#ReturntheBirthright- A Manifesto

Activists Ghada Karmi and Ellen Siegel, in front of the Israeli embassy in London on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, 1973

Since 1999, the Birthright Israel program has sent over 500,000 Jewish young adults on a free ten-day trip to Israel, in the name of strengthening Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish state. These trips, funded by the government of Israel and the North American Jewish Federations as well as individual donors like billionaire Republican Sheldon Adelson, aim to promote the idea that young Jews from all over the world should feel like the land and State of Israel belongs to us and is our homeland. But while all Jews worldwide are handed this free trip, and, furthermore, automatic citizenship if they choose to immigrate to Israel, Palestinians are barred from returning to the homes and villages where their ancestors lived for centuries.

As young Jews, we recognize that Israel is not our birthright. In 1948, Zionist militias expelled over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages, an act of ethnic cleansing, known by Palestinians as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, that cleared the land for the creation of the modern-day state of Israel. Today, when young Jews are taken by Birthright guides on hikes through forests in Israel, they still sometimes stumble across the remnants of these destroyed Palestinian villages, covered over, often deliberately, by the Jewish National Fund’s tree-planting programs. Meanwhile, millions of these Palestinians and their descendants continue to live in refugee camps and elsewhere in the global Palestinian diaspora, unable to return to their homeland, while those that remain in historic Palestine continue to face discriminatory, second-class citizenship within present-day Israel, and permanent military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

Throughout history, Jews around the world have cherished a variety of spiritual and cultural relationships to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). But today, we must acknowledge that the modern state of Israel is predicated on the ongoing erasure of Palestinians. Taking a Birthright trip today means playing an active role in helping the state promote Jewish “return” while rejecting the Palestinian right of return. It is not enough to accept this offer from the Israeli government and maintain a critical perspective while on the trip. We reject the offer of a free trip to a state that does not represent us, a trip that is only “free” because it has been paid for by the dispossession of Palestinians. And as we reject this, we commit to promoting the right to return of Palestinian refugees.

As young Jews, we #ReturnTheBirthright. We implore other young Jews on our campuses and in our communities: don’t go on a Birthright trip to Israel. Don’t take a trip sponsored by conservative donors and the Israeli government, where the ongoing oppression and occupation of Palestinians will be hidden from you, just because it’s free. There are other ways for us to strengthen our Jewish identities, in community with those who share our values. Israel is not our Birthright.

Return the Birthright. Sign the pledge at jvp.org/returnthebirthright.

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