Should Birthright Visit Hebron? U.S., Israeli Leaders Disagree

By Gal Beckerman

Published July 07, 2010, issue of July 16, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A Taglit-Birthright tour visiting Israel in early July made a stop in a city that most of these groups have studiously avoided: Hebron. And this stop has raised questions about whether Birthright can travel beyond the so-called Green Line into the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with differing answers from American and Israeli Birthright officials.

The visit to Hebron, where Palestinians live under harsh restrictions near a small enclave of some of the most militant Jewish settlers, was exposed when a video first discovered by the website Coteret showed a few dozen young Birthright participants hanging out on the stone steps leading up to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city. Those interviewed for the video were all Australians from Melbourne, and Birthright, in its initial statement, confirmed that this was “a Taglit-Birthright Israel group from Australia, run by the Israel Experience,” a trip provider connected to the Jewish Agency.

But according to the “safety and security” page on the Birthright website, Hebron falls outside the acceptable parameters of locations the groups are allowed to visit: “Our tours do not travel to or through areas of the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem, other than the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.”

Reached for comment by the Forward, Gideon Mark, the Israeli-based CEO of Birthright, pointed to a parenthetical caveat added to the prohibition: “Changes are possible when permitted by the security authorities.”

Mark said that although he could recall no other Birthright group visiting Hebron — considered one of

the tensest cities in the West Bank — during one of the subsidized 10-day trips for Jewish youth, the only factor that might disallow such a visit was the security situation.

“Out of the 750 groups that we have this year, only one went,” Mark said. “If this is possible, everything is possible. But practically, this is the proportion of groups until today.”

Asked why more groups don’t visit the West Bank, Mark said, referring to the many trip providers of Birthright: “You have to ask them. Trip organizers submit proposals. We see if there is some rationale, and we submit it to the security services.”

But Robert Aronson, head of the Birthright Israel Foundation, the enterprise’s American arm, did not share Mark’s opinion of what was permitted under Birthright rules.

In an e-mail message to the Forward, Aronson stated simply that the trip was “clearly against Birthright policy.” Attempts to reach Aronson by phone for further comment were unsuccessful.

At the time of publication, there was still no clarity from Birthright officials about the extent to which travel through and to Israeli-occupied territory was allowed. Many Birthright groups visit the Dead Sea, taking a route that cuts through the West Bank. Mark’s comments to the Forward suggest that this route falls into the ambiguous space between the straightforward statement on Birthright’s website and the parenthetical disclaimer. Adding to the ambiguity about its policy, while the Birthright website attempts to state some parameters, the website of the Israel Experience, the provider of the tour that visited Hebron, does not explicitly mention any locations as prohibited.

In the video of the group visiting Hebron, the guide, a bearded man identified as Daniel Guttman, is asked why he brought the group there.

“This is the roots of our people,” he says. “Birthright is the connection of our right to the land. And I brought the Jewish people, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the Land of Israel, to the roots of our people, to show them what our birthright is all about.”

He also seems aware that his decision to visit is an unprecedented one. The man behind the camera says that this is the first time he can recall a Birthright group in the city, to which the guide responds: “With the help of God, all the Birthrights should come to Hebron to connect with the mamas and the papas. It should be a year that we see all the Jews come to Eretz Yisrael and Hebron.”

David Wilder, a self-proclaimed English spokesman of the Hebron community, writing on his blog, described meeting the group during its visit. He called it, “the first time an ‘official’ Birthright mission has come into Hebron.”

“Their visit made my day,” Wilder wrote. “I spoke with some of the people in the group, saw the sparkle in their eyes, the radiance of youth soaking up a heritage they never knew existed. It was a wonderful time, and I really look forward to meeting other such groups.”

Contact Gal Beckerman at beckerman@forward.com. Follow him on Twitter @galbeckerman.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.