In the following article, a Corinne Curcie explains why she walked off her Birthright Tour in protest of what she believes are unjust Israeli policies.
I’ll be honest: as soon as I read the title, I wondered why she had even gotten on the plane in the first place, but I won’t deny Curcie her right to make this decision, or even to conclude that her actions were the right thing to do from a Jewish perspective. I think that’s a nebulous thing to define, but those are her words.
My problem is the dubious reasoning behind her doing so, as I will examine with referenced quotations throughout her article. Corinne begins by discussing having her bat mitzvah at the Kotel, or Wailing Wall.
“ But at the very moment of the ceremony, I instead found myself standing in the home of the Sumarins, a Palestinian family who have been living under threat of eviction in occupied East Jerusalem for decades.”
I would invite Curcie to do some more reading into the history of Jerusalem, so that she discovers the fact that Jews had been evicted from the Eastern half by the Jordanians between 1949–1967 and only reentered after Israel reclaimed this half during the 1967 War. The term “occupied East Jerusalem” is nebulous, given this historical reality.
“ Hours before my meeting with the Sumarins, I had decided to walk off my trip with seven other Birthright participants in protest of the way Birthright obscures and supports Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians. I had surprised myself, but I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate my Jewish coming of age.”
The Birthright campaign is designed to connect the Jewish diaspora with their ancient religious, national, and cultural heritage. It isn’t a political organisation or campaign. It is based on the Jewish right to settle throughout the land of Israel, something which Curcie can verify for herself from the Balfour Declaration, or from the continuous and recorded presence of Jews within the land (including Gaza and the “West Bank”) over the last 3 millennia. That was long before any Palestinians.
I will allow Mayim Bialik to speak for herself when she rightly says that the term “occupation” is contentious and that she won’t tell Jews in Judaea and Samaria (the original names of the lands within the Eastern half of Israel) where they can and cannot live. Curcie’s analysis does not include the crucial fact of the Jordanians occupying this region entirely without cause between 1949–1967, which included the expulsion of Jews and the destruction of Jewish heritage throughout. Had Israel not put an end to this in 1967 and regained access to the Kotel, Curcie wouldn’t have been able to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah.
“ Like many of the 50,000 young Jews who go on Birthright every year, I arrived with very little knowledge about the occupation or the daily lives of Palestinians.”
Evidently, Curcie doesn’t read the New York Times or the Washington Post, or watch CNN or MSNBC — just a few of the news outlets that regularly accuse Israel of carrying out an occupation against the Palestinians. Not to mention the UN resolutions against Israel (including Obama’s final vote against Israel on settlements), the politicians who attack Israel, the university protest groups against Israel in places like UC Berkeley, etc.
She evidently doesn’t read outlets like HonestReporting, Aish, or the Jewish Virtual Library, which could provide her with information about the history of Israel, its foundation, its challenges, its flaws (yes, Jews do criticise Israel fairly and in proportion to Israel’s faults), and its aims. That’s her prerogative, but the way this has been worded, with no reference to the obvious counterargument or resources that she could have used, implies that she believes Jews are being blinded to the political conflict. And that is simply incorrect.
“ Our trip was filled with misinformation and obfuscation: We were handed mapsthat didn’t acknowledge the existence of the West Bank, there was silence about the separation wall that our bus drove past for miles, and Birthright had recently enacted a policy forbidding participants from hearing directly from Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
First of all, the “West Bank” was a term introduced by the Jordanians after they had occupied Eastern Jerusalem and much of Judaea and Samaria for 18 years (between 1949 and 1967). I welcome Curcie to verify this for herself. If she checks a history book prior, she will see the land had always been called Judaea (yes, as in “Jew-daea”) and Samaria. She can watch this video by StandWithUs, which explains the history.
Second of all, the security wall was built in response to waves of terrorist attacks from 2000, responsible for, as one can imagine, the deaths of hundreds of Israeli’s. This is something that even Al Jazeera confessed (probably accidentally) during an AJ short on the security wall. Since then, the number of suicide bombing attacks against Israeli’s has decreased exponentially. Curcie can verify this for herself by checking news articles from Israel detailing the horrors of these attacks and the consequences of building the barrier.
Thirdly, Israel’s society comprises of Jews, with a substantial minority of Arabs (around 1/5th of the population). They are known as “Arab Israeli’s” or “Israeli Arabs”. The article that Curcie links to refers to them as Israeli Arabs. Since Palestine is not a country, it cannot therefore be a nationality unless there is negotiation. Curcie will find, from researching the words of Mahmoud Abbas and the leaders of Hamas, that the Palestinian leaders have continually either frustrated through violence (like the aforementioned suicide bombings) or outrightly refused. Curcie can verify this herself by researching the 3 No’s in Khartoum.
I am unable to find information about Birthright’s updated policy, but will update when I do.
“ Not only was Birthright hiding the truth of the occupation, in paying entrance fees to Elad’s parks like the Davidson Center and the City of David for thousands of participants every year, it was explicitly supporting it.”
The Jews have the right to settle throughout the land. This isn’t about being far-right, far-left, or anything in between. They have the right to settle there because they are the only surviving national people who ever lived there.
