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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Exposing Taglit-Birthright Israel as the propaganda machine it really is.

*** Rough Draft: Please read and give me feedback!***

***2017 Update:

Sadly have stopped their monthly emails to me asking for a shorter, better version. My procrastination got the best of me and it never came to fruition :(

Also note that "Exposing..." was originally meant to be just a temporary working title, as it's way too sensationalist. But I never got around to choosing another title, so I'll stick with it.

This will probably be my last and final update.

***February 11th, 2016
Ugh... ok, ok. I procrastinate very badly. I've been meaning to link the published piece to this page for a while now but here it is!

I got that published back in September, exactly on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Holiday for atoning for our sins.

In the meantime contacted me asking to write a shorter version... which I've been procrastinating on. They gave me no deadlines but that's a double edged sword when you have ADHD. Meanwhile the cold and lack of sunlight in Fall and Winter in Europe made me slow, sluggish and increasingly depressed, which prevented me from getting much done on this.

Now however I'm in the warm and sunny Puerto Rico where the climate has energized me to actually get something done. If all goes well the piece will be ready by March 1st.

I also have two friends helping me, GG, who did Birthright with me, and SG, who I met in Israel after my Birthright.

*** Update September 22, 2015: It's been ten months since I wrote this essay and it's still a massive brain dump of disorganization full of grammar and spelling errors, as I've been too busy traveling to work on the essay. But the good news is that I now have free time and I'm working on fixing it in the next couple weeks, so be aware that the contents may change. Some parts, especially with asterisks (*), indicate notes to myself to elaborate or edit something. 

Please also check out this page where I have collected much of the feedback I've received on this essay.

*** Update January 18, 2015: It's been almost two months since the end of my Birthright trip and I still have not completed this essay. You may have found it after reading the other blog entries that I shared and scrolled down in my blog’s website. I don't want to share it yet, I'm intentionally trying to keep it hidden for now. Perhaps a private google document readable by invitation only would have been more secure but it's too late now.

You should know that this is still largely in its original form, a massive brain dump I composed all within the 72 hours immediately following the end of Birthright. I've barely touched it since. It's in severe need of editing and revision; sorry for the formatting mess, teach me how it works! My plan is to fix it up and make two versions, one long and one short, before unveiling it to my Facebook friends, other social media platforms, and also our Birthright Facebook group. Eventually I want to polish it well enough that news networks or blogs pick up and publish but that's a long way off.

I've sent this essay to many friends and family, both sympathetic and critical of my views, to have them give me feedback, which has been overwhelming. I'm still trying to sort through all the critiques and suggestions, almost two months after Birthright ended. The best feedback I've received so far simply suggested studying "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell (1946) to correct my grammar, better connect ideas, and structure my sentences around clearer verbs. My attempt at a boring essay without over-emotional rhetoric ended up with way too many passive verbs.

I also haven’t revised it since first writing it because I’ve been very busy volunteering and living at a hostel in Jaffa, as well as listening to other views. So many diverse opinions have came and went at my hostel, both foreigners and Israelis, that I’ve learned so much and I’m very thankful for the rich discussions I’ve had here.

I guess it's safe to assume that you've read my blog and so you know my travels since Birthright ended. But I haven't updated it for over a month, and there's something I'm hesitating to disclose since I haven't finished my essay yet but I'll tell you anyway.

A month ago, Thursday December 4th, I went to a meeting of All That's Left, an organization of diaspora Jews opposed to the occupation.

I shared my essay on their private google group forum.!forum/allthatsleft

Two days later, I realized that I was blocked from our Birthright Facebook group, so I made a post about that on facebook asking my Birthright peer leaders Dana and Jeffrey if they knew what happened, which they did not. They couldn't even invite me back into the group.

I had to email my trip organizer, Israel Outdoors, to have them fix the issue, which they did successfully. I am now back in the group and can post and comment without hassle.

