t painting a complete picture. Essentially, they’re erasing Palestinians altogether.
Glickman’s group in July is not the only example of young Jewish people taking a stand on the occupation of Palestine.
On June 28, five Birthright participants walked off their trips to meet with Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation group of former IDF soldiers, and then they went to Hebron to meet with Palestinian families living under occupation. They live-streamed their encounters.
Birthright has refused to show us the truth about the occupation’s impact on Palestinians, instead asking us to visit a site operated by a far-right settlement organization. We’ve decided instead to go meet with the Sumarin family, a family that has lived in East Jerusalem under threat of eviction for years to learn from them and hear their story.
Posted by Hal Rose on Sunday, July 15, 2018
IfNotNow, an American Jewish progressive group, launched a campaign this summer called #NotJustAFreeTrip. The campaign encourages young Jewish Americans on their Birthright Israel tours to demand that the group educate participants on the occupation of Palestine. In addition to having participants walk off the tours, IfNotNow activists hand out educational materials about the occupation to people heading on Birthright Israel trips.
“Our generation will no longer allow ourselves to be manipulated by right-wing donors and the radical Israeli government who tell us a story about Israel and Judaism that legitimizes, justifies, or simply ignores the Occupation,” the campaign website read. “We demand the truth.”
But walking off trips and speaking out against occupation does come at a cost — quite literally.
Participants who protested have reported that they lost their deposits for the trip and had their flights back home canceled.
In response, IfNotNow has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finance these costs. Some of the proceeds will also go to help Palestinian families in the West Bank and Jerusalem. At the time of this post, they’d raised over $15,000.
And while the money certainly helps, the most impactful thing these Jewish Americans have done is set a powerful example: We must stand against any forms injustice, even if we’re its benefactors.