For years, Birthright has been taking participants into the occupied territories, usually without their knowledge or consent. ‘At the end of the day, we Israelis always have been less than truthful about where those lines and boundaries are for tourists,’ one former tour operator says.
Before Zachary Popkin-Hall embarked on his Birthright Israel trip in December 2016, he went over the itinerary and Googled the locations he would be staying in. He noticed that one spot was not in Israel at all, but in the occupied West Bank: Kibbutz Almog. Because of its proximity to both Jerusalem and the northern edge of the Dead Sea – a staple destination of every Birthright trip – it is convenient for tour groups to stay in the guesthouse in Kibbutz Almog, an Israeli settlement established in 1977.
Popkin-Hall mentioned this to a few participants before they arrived, and word spread fast. “Once some people figured out where we were, they were uncomfortable about it,” said Popkin-Hall, adding, “I was uncomfortable because it had not been explicitly stated.” From what he remembers, someone approached one of the tour guides, who brushed it off as no big deal. Popkin-Hall, who was on a culinary-oriented trip run by Birthright tour operator Israel Experts, said he does not remember if any of the staff confirmed that the group was in fact residing for two nights in a settlement in the West Bank.
While rarely spoken about openly or reported on, Birthright – a nonprofit that provides free trips for Jews to Israel in an attempt to foster Jewish identity and a connection to Israel – has been taking participants over the Green Line (Israel’s pre-1967 borders) for years. Whether driving through or staying the night, these trips quietly normalize travel to the occupied territories and the Israeli settlements in them. Trip operators often do so without the participants’ knowledge or consent. The impression from the dozen participants I interviewed – all Jewish Americans, some reached by social media – is that what bothers them most is that they were not informed of their whereabouts at the time, and thus had no say in the matter.
Canada Israel Experience, which operates Birthright tours for Canadian participants, specifies on its website that it does not enter the West Bank, but an itinerary seen by +972 Magazine shows a stay at Kibbutz Kalia, a West Bank settlement near the northern shore of the...Read More