Birthright Israel has been a phenomenal success in achieving its goal of ensuring “the vibrant future of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and connection with Israel.” The group, founded in 1999 with the financial support of Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, has brought over 650,000 Jews from 67 countries to better understand their common tie to the Jewish holy land.
However, the left-wing group J Street felt that the free trips gave the 18 to 26 year olds too many highlights and not enough lowlights.
At first, J Street demanded that the trips include discussions regarding Israel’s relationship with Palestinian Arabs. After being rebuffed that it was not the mission of Birthright, J Street launched its own trip called “The Let Our People Know Trip.” The itinerary includes a focus on “Israel’s minority communities,” “pluralism,” an afternoon in “East Jerusalem,” a full day called “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Occupation 101,” and another day called “Israel and Palestinian Perspectives Over the Green Line.” The trip is designed to split the Jewish holy land into areas that are Israeli and those that are occupied.
J Street map of Israel excluding Israeli territories in Judea and Samaria
I imagine that the right-wing Zionist Organization of America might pull together its own Birthright trip to further educate people about the nature of the conflict, which might have a different orientation than J Street. Here’s a possible itinerary:
Day 1: Terrorism in the 1970’s
- Land in Ben Gurion Airport.
- Get a briefing on the various security measures that Israel must deploy because of the threats of hijackings and bombings. Include a speaker who freed over 200 Jews who were hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1976, and review the various hijackings perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists over the years.
- Drive up road towards Netanya and stop at the location of the Coastal Road Massacre of 1978, in which 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, were killed under direction of the dominant Palestinian party, Fatah. Learn about Dalal Mughrabi, a woman who planned and fought in the terrorist attack who is celebrated by Palestinians to this day with schools and public squares named after her.
- Night in Netanya
Day 2: The British Mandate and the Separation Barrier as Peace-Builder
- Visit the Park Hotel in Netanya where a Palestinian suicide bomber killed over 30 people having a Passover seder in 2002. Hear from soldiers who fought to eliminate the terrorists in Jenin after the massacre, who went door-to-door on foot to minimize civilian casualties. Read reports from CNN who falsely charged the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) with killing hundreds of civilians.
- Visit a section of the separation barrier which was built as a result of the Second Intifada to curtail the infiltration of Palestinian Arab terrorists. Review the statistics of the bombings and killings in Israel from Arabs coming from the east of the barrier before and after the barrier was erected and discuss Israel’s security needs.
- Visit the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, which some Israeli politicians want to swap to a future state of Palestine due to their glorification of terrorists.
- Tour Atlit, a displaced persons camp used by the British to lock up Jewish immigrants to the holy land in the 1930’s and 1940’s who were trying to escape or had just escaped the Holocaust in Europe. Sit near the barbed wire fence and hear from a historian how the British ignored international law established in 1920 (San Remo Conference) and 1922 (British Mandate) to facilitate the immigration of Jews to reestablish their homeland, and instead instituted the White Paper of 1939 at the urging of Palestinian Arabs which limited Jewish immigration over five years to just 75,000 people, resulting in the deaths of over 100,000 Jews in the Holocaust.
- Drive to the combined Jewish-Arab towns of Ma’alot-Tarshiha where Israel has tried to promote coexistence. Visit the Netiv Meir Elementary School where members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine took over a school in 1974, taking over 100 hostages, almost all children. A total of 25 hostages were killed, including 22 children.
- Sleep in Ma’alot-Tarshiha
Day 3: The Golan Heights and Syria
- Drive to the Golan Heights and visit Mount Hermon. Look out on Damascus, Syria and hear from army experts how the Syrians had used the Golan to shell Israeli farmers in the Galilee before being evicted from the heights in 1967.
- Visit various ancient synagogues which dot the Golan Heights, attesting to the historic Jewish presence in the region, and stop by Ramat Trump, a new town named after U.S. President Donald Trump.
- Afternoon in Safed where doctors detail caring for Syrians fleeing the civil war which has killed over 500,000 people.