One possibility is that some intelligence agency watching All That’s Left found my post, and had some high up boss of Birthright block me from the group to prevent me from spreading dissenting opinions with the group. It also may be a Birthright institutional policy to ban participants who link to "terrorist" labeled newsnetworks in the Facebook group, which I did citing Electronic Intifada. Or one of the Facebook admins of the group was simply an asshole. I don’t know how long it took for them to do this but I found out about it within 48 hours. If the first scenario, perhaps some low paid worker re-added me to the Birthright group without the high up boss knowing, because Israel Outdoors didn’t know anything when I asked them about the blocking. Of course, I cannot prove these speculations but maybe I can find out a way to test my hypothesis or learn more some way. Please let me know if you are aware of anything related to this, thank you.

I haven’t disclosed this to many people because I want to finish my essay first and include this story at the end but perhaps I’ll share it sooner because my essay is getting nowhere.

Article about Israeli intelligence collecting here, relevant to this story:

Article about
Facebook and Israel teaming up to censor posts

Note to self: Paper about IDF using critical theory for their military tactics


As cited in Wikipedia, "Taglit-Birthright Israel (Hebrew: תגלית), also known as Birthright Israel or simply Birthright, is a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, aged 18–26."

Translation: Birthright is a "carefully programmed propaganda exercise," in the words of activist Noam Chomsky's email to me, meant to revitalize Zionism among young adult American Jews, get us to like and support Israel, and ignore the oppression of Palestinians.

**Note to self: define propaganda, cite Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays in addition to Chomsky and Herman's Manufacturing Consent. If I want to name Birthright as a "propaganda machine" I must define what I mean by propaganda.

The following is my perspective of my Birthright experience. It is my intent to 1) Expose Birthright to show what it really is: a method of propaganda serving an oppressive state; and 2) To demonstrate that both Israelis and Palestinians are responsible for terrorism, with Israel bearing responsibility for more of it.


To start, I want to acknowledge my privileges and state that I am a white, straight cismale of American nationality. Like many white men in the US, I am protected from and ignorant of the harsh realities that many in the Global South suffer through everyday as a result of exploitation by the North. I have the choice to write, or not write, this essay. No matter how much I try to uncover my biases some will remain because racism and other power structures permeate throughout society in ways many of us do not even realize. It is my goal in this essay to expose what I see is a tool of the white supremacy to reinforce its power. My success in this depends on my own critical thinking yet I appreciate the help, critique, or even rambling diatribes from anyone who wants to voice their opinion to me. I may edit and revise this essay in the future. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Paraphrasing Noam Chomsky, my privileges confer opportunity and thus responsibility. What I do with this is my choice, remain silent or call out injustices when I see them. It is especially important for me to speak out because my privileges mean I am not as likely to be thrown in prison for dissenting, Israel is a country associated with my religion and culture, and I am immune to the anti-Semite label as I am Jewish myself. Since there aren't many Jews and even fewer Jews who are knowledgable and/or confident enough to speak out, I must raise my voice.

Israel-Palestine gets a lot of media attention thanks to the efforts of grass-roots activism. However it should be highlighted that anti-Semitism is a huge driver for this as well, which is despicable.

With that said, I am not anti-Semitic nor do I support anti-Semitism. Do not confuse hating Israel with hating Jews. Israel and Jews are two different categories that represent two different groups of people that do not always overlap. Just as criticizing the Christian countries that invaded the Middle East during the Crusades does not make one anti-Christian, criticizing Israel does not make one anti-Jewish.

While I do not like many of the Israeli government's policies, I do not think there are secret elite Jews in control of the world. This is as absurd as conspiracy theories like the 9/11 hoax, fluoride in the water poisoning us all, chemtrails from planes dumbing us down, the moon landing hoax, the Illuminati, Freemasons, or lizard people controlling the world. (The psychology of conspiratorial thinking is actually quite interesting.) Please do not group me with such people.

