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Birthright walk-offs get a taste of settler violence in Hebron

Eight Birthright participants who walked off of their trip earlier this week to learn about the occupation were on a tour with Breaking the Silence when settlers began harassing them, culminating with paint thrown on their guide’s head.

Breaking the Silence staffer Frima (Murphie) Bubis is seen speaking with Israeli police after a settler child threw paint on her head during a tour in Hebron, July 16, 2018. (Mairav Zonszein)

Breaking the Silence staffer Frima (Murphie) Bubis is seen speaking with Israeli police after a settler child threw paint on her head during a tour in Hebron, July 16, 2018. (Mairav Zonszein)

If the settlers of Hebron were trying to show a group of Birthright participants who had walked off their trip earlier this week that their views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are skewed, it’s safe to say that they failed miserably.

Halfway through a tour of occupied Hebron that the eight Birthright participants were taking with Israeli anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence on Monday, a settler child, who appeared to be between eight and 10 years old, threw yellow paint onto the head of tour leader Frima “Merphie” Bubis.

The incident followed at least half an hour of harassment by adult settlers, accompanied by children, as part of their routine attempts to disrupt and drown out Breaking the Silence tours in the city.

Bubis was shaken but required no medical attention. Eight Israeli soldiers who were present did nothing to stop or apprehend the child.

The tour on Monday was part of several actions in the West Bank so far this summer organized or facilitated by IfNotNow, an American Jewish anti-occupation group. The movement’s “Not Just a Free Trip” program, which has already seen two groups of Birthright participants walk off their trips, aims to challenge Birthright’s narrative while inviting participants to learn about Israel’s military regime during their 10-day free trip to Israel.



The Birthright attendees, almost all of whom were affiliated with IfNotNow before the trip and their decision to leave it, documented the incident on their phones. They handed their footage over to Israeli police in support of a criminal complaint filed by Bubis.

“Today, Birthright participants saw exactly what [the trip] tried to hide from them — a group of violent nationalists who are forcefully taking over the center of a Palestinian city,” said Breaking the Silence executive director Avner Gvaryahu.”

Jewish American Birthright participants who walked off the tour to learn about the occupation with left-wing Israeli groups, take part in a Breaking the Silence tour of occupied Hebron, July 16, 2018. (Mairav Zonszein)

Jewish American Birthright participants who walked off the tour to learn about the occupation with left-wing Israeli groups, take part in a Breaking the Silence tour of occupied Hebron, July 16, 2018. (Mairav Zonszein)

The age of criminal culpability is 12 for both Israeli and Palestinian children under Israel’s segregated civilian and military legal systems in the West Bank, so police couldn’t have arrested the child for the assault even if he had been located. However, the incident highlighted the stark contrast between how Israeli forces treat Palestinian and Israeli children in the West Bank — particularly in Hebron.

There have been numerous incidents in recent years in which Israeli troops have been videotaped detaining children as young as five years old in Hebron. The Israeli police officers who arrived on the scene of the attack against the Breaking the Silence guide on Monday didn’t appear to do anything to try and find the child (or his parents) and didn’t even ask the soldiers present if they could identify him.

Activists in Breaking the Silence described the incident an escalation in settler attacks against its tours, which largely focus on Hebron and the surrounding areas. In recent weeks, they said, settlers have hurled eggs, stones, bags of water, and other objects at tour participants. Although guides have been physically attacked in the past, this is the first incident in several years.

“We served in the army and we know that settler violence is an inseparable part of the routine of occupation,” Gvaryahu added. “Usually it targets Palestinians, but when the demands of the settlers are not met, the violence is directed at soldiers and Israeli citizens. We have one message to settlers who think they can stop us with laws in the Knesset or violence in the streets: We won’t stop until the occupation ends.”

Asked if more walk-offs can be expected, IfNotNow spokesperson Alyssa Rubin told +972 Magazine that “Not Just a Free Trip” has been providing resources and support both online and on the ground to young Jews who feel Birthright isn’t answering their questions about the occupation. “We can expect young Jews to continue to challenge Birthright in lots of different ways throughout the summer,” she said.

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    1. A.M.