One can sympathise with the Sumarins’ without compromising on this essential fact. The fact that Curcie doesn’t appear to know Jews were expelled from the very area she now decries as being settled by the “far-right” forms a crucial element to her ignorance of this conflict. It is far more complex than she realizes. Not once, so far, has she mentioned the potential Partition plansthat would have apportioned land to the Arabs for a state, nor the crucial fact that they have repeatedly refused those offers. She is probably unaware of this information, and if so, needs to research it. This article by Alan Derschowitz can help.
“ We visited Hebron, where we learned about the separate legal systems under which Palestinian children are arrested with little cause and denied due process while their Jewish counterparts act with impunity.”
I am glad that Curcie uses the original Jewish name of Chevron, because the Palestinians refuse to do this. Is she aware of the recent UNESCO motion to rename the Cave of the Patriarchs as a “Palestinian” heritage site? As someone looking to connect with Judaism, this should concern her.
Back to the point, because Curcie has omitted a great deal of information. First of all, most Palestinians living in the “West Bank” are living under PA jurisdiction, and their record of arrest warrants, trail, and fair representation are abysmal. Not mentioning this in her article, as well as omitting the terrorism against Israeli’s from Palestinian terrorists, as well as omitting the terrorism of Hamas, is a serious moral and factual error on Curcie’s part.
If indeed Palestinian children are being arrested with little cause, and if Jews who break the law are going unpunished, then I certinly condemn that. There are indeed vigilante settler groups and one man was recently charged for revenge arson crimes against Arabs.
Unfortunately, Curcie appears unaware of how Palestinian children have been weaponised by the PA (again, not mentioned in this article) to attack Israeli soldiers — those soldiers being present to protect the Jewish population from terrorist attacks. Had Curcie some knowledge of the situation prior to 1967, she would realise that Jews and Arabs had been living together on that land mostly without those soldiers and there were periods when Arabs rioted against Jewish people, with fatal consequences. Children are being used to throw rocks at and even stab Israeli soldiers and civilians, something that surely cannot be acceptable.
“ (While on a tour of Hebron, we were harassed by settlers and our tour guide had paint thrown on her.)”
Completely unacceptable behaviour from those settlers, I agree.
“ We saw a dehumanizing checkpoint where Palestinians are forced to wait in cages for hours just to get to work every day.”
Since Curcie appears unaware of why the security wall was built in the first place, and has not mentioned the numerous terrorist attacks against Israeli’s (an IDF soldier was recently shot dead just shy of his 21st birthday, and yet another stabbing victim, Yotam Ovadia, murdered by a terrorist, was recently laid to rest — all events she can research), then she will consequently be unaware of why the checkpoints exist. The Jewish Virtual Library’s Myths and Facts section can explain this: they are there to prevent Palestinians from carrying weapons into Israeli territory for the purpose of committing terrorist attacks. This is no different to any other country’s own security measures.
“ We visited Palestinian Bedouin communities who experience routine home demolitions by the Israeli military and have extremely limited access to water and electricity.”
Curcie hasn’t discussed, or hasn’t been informed of why these demolitions are taking place. There are two broad reasons: 1)- as a punishment for terrorist attacks on Israeli soil, 2)- because the people concerned did not get permission to build on a particular piece of land. Because the Bedouin (who existed long before the Palestinians, by the way: they are nomadic Arabs, not Palestinians) are a nomadic people, they have often settled in particular areas without getting the necessary permission to do so. I am sure there are some unjust cases and extenuating circumstances, but Curcie is welcome to ask the Israeli government for more information on this. And by the way: the Bedouin are nomadic, so their lifestyle naturally is accustomed to having low water supplies and electricity. Surely, she should have seen that?
“ Everywhere we went, people asked us to share their stories, and as we traveled around, I thought about all the young Jews on Birthright from whom this reality was being hidden. Once the eight of us demanded to see the truth, it became immediately clear that the occupation is daily nightmare for Palestinians and a moral disaster for those who support it.”
Was the reality being hidden? As I have said above, HonestReporting, Aish, StandWithUs, and many other organisations deal with the difficult issues in this conflict on a regular basis. Their work reaches a wide audience of Jews.
Again, I contest the notion of an “occupation”, since Curcie has not included the fact that Jews are the ones who have faced expulsion and genocidal threats for living in Israel — where they are legally, historically, and morally entitled to live. Curcie has also failed to include the terrorism against Jews for living there, the failure of the PA and Hamas to stop it, the reimbursement of the terrorist’s family by the PA, nor the repeated rejections of acceptable negotiation propositions by Israel which would have ended what she sees as an occupation.
“ My generation deserves better than Birthright, and Palestinian people fighting for freedom and dignity deserve to be heard and supported. Opening my eyes to the reality of the occupation is best way I could have become a bat mitzvah, and I’m proud to enter my Jewish adulthood by joining the fight to end it.”
They are heard, and they are supported. Curcie might want to watch what they think of Jews and Israel when on their own platforms (newspapers, TV programs, and official speeches).
To link this to Judaism is dubious at best, since the Jewish religion heavily relies upon the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in the Land of Israel. Curcie is welcome to peruse the Hebrew Bible for verification of this fact.
I also notice that Curcie hasn’t proposed any actual political solutions to this situation, mostly because she has a limited understanding in this area. That is fine, and that can change. But the omission of key facts, and the immersion in one side of the narrative (although the Birthright tour guides could have been more cooperative with the dissenting questions, Curcie evidently didn’t listen to them as much as she did the other side), the refusal to mention terrorism, failed negotiations, complexity, or anything else, makes this article an unreliable picture of the Israeli-Arab conflict.