But lets consider what conspiracy means. A corporation 'conspires' how to make a profit. Internet companies like Facebook and YouTube conspire ways to capitalize on our attention and profit from our procrastination. Fossil fuel corporations conspire to fund global warming denial to continue exploiting the environment. It's clear the US conspired to invade Iraq for oil. The right wing conspires to restrict access to safe abortions as a method to control women. The difference between these and the previous paragraph is that there is myriad evidence from reliable sources confirming their validity. I hope to demonstrate here that the notion of Birthright Israel as a propaganda machine is not an absurdity but is in fact a reality.

The idea that the Israeli/Jewish lobby controls US policy is a myth. While it exists it is not powerful enough to influence U.S. policy. It is not Israel that is controlling the United States but rather the reverse, it's clear that Israel is a client state, a sort of colony of the United States global empire in its quest for control of the oil rich Middle East. Although Israel has little or no oil of its own, it's military might squashes anyone who dissents from US-Israeli hegemony.

I would like to take the time to say that I am not only critical of Israel but in fact just about every country. United States for example is far more of a criminal as it is leading our species off a cliff with the climate crisis, which is my point of focus as an environmental activist. My focus on Israel is simply because I was in Israel for four months over the 2014-15 winter, I am Jewish, and since I want to voice my concern as citizen of the United States, which supplies Israel with 3 billion dollars in military aid annually making Israel leading recipient of such aid.

Most people working with Birthright I bet are genuinely good people who believe they are doing the right thing of supporting Israel. However just because they have good intentions does not let them off the hook. They may not realize the effect Birthright has on indoctrinating us into a very narrow system of thought. In sociological terms this is referred to as institutionalization of ideology. Created, enforced, and benefited by power structures, misinformation or a culture that creates misinformation permeates throughout a system to perpetuate social norms. It is similar to how many Americans sincerely believed the US government liberated Iraq in the name of freedom rather than to control the immense amounts of oil there. Likewise, I'm sure there are plenty of Republican Senators who truly believe global warming is a myth despite copious evidence otherwise.  Delusion goes all the way to the top sometimes but that does not mean we should judge people only by their intents and excuse the effects.

Regarding this, for example, racists are probably the last group of people to identify as racist since it requires a certain degree of self-awareness that racists do not have. Acting as a racist requires a lack of empathy for people of color and thus a lack of understanding of the effect of one's actions on other people. It is not an intentional act of evil but rather a manifestation of subconscious ideology. Not being racist is thus not an identity but rather a continuous process that requires self-evaluation of one’s thoughts and behaviors. I for example try to check my privileges as a white, straight male by catching myself stereotyping and then analyzing how subconscious thoughts make me act and think in racist ways. Additionally, and more pertinent to this essay, I am still learning about racism embedded within society’s legal and power structures. I am not “not racist” but rather I advocate “anti-racism.”

Because of the pervasiveness of ideology, there is no definite line between my criticisms of Birthright and Israel itself. And since Birthright takes us all over Israel to very specific places that work with Birthright but not necessarily for it, my criticisms may extend beyond the program and to the Israeli government, policies, and culture.

When I accuse Israel of war crimes in this essay I am not accusing the people living in Israel but rather the head politicians, CEO's and executives of multinational corporations and financial institutions. Perhaps I should have been more careful with my language. There are many different groups of people within Israel, working class to ruling class, some of which are more responsible than others. I do not mean to guilt-trip the workers of Birthright or the State of Israel, I do not blame them as it is not their fault but instead are complicit in an institution governed by the ruling class, affectionately known as the one percent by Occupy Wall Street.

Moreover, institutionalization can enforce decisions without coersion, creating business or governmental policies, laws, or culture that support power structures. Power seeks more power, and wants to retain and protect power, even without any explicit directions. If a behavior is conducive to attaining greater power, this behavior will be cultivated to squash out behaviors that do not serve power, often subconsciously. No self awareness is necessary to attaining greater power, so an evil mastermind with a conspiratorial scheme concocting ways to exploit the poor is not required for oppression. It simply happens on a systemic level with many in the business class having no idea that their actions are creating inequality, as competition for money and power blinds people in the business class to the consequences that do not directly affect them. This is why power structures in Palestine serve Israel, not the Palestinian people (sources below in essay), even if they are labeled as Palestinian. The fighting is not nation versus nation but rather concentrated power versus the people.