      I am amazed by the courage of these young people to leave a free guided tour knowing that the country will turn on them and the risk of financial damage, imprisonment, or violence is immense. If they can bring this courage back to America our future will be bright.

      Reply to Comment
    2. brightdark

      You have to be total idiots if even Ha’aretz gives you crap about it.


      “Birthright’s programs are, essentially a gift, a joint gift from the government of Israel and from wealthy American Jewish individuals and organizations that are certainly self-interested: It is presumably valuable and important that the younger generation travel to and build a connection to the Jewish state.

      But the trips are still a gift. You can dislike or even hate the person who gives you a gift; you can even criticize the size, shape or nature of it. But accepting and enjoying that gift, only to proceed to hurl it publicly in dumpster while loudly denouncing it, is not an attractive sight. Doing so while tearfully declaring what a “sacrifice” one is making, and praising oneself and others for being “brave” – adds absurdity to what already looks like the act of an entitled brat.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Brightdark: I know what you mean. The nerve of these kids trying to draw attention to home demolitions, checkpoints, jail time in Israeli prisons without even being charged or given a trial – it’s like going to someones birthday party and mentioning the lynching next door!

        Reply to Comment
      • A.M.

        This is such a bad faith comment. If it’s not bad faith the commenter has some massive ignorance about how gifts work, so I must recommend they read Marcel Mauss’ “The Gift”.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Haaretz publishes a fair amount of “centrist” and right wing opinions. Israel Harel is a regular columnist for them, after all.
        Here’s another Haaretz article on the same subject, however:

        ‘One Jewish Life Is Worth More Than 10,000 non-Jews’: Why More U.S. Jews Will Walk Off Birthright This Summer
        My Birthright guide’s supremacist stance was extreme. But the program’s claim to be ‘apolitical’ is not only demonstrably untrue; it frames every critical, inquisitive Jewish millennial who wants to meet Palestinians as Israel-haters

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        But what happened to Allison Kaplan Sommer here? A curiously weak article by her. Sommer, they’re not “brats,” they are either adults or adult-minded, and you Israelis don’t own their blind allegiance or a right to condescend to them. Which you never stop doing.

        But it does show a few things.

        It shows the flaccidness and superficiality of the Israeli mainstream liberal “left” and the laziness of Israelis like Sommer about what goes on in the territories.

        And it shows why +972 Magazine is such a gem, penetrating into what is really going on on the ground and analyzing it truthfully. Compare and contrast the superficiality of Sommer’s article with the penetration and illumination of Mairav Zonszein’s article.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Now, about this idea of a “gift.” Taglit is Israeli government- and Shel Adelson-funded propaganda, indoctrination, a Leon Uris-Disneyland kitsch version of the real Israel-Palestine. The idea that something that introduces young Jews to Israel, and doesn’t mention the crazy auntie occupation in the attic, is “apolitical,” is complete nonsense. (And they call it “discovery”!) Taglit is a “gift” like lavish pharmaceutical company dinners for doctors while they listen to drug company “sponsored” lectures is a “gift.” Yup, it’s a gift alright and doctors have formally decided that accepting these gifts is not ethical, is inherently and unavoidably corrupting despite the best intentions of the gift receiver. (Research has proven this.) In a better world these young American Jews would refuse the gift outright. That’s not happening yet. So in the interim these young people are staging effective civil disobedience. Good for them. They are not being “ungrateful.” No more than a doctor at a drug company dinner talk asking inconvenient questions and walking out when they are not answered. To call that “ungrateful” is actually kind of sinister, but in any event it misses the point about civil disobedience.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Lurking in there is also the idea that there is “Israel” over “here” and the occupation over “there” and they are two separate things. That’s false. Propaganda.
        It’s the having it both ways thing again. Israelis declaim there is “no difference” between settlers in the West Bank and residents of Tel Aviv; except at the same time they are somehow so different that the occupation need not be mentioned on a Taglit trip? Might as well give a lecture to doctors about a drug and not mention the side effects and the number of people who died from taking it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          I agree with Ben !
          This money is being wasted on spoiled assimilated American Jews who have already left Judaism and abandoned Israel anyway. The money would be better spent here in Israel.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Julia Hay

      I’m so glad young Americans get a chance to see this

      Reply to Comment