It’s been almost a year since we launched our “Stop Demolitions, Build Peace” campaign, and we’re celebrating a successful year of action in Congress and on our campuses nationwide. We’re now ready for the next phase. This year, we’re challenging our communities to wake up to the omission and erasure of Palestinian perspectives and narratives, which create the environment that make it easy to ignore demolitions, settlement expansion and occupation. We’re starting by focusing on one of the most important institutions in our community: the Birthright trips that bring 40,000 young American Jews to Israel each year.
During the past year we have raised awareness about unjust demolitions, settlement expansion, and evictions that happen routinely in Palestinian villages located in Area C of the West Bank. We have stood by Susya, Jabal al-Baba, Um al-Khair, Abu Nuwar, Jubbet ad-Dhib, and Khan al-Ahmar as they faced threats of demolition. We have explained how these demolitions devastate Palestinian communities and deliberately undermine the prospects for a two-state solution — jeopardizing Israel’s future. We have hosted teach-ins, marched to the Israeli embassy, held sleep-ins, called consulates, and formed coalitions with progressive campus organizations across the nation. In the House and Senate, new letters opposing demolitions marked the first time that a broad group of members of Congress spoke out critically about Israeli policy in the West Bank.
But as we’ve ramped up our efforts, so has the settler right. While we celebrate the delay of the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, we know that we have only bought time.
Even as Khan al-Ahmar may still be under threat, most of our Jewish communities and institutions remain silent. That’s not surprising. Our American and Jewish institutions frequently omit Palestinian narratives in our conversations, our curricula, and our Israel programming. When we erase Palestinians and the occupation from our collective consciousness, our communities feel no compulsion to speak out on behalf of Palestinian rights. They fail to push back on the right-wing settlement movement as they work to destroy the prospects for a two-state solution.
Birthright, and many other trips that bring college students on tours of Israel, are major sources of this omission and erasure. Birthright actively bans Palestinian Israeli citizens from speaking on trips and completely ignores the voices and experiences of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank. While we believe that traveling to Israel is an important step for any student interested in deepening their connection to the country, Birthright’s programming largely ignores the existence of Palestinians as real people with needs, aspirations and rights. These trips therefore perpetuate the attitudes and politics that help make demolitions and occupation possible.
This summer, we saw that there is serious discontent with the way Birthright teaches young Jews about Israel. We recognize that significant work has already been done by other Jewish activists to challenge Birthright, and we are inspired by their efforts. As college students, we feel invested in our Jewish and Israel education, and we therefore want to work to change the way that Birthright and other similar trips operate. We want to challenge them to include Palestinian voices and perspectives, and to include programming that addresses and shares the reality of Palestinian life under occupation. Over the coming months, we will therefore be mobilizing students across the country to ask Birthright – and Hillels, as key Birthright trip providers -to make significant changes to their trips and programming in order to make room for these perspectives.
We call on anyone who cares about promoting a better future for Israelis and Palestinians to join us. We need all hands on deck if we are to make a dent in the right-wing annexationist agenda, and change the way that our communities think, learn and act when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.
So please join us in this second phase of #StopDemolitionsBuildPeace, as we work to bring home the realities of the occupation — and mobilize our communities to help bring it to an end.
Fill out this form and a J Street U organizer on your campus will reach out to you.