Similarly, the United States and British support of oppressive dictators in the Middle East and their Islamic fundamentalism has benefited the power elite by creating a scapegoat to justify Middle East imperialism. For example, the US supports the Saudi Arabian dictatorship, which in turn supports the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Then, the Islamic fundamentalism is used by the US and Britain as a reason to invade Iraq. Bush II knew going into his Iraq war that it would most likely result in more terrorism from fundamentalist Islam (Chomsky, Noam. "Chapter 5: The Iraq Connection." Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance ;. New York: Metropolitan, 2004. 81-83. Print.), which ended up as today's ISIS that continues to distract us as Iraqis suffer. The use of this immense and illegal act of power helped create the harsh regimes both in North America and the Middle East, both of which help each other gain more power over the people they rule over. Accumulation of power results as working people lose self-determination.

An often heard counter point to those criticizing Israel is that because I don't live in Israel or that I've never been, I can't criticize it. Well, for starters, I was in Israel for three and a half months and the West Bank for an additional two weeks, so, however weak, that part of the argument is negated. Secondly, in the age of information I don't think it is valid to say that because I have never been I cannot have an opinion. Just as how if the Queen of England gets sick it's all over the news five thousand miles away within hours, if Israel kills over two-thousand Palestinians, most of them civilians including children, like they did this past summer in Operation Protective Edge, we can hear about it thanks to reliable sources with modern technology on the ground like the United Nations. Finally, to pose an analogy, I'm sure the reader and I both can agree that North Korea is a horrifying totalitarian regime yet neither of us have been there.

To the inevitable rebuttal that I am being divisive, alienating fellow Jews, friends and family, it should be remembered that divisiveness can go both ways. As Jewish Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel says, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” By remaining silent we let Israel continue to oppress and marginalize Palestinians, further dividing them from ourselves. It is our choice to be divisive against the rich and powerful or the poor and oppressed. Personally, I would rather be an ally to those struggling against Palestinian apartheid.

On the question of whether Jews deserve a homeland, sure. It's fine for a group of people like Jews who have been persecuted for centuries to seek refuge in a common land. But like most cases power corrupts and to erect a religious State, kick out the former inhabitants, destroy their homes, and kill thousands of them is not congruent with the Judaism I adhere to. In the late 19th and early 20th century there was a strong movement among Jews in Israel aiming to not build a powerful state and instead focus on small, local, self-governing communities that got along well with the people already living there (Libertarian socialism). This was a form of Israel I would happily endorse, not the despotic regime that's in place today.

While I am very critical throughout this whole essay, I want to say that I did enjoy myself. I was not a cold-hearted robot looking for a fight. I mean, sure, they make the program very fun and entertaining, gave us our bread and circuses, so we don't question the official story. Snorkeling in the Red Sea, riding camels, floating in the Dead Sea, eating so much delicious food at the best hotels in Israel, making tons of friends, hanging out with people who also come from Jewish backgrounds, singing together on bus rides, this was all a spectacular experience I will surely remember forever. But life isn't black and white. While I will accept the good parts of Birthright I will also critique the bad. This essay is for criticizing.

At times in this essay I cite Wikipedia simply because it provides a good overview of topics the reader may not know about, like tzitzit, the fringes on the edge of clothing worn by observant Jews. Perhaps if this essay gets popular I will edit out Wikipedia references to something more scholarly but for the sake of simplicity I will leave it.


