Left-wing politics from the US to Nepal, via Zimbabwe, South America and Palestine.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Not Everyone Gets a Birthright

A few days ago, a young woman named Sierra was told that she could not participate in her planned Birthright-Israel (Taglit) program, because she was planning to go on a tour of the West Bank with Birthright Unplugged subsequent to her trip to Israel.

(Hebrew article original here, my translation here)

I have had a number of friends take the free Taglit trip, then go work (or tour) in the West Bank. For the first time, Taglit seems to be cracking down on this. The statement by Gidi Mark, the marketing director for Taglit, seem pretty outrageous:
“we will not take those who are merely looking for funding for a plane ticket to actually got to the OPT. There are enough who just want to come and get to know Israel.”
How about those who want to do both? Personally, I try to take every international I meet in the West Bank to Israel, at least for a short while. I strongly believe that all activists should get a view of Israel as well as a view of Palestinian society.

Don't get me wrong. I'm pro-Palestinian. But that view has come from not only having been born in Israel, but having spent a large amount of time with Israelis, inside Israel. I don't think one can justify calling oneself pro-Palestinian without some experience of Israel. Those who choose to only see one side cannot justify political positions.

What is Taglit scared of? They have brought nearly 100,000 people on their tours. Of those, probably around 100 have gone on various activities in the West Bank or Gaza. Having said that, almost every one those 100 has come back shocked to discover the reality of Palestinian life. Are those 100 people such a threat to the state of Israel? I have not heard of Palestinians who object to international activists traveling to Haifa or Tel-Aviv.

It is clear to me that this is just a further manifestation of Israeli Apartheid. Israel is terrified of letting its population (or, regarding Taglit, its potential population) come into contact with Palestinians, for fear that a touch of reality will sink in.

Every time I'm in Israel, I hear 'how can you talk like you do? You have no idea what it's like to live here. If you did, you'd understand that those people are our enemies.' The reply is simple: 'when was the last time you spent time in a Palestinian city without a gun? Do you have any idea what is really going on the West Bank or in Gaza?'

Peace can only come out of a recognition of the humanity of the 'other side'. Thus building walls between Jews and Palestinians, be they huge physical concrete ones or virtual ones, such as the one Taglit is attempting to put in place, does nothing for peace or for security. Those few bold people who have visited that 'other side' after their trip of Israel have become some of the fiercest messengers of peace. Taglit should be proud of that. Birthright Unplugged sure is.

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