Pilot Birthright Trip Will Be Open To Palestinian Americans, Bear Witness To Occupation

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, Nov. 7, 2010 – Youth Against Delegitimization (YAD), an affiliate of the Jewish Council of North America, today announced the launch of a new Birthright program, with the first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories taking place as early as spring 2011.

This initiative will reengage young Jews who have felt increasingly distant from the American Jewish establishment in recent years. “We are failing our youth,” explained Josh Goldman, the Council’s President and CEO. “With our refusal to accept any criticism of Israel as legitimate we have alienated an entire generation of young Jewish Americans for whom human rights is central to their world view.”

Like Birthright Israel, Taglit Lekulanu (Birthright For Us All) will offer Jews ages 18-26 the gift of an educational trip to Israel with their peers. Whereas the traditional Birthright program aims to strengthen participants’ identification with Israel through selective tours that reinforce dominant Zionist tropes, Taglit Lekulanu hopes to introduce a more realistic perspective on Israel by exposing participants to both Jewish and Palestinian narratives. The trip will be open to Palestinian and Jewish Americans and staffed by both Jews and Palestinians.

I am excited about this,” said Jason Sofer, a sophomore at UC Davis. “I never felt comfortable with the idea that it was my ‘birthright’ to visit and even immigrate to Israel, when my friend Haneen, whose grandmother was born and raised in Lod, was not afforded that right. I think many students who, like me, have avoided Birthright in the past, may sign up to a program like this that encourages critical engagement.”

The trip will bear witness to the occupation, spending a morning with MachsomWatch at West Bank checkpoints and taking tours around the Separation Wall and Hebron. There will also be meetings with Palestinian human rights activists and a visit to Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

Inside Israel, meetings with IDF officers and Jewish Agency representatives will be complemented by meetings with Israeli anti-occupation activists and civil rights organizers struggling for equal rights for Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Participants will also visit unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and learn about the social struggle of Arab Jews. And of course there will be time to explore Tel Aviv’s famed nightlife and shopping.

Rawan Zubaida, a Palestinian American student at NYU, remained skeptical of the trip’s potential to appeal to Palestinians, citing the acute possibility of being refused entry into Israel or being harassed inside the country. She added, “Even though this trip attempts to include the Palestinian story, it’s still based on the premise that Jews have sole entitlement to this land and ease of movement within it.”

Appealing to both Jewish and Palestinian youth is our collective challenge, says Goldman. “In the past we have adopted and promoted an Israeli agenda unquestioningly, but we need to find our own voice, one rooted in Jewish tradition and focused on justice. The next generation will help us find this voice.”

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