General overview

Our Birthright trip had forty diverse participants all from various parts of the United States ranging from the urban Manhattan to rural Montana, practicing Jews wearing tzitzit to atheist-Jews who love bacon, dreadlocked herbalists to frat boy bro-dudes, and the political left, center, and right. It was mixed gender with over half the group women, and of the eight Israeli IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers that spent half of the trip with us five of them were men. We got along so well that our guides told us that we were among the best programs they've ever led, with no significant drama I can recall, no cliques separating us, and plenty of lifelong friendships made. In addition to the forty of us and eight IDF soldiers, we had two staff leaders around our age who have recently graduated from Birthright to act as basically a laid back RA or camp counselor to help out, an older bus driver in his 50's or 60's, and an older guide in his 60's with us the whole ten days.

After Birthright ends there is an option to extend the return flight back home in order to stay in Israel and travel, volunteer or work. Over half of us chose to stay in Israel after the trip for either just a few days or a few months. I forfeited my return flight entirely, because the return flight has to take you back to where you came from and I wanted to continue traveling to other countries instead.

Right away at the start, we had to do lots of ice breakers and group discussions, similar to what RA's do with college students in the first week of school, or what camp counselors do to strengthen community bonding, in which we all had to participate. These continued throughout the program despite initial dislike among the group for having to do such childish activities. Such activities work however to bring the group close together, reinforce ideas, effectively inhibiting dissent. By the end of the program many of us were very close friends, we all had great conversations with almost everyone in the group. Given a strong community, we are less likely to act in anti-social behavior. And since we were fed a diet of very biased information, it quickly cemented our thought about Israel with each other.

I do not oppose community bonding but I disagree with using it to feed information to us. Instead we should all be co-creators of information through group discussion, finding and sharing what we learn to build our own education. This would have provided solid foundation for individual and critical thinking to learn about Israel ourselves.

Our guide Maxi was probably selected for his penchant for rambling and vocally bulldozing anyone else's audible thoughts with his words, thereby instituting the banking-model of education that curtails questioning (Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed). When I tried to speak up during a discussion on gender in Judaism he cut me off in front of everyone. When asked a question he doesn't know the answer to he rambles on long tangents instead of admitting he doesn't know. Although most of us professed our love for his immense knowledge I and a few others were less than impressed.

You can only go on Birthright if you haven't gone on other group trips or tours, so for many Jews this is their only education about Israel. Unfortunately it's a very biased education that leaves a lot of information out.

They shepherd us around, kept us restricted from leaving certain areas. When going to the big cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem they kept us at fully catered hotels on the outskirts, preventing us from wandering off into the city to explore on our own. To be fair, these hotels on the outskirts may have been cheaper than the ones in the city center but they could have hosted us in twenty dollar a night hostels in the middle of the city too like in the enormous Abraham Hostel in down-town Jerusalem that has over 250 beds.

While it wasn't too extreme to the point where we all noticed and spoke about it, there was an aura of treating us like kids. For example, they served us grape juice instead of the traditional wine for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. While the official rules Birthright set only let us get alcohol at very specific times, it was soon realized it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and we drank when we wanted though respected the program by keeping our drinking to ourselves without belligerence. We we all over 21 except for one twenty-year-old but he didn't drink anyway for medical reasons. Friends of mine from back home who have done Birthright before told me that despite the no alcohol rule there is always plenty of drinking anyway.

Day one, Monday: travel day

My flight out of the United States was Sunday, November 9th out of JFK airport in New York City. I stayed up the whole night previous because I procrastinated packing and I can't sleep on planes, so I was awake for over two days straight. We flew into Ben Gurion Airport in central Israel and then took a long bus ride up to the far northeast corner at a kibbutz in Golan Heights near the Sea of Galilee. During our final discussion of the day I was falling asleep and practically sleep walking towards my bed.

Day two, Tuesday: Golan; Olive oil consumerism/infomercial/green washing; Visit the Syrian border; musician and side racist comments

To start the day off we all went in our Birthright bus to go check out the countryside. Being close to the Syrian border, there were remnants of fighting in the past with warning signs for land-mines planted there decades ago. We were told the mines were Russian made and Syrian planted but I later found out they were put there by Israel. I ate a olive picked from a tree, which is incredibly bitter if not soaked in water first, a carob fruit, and we had an ice breaker to build community bonding. During a hike we stopped at a water hole for a swim among cow pastures and waterfalls.