- Visit the town of Capernaum, where Jesus is said to have lived, and tour a lovely intact fourth century synagogue.
- Night in Tiberias
Ancient synagogue in the Golan
Day 4: Jews and Christians in the Galilee
- Tour the various tombs of famous Jewish rabbis including Maimonides (1135-1204) and Yohanan Ben Zakkai (c. 10CE – 90CE) and learn about their persecutions and journeys to the Galilee.
- Visit Tzippori, a Jewish city established in the first century BCE which became the center for the Sanhedrin (Jewish courts) after the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple. It was from this location that the Christian Crusaders rode out to defeat in 1187 to the Muslim sultan Saladin.
- Visit Nazareth, the place where Jesus lived which was mostly a Christian town for many years, and now has a Muslim Arab majority.
- Night in Tel Aviv
Day 5: Terrorism from the Oslo Accords to the Second Intifada
- Visit the bus station where the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad detonated a bomb in 2006 which killed eleven people, and launched twin bombings in 2003 killing 23 civilians and injuring over 100.
- Visit the popular Allenby Street where a suicide bomber from Hamas blew up a bus in 2002, killing six and injuring 70.
- Visit the popular Dizengoff Center, where a suicide bomber blew himself up on the eve of the festive Purim holiday in 1996, killing 13 and injuring 130. Hear from experts about the wave of killings after Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed the Oslo Peace Accords in 1995.
- Dinner near the beach, and then a visit to the shell of the Dolphinarium discotheque, where Palestinian terrorist killed 21 Israelis, 16 of them teenage girls out dancing in 2001.
- Night in Tel Aviv
Day 6: Addressing Terrorists: Palestinians and Americans
- Visit the site of the “Seafood Market attack” of 2002 in which two civilians and a police officer were killed in an attack by the terrorist group Tanzim. Hear from a leading expert on terrorism about the head of Tanzim, Marwan Barghouti, who led that attack as well as several others which killed a number of civilians, who is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. Learn how Barghouti is one of the most famous Palestinians today who calls for a third “intifada” and how Palestinians want him to become the next president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Discuss how, despite his murderous past and calls for additional terrorism against civilians, the New York Times thinks Barghouti could be a Noble Peace Prize winner.
- Visit the Tel Aviv promenade where an expert in the funding of terrorism will relay the story of Taylor Force, an American visiting Israel who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist. The U.S. Congress passed a law in his name (H.R. 1164) which de-funds the PA unless it can show that it no longer finances terror.
- Stop by a Christian monastery near Beit Shemesh and hear the story of Neta Sorek, an Israeli feminist who worked to bring peace with Palestinian Arabs, who was murdered for being Jewish by Palestinian terrorists while she walked in the gardens.
- Afternoon tour of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem
- Night in Jerusalem
Day 7: Terrorism throughout Jerusalem
- Morning tour of Shaare Zedek Hospital where Jewish and Arab doctors and patients work and are treated side-by-side. Hear the story of Dr. David Appelbaum who ran the emergency room which treats dozens of terrorist victims, and how he and his daughter were killed in a Palestinian terrorist bombing while eating at a restaurant the night before her wedding. Dr. Appelbaum had just arrived from New York the day before where he was training first responders in how to deal with mass emergencies.
- Go to downtown Jerusalem to the former location of a Sbarro restaurant where Hamas and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine executed a bombing in a pizza store, killing 15 people including 7 children and a pregnant woman.
- Drive over to Hebrew University in the eastern part of the city and learn about the school which was founded in 1925 and included Albert Einstein among its founders. Hear from a school historian about how buses with professors were often shot at in the 1940’s and how Hamas blew up the cafeteria in 2002, killing 9 people including five Americans.
- Head back to the western side of the city to a small synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood where two Palestinian men walked into prayer services with axes and slaughtered worshipers in 2014.
- Night in Jerusalem
Day 8: Jerusalem, America and Democracy
- Tour the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and learn how Judaism was practiced 2,000 years ago and about early Christianity.
