Birthright: the Free Trip that comes with a Cost

by Roxy Rozo-Marsh

Last semester I first heard talk of a Birthright trip being organized by the Claremont Colleges Hillel. My fears were confirmed months later when I attended an information session held at Scripps College. Why am I so concerned? Because this time last year I was choosing a Birthright trip and preparing my application. This time last year I decided to cash in on my free trip to Israel. This time last year I made a decision that left me challenging the many ways I have been indoctrinated in the name of Zionism.

Silence is a part of the violence I am refusing to participate in any longer.

So I will write and speak and resist as long as there are still people in Israel and all over the world, including at the Claremont Colleges, who condone this violence. Although it’s approaching a year since I went on Birthright, I can recall many of my experiences as if they were yesterday. I remember the strangers on the street who tried to convince us to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) upon hearing we were on Birthright, and the other students on the trip who toasted to the IDF while we were out clubbing for a night. I remember hearing one of the IDF soldiers travelling with us explain the most recent attack on Gaza and the times he looked in Palestinian homes to make sure no other soldiers were inside before shooting.

I remember when our tour guide discussed an “uprising” when the Arab residents of Tsfat, who comprise 90 percent of the overall population, were exiled from the land. How she glorified this act of ethnic cleansing and never mentioned the word Palestinian the entire ten days we were on the trip. I remember when a journalist who claimed to be objective came to speak to the group about the conflict and purposely misunderstood any questions about his pro-Israel biases.

I remember walking with the group one morning and witnessing police officers stop two men in a car to search them and their vehicle. This incident was then described to me by an IDF soldier in a positive light, as a routine search of Arab residents implemented to make the Jewish Israeli public feel safer.

We’re paying student journalists to investigate the most pressing issues of our time. Pitch a story.

I remember hearing about a group exercise organized by Israeli soldiers where participants were asked whether they would bomb a school if it were the site from which Hamas launched its rockets, even at the expense of Palestinian students inside. All views in opposition of bombing the school were aggressively challenged.

I remember the tour of South Tel Aviv and how the guide discussed asylum-seekers as disposable and spoke of immigration policies, the wall along the Egyptian border, and violence towards immigrants in a nonchalant way that removed all state culpability. She even suggested we join a private genocide remembrance ceremony in a manner that made a spectacle out of people’s painful experiences.

I remember talking to one of the staff members on the trip who was a settler in the West Bank. How she discussed that she could never trust Palestinians, they want to bond with me, she said, but I could never love them; you should see the way Arab men look at me, she added, they have no shame.

I remember a discussion with all the trip participants where people discussed Judaism and instances of anti-Semitism. This conversation ended with a mix of American students and Israeli soldiers/Birthright employees claiming Jewish superiority and a staff member stating that others [non Jews] were “just jealous”, a comment which in turn received rounds of applause.

These experiences show that attending Birthright is not a passive act. One only has to look as far as the funding for the trip to become aware of just how strategic it is.

For instance, Sheldon Adelson, the largest individual donor to Birthright, has also donated to the IDF and was Donald Trump’s largest individual donor during the 2016 presidential campaign. It is crucial to recognize how his contributions to Birthright directly correlate with the trip’s colonial mission, especially given that Adelson himself has made incredibly disturbing comments such as the claim that Palestinians are a “made up people.”

Moreover, Adelson has said, “All we care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel.” To him and the Birthright Israel Foundation, this means creating the next generation of uncritical champions of the IDF and other Israeli entities that commit atrocity after atrocity against indigenous Palestinians in the name of Zionism. The purposeful erasure and miseducation I experienced on the trip is a strategy that has been and continues to be implemented in an effort to increase the population of pro-Israel advocates, advocates who, like Adelson, will go on to unconditionally support the state financially and politically.

Moreover, Birthright not only fosters an environment for indoctrinating people with pro-Israel rhetoric but also does so at the expense of indigenous populations. While Jewish students can easily access fully-funded vacations in the name of ‘self discovery,’ Palestinians in the diaspora are barred from returning or face the demolition of their families’ homes upon return. Additionally, Palestinians within Israel and the occupied territories continue to be ethnically cleansed, exiled and actively discriminated against by the state of Israel.

We have a duty as concerned citizens of the world to stand against these acts of violence and genocide. Do not let propaganda advertising the trip as a ‘touching, beautiful way to connect with the broader Jewish community’ fool you.

Birthright is a colonial tool, not an innocent, fun trip to take with your friends.

Therefore, if you have one take-away from this article, please let it be the dire need for self-education. Check out the “Whose Birthright?” zine created by Tufts University’s Jewish Voice for Peace. Watch Remi Kanazi’s spoken word videos on YouTube about the ongoing Nakba (Catastrophe) in Palestine. Read about Rasmea Odeh’s court case. Unlearn. Investigate. Question. Decolonize. If after reading those sources and participating in self and community critique you still want to go on Birthright, ask yourself—who is paying for this free trip with their life?

Roxy Rozo-Marsh is a sophomore planned Spanish, Latin American, and Caribbean Studies and Sociology dual major from the Bay Area who attends Scripps College. She is passionate about social justice and collective liberation. This piece originally appeared in The Student Life, the student newspaper of the Claremont Colleges.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no institutional positions on matters of policy or opinion.

The photo above was taken of students on a Birthright trip in Israel by Luqux. It is under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license and can be found here.

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