For lunch we drove to what appeared to be a shopping mall where there was practically nobody there save for us. Birthright trips, which serve 40,000 participants every year, routinely go to the same places where businesses hungrily await and depend on us. After lunch we got a tour of a factory that uses the parts of the olive not used for olive oil to make a skin care product, watched their infomercial, and tried some free samples. It's clearly greenwashing, providing the illusion that capitalism can be sustainable and making it seem environmentally friendly to gain the business of eco-conscious people. While it's true they use the part of the olive that traditionally gets thrown away after making olive oil, they still use monoculture and pesticides for an unnecessary beauty product. Some of us gave in and bought it.

At sunset we climbed up a mountain to an Israeli fort turned tourist center (picture) by the Syrian border where we could see into Syria and hear the fighting going on there echoing through the valley.

That night an Israeli musician, Gilad Vital of the band Shotei Hanevua, came to our kibbutz to play for us. Apparently the guy is pretty famous in Israel who's popular song "Ein Ani" we ended up singing over and over again on the bus throughout the ten days . He made a side comment that all Arabs hate Jews, which I find is generalizing an entire group of people and is thus racist and a friend of mine called him out on it. This evolved into a debate between him and the musician, with a few other people chiming in. Nobody raised their voice or got mad yet you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. It eventually fizzled out as people got tired of listening to the debate and the music resumed with lots of dancing.

At the end of the show, a few people stayed after to finalize the debate with closing remarks and apologies, which went well I think. After the musician left a few of us continued talking and I found solace in a few other people who had similarly critical views of Israel,who I continued to vent with throughout the trip.

Day three, Wednesday: city of Zefat/Safed; Gilad Shalit propaganda

We visited the city of Zefat (pronounced Tseh-FAHT) and went to a synagogue for a talk and activity with a rabbi there. The holy books of Judaism, like the Talmud, Kabbalah, and Torah, were displayed on tables in front of us as we sat in rows in rapt attention. As the rabbi talked about the philosophical and ethical questions raised by the books he segued into the story of the IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas (who I do not support, for the record) kidnapped him outside Gaza on June 25th, 2006 and held him prisoner for five years with the demand that Israel release a thousand Palestinians (many but not all of them terrorists). Whether or not Israel should trade a thousand prisoners for Shalit was sensationalized and debated for five years in the media. Our activity with the rabbi was to apply the ethics of Judaism to this debate.

Jewish ethics were boring me, so I decided to do some research on my own. Who were those involved? Why did they do what they did? And what more did they do? Apparently they weren't telling us the the whole story.

Two Palestinians, Osama and Mustafa Muamar, were abducted by the IDF one day before Shalit was, according to the BBC, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera. The Shalit kidnapping was a response to it. Why aren't we arguing the ethics of this? Chomsky discusses this here and here.

**note to self: give more context about the prisoners. Israel holds several thousands at a time. many of these one thousand Hamas was asking for have been in prison for decades.

Israel distracted people with the Shalit story and held a thousand prisoner for five years during which Operation Cast Lead, Israel's war against Gaza December 2008 to January 2009, led to the deaths of over a thousand Palestinians, almost a thousand of whom were civilians, thousands more injured and tens of thousands more displaced. Compare this with the thirteen Israelis, three of them civilians, that died and less than a thousand Israelis injured. According to the vague definitions of terrorism Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gives, Israel participates in terrorism itself and thus more terrorism come from Israel, not Palestinians. This pattern repeats itself over and over again throughout every "war" Israel faces against Palestine. It is not a war, as that word blurs the conflict into a supposed fight between two equal forces, but it is in fact an outright massacre by the Israeli oppressors against the oppressed Palestinians.

Further adding to the story, Shalit's family plagiarized another author, according to HaaretzBBC, and Norman Finkelstein, to publish their a children's book Shalit wrote when he was eleven-years-old, capitalizing on their new found fame. Granted I can excuse an eleven-year-old from plagiarizing, it's worth noting.