- Visit the Israeli Knesset, the parliament, to see how a democracy functions in the turbulent Middle East. Uniquely in the region, it has Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze all serving in the parliament.
- Tour the modern Supreme Court building and get a briefing about the most liberal country for thousands of miles in any direction.
- Stop by Yad Kennedy, a large monument in the Jerusalem forest dedicated to the memory of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
- Visit the only 9/11 memorial in the Middle East which includes the names of every person killed in the terrorist attacks in America of 2001.
- Dinner at the new American embassy in Jerusalem, which President Donald Trump moved to Israel’s capital in 2018.
- Night in Jerusalem
Day 9: 3,000 Years of Jewish Jerusalem
- Visit the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall (the Kotel) and the Jewish Temple Mount. Witness that only Jewish visitors need armed guards to visit their holiest site, and experience the Mourabitat women who harass Jewish pilgrims.
- Visit the Davidson Center and the City of David which detail the 3,000-year history of Jews in their holiest site. Tour the recently uncovered “Pilgrimage Road.” Read quotes from the leaders of the Palestinian Authority which claim that Jews have no history in Jerusalem and from the United Nations which declares that Israel has no rights to the site.
- Pray at the Hurva Synagogue, rebuilt in 2010 after the Jordanians destroyed it in 1949 right before they evicted all of the Jews from the Old City and the eastern portion of Jerusalem. Read Jordan’s 1954 Nationality Law which specifically excludes Jews from obtaining citizenship.
- Visit the Tiferet Yisrael development site, another synagogue destroyed by the Arabs which is now being rebuilt despite loud Palestinian protest.
- Exit the Old City and climb the tower of the YMCA to get a 360-degree view of Jerusalem. Review the expansion of the city westward towards Jaffa in the 1860’s and the demographics which have seen Jews as the majority in Jerusalem since 1869.
- Take a bus to Bethlehem and visit The Tomb of Rachel, now under heavy guard.
- Dinner with a political expert to review the various debates about Jerusalem.
- Night in Jerusalem
YMCA tower in Jerusalem
Day 10: The Ongoing War Today
- Get early start and head to Hevron. Read the biblical chapters of Abraham buying the cave to bury his wife, Sarah, the Jewish matriarch. Climb the steps of the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs up to the seventh step and learn the history of the site, from the time King Herod built the current structure (minus the minarets) over the cave, to how the Arabs took over the site when they invaded in the seventh and eighth century when they brought Islam throughout the Middle East and North Africa region turning sites holy to one religion into mosques and forbidding Jews from climbing above the seventh stair of their second holiest location. Review current history of Arabs slaughtering the Jewish community in 1929 and Britain’s forced expulsion of the remaining Jewish residents of the city, and how Israel reclaimed the area in a defensive war in 1967, allowing Jews to return to the city and pray at the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs once again. Hear how most recently, Israel handed over almost the entirety of the city to the PA except for a small sliver, as part of the Oslo Accords, and how the remaining Jews in the city must live in an armed protective zone to prevent a recurrence of the 1929 massacre.
- Drive to Sderot on the border of Gaza. Learn about the Hamas Charter, the most antisemitic document of any ruling governmental party ever written, and how the Palestinians elected Hamas to the majority of the Palestinian parliament in 2006 with full knowledge and support of its mission statement; and how Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 precipitating the Israeli blockade in 2008, which the United Nations Palmer Report of 2011 deemed as legal and necessary. Tour the bomb shelters where Israelis only have ten seconds to hide from missiles launched by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and hear about the wars launched from Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
- Visit the burnt fields set afire from incendiary balloons launched by Palestinian youths over the past year.
- Visit a Patriot Missile battery, a United States defense system, as well as Israel’s Iron Dome system whose R&D was partially funded by the U.S. Hear about how each technology works and how the United States is now purchasing the Iron Dome system for its own defenses.
- Drive up to the Israeli city of Ashdod and visit the site where an Israeli-American was killed in 2019 by a Gazan missile.
- Dinner in Tel Aviv before flight home.
The ZOA should probably call their trip “Let Our People UNDERSTAND.”
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