Later on we visited an artist who incorporates Jewish numerology with his Modernist artwork. Nothing political at all happened, save for when I asked him about political artists and he said he didn't like politics.

We then visited a synagogue that keeps women and men separated. The Rabbi and our guide told us this was important to do so men could remain focused on prayer and not be distracted by women. Since men apparently can't control themselves, women are controlled by men and the males only rabbi position. Sexism and patriarchy thus persist in Israel and Judaism.

(Update: it was only when I stayed in Israel for a month after Birthright that I was surprised to learn that probably 99% of synagogues in Israel separate women and men, much higher than I thought having grown up with a liberal Reconstructionist synagogue where not only are women and men mixed in the congregation but lesbians and gays can be rabbis.)

Day four, Thursday: Tel Aviv; History of Israel

In Tel Aviv we went to the original home and now museum of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism who posed the idea of a Jewish nation in the 1895 book Der Judenstaat. We were given a video lecture plus a live lecture with the same information, effectively ensuring that it's drilled into our minds. While I had many questions, they gave us no time for questions and rushed us out the door. Nobody else seemed bothered by this.

In the room of the live lecture, Theodore Hertzl's photograph was erected for us all to stare at. See the picture here of the idolatry, which is supposed to be not accepted in Judaism. He had wanted a poor man's funeral with minimum attention, so this is a slap in the face to him. Herzl was also an atheist advocating a secular state and a socialist, specifically a mutualist, meaning he advocated no bosses and instead worker collective control of businesses in a market society. No doubt he would be disgusted by the capitalist Israel that exists today in which has the fourth highest child poverty rate in the developed world.

With regard to the content given to us, it ignored the vibrant Jewish and Israeli anarchism (No government and no capitalism, a classless society with no bosses and no one in power. You might be an anarchist but not know it.) and coexistence with Palestinians in late 19th and early 20th century, remnants of which today exist as kibbutzim, slowly dying away thanks to capitalism and many other factors. The kibbutzim weren't a paradise however, as the best land was given to the white Ashkenazi Jews from Europe while the darker skinned Mizrahim of the Middle East were marginalized. Of course, it also ignored any reference to Palestinians unless they were fighting against Israel.

After this eight IDF soldiers joined us where they stayed with us for part of the trip, so we can get to know them on a personal level and learn all about how human the IDF is, as if it is not a killing machine.

That night we were driven from out hotel on the outskirts of Tel Aviv to downtown where we were allowed to spend a few hours drinking at bars. It took forever to find a place with cheap beer in the expensive city, but eventually we found one. I should say that Tel Aviv is unusually LGBT friendly, and is known as one of the gay capitals of the world. We went to a fun lesbian bar for cheap drinks and dancing, for example.

Day five, Friday: Jerusalem, Western Wall

Touring the hills on the outskirts of the city, our guide pointed to an Arab village without any walls around it to claim that Arabs and Muslims can live free in Israeli democracy. This however ignores the Palestinian bantustans in the West Bank and the occupation of Gaza, which Israel controlled everything that goes in and out down to the calorie amount per person to restrict access to food.

Also, Israel is definitely not a democracy when only a few elite people can have a say, a tyranny similar to the United States. Democracy and capitalism in fact can't coexist (This goes beyond the scope of my essay. Here's a good introduction to why this is.).

When we visited the Western Wall there were tons of Israeli soldiers. A few weeks ago Arabs were throwing things down from the top of the wall to the bottom at Jews, so Israel ramped up security.

You may have heard about the recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem, right? It happened the day after we left Jerusalem. Well there's more context to the story. To make a long story short, there's been a lot of fighting on both sides, and most of the terrorism is coming from Israel against the Palestinians as I've said above. And the stories in the mass media lacked context, like when a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli, a deeper look revealed that it was a Palestinian woman defending herself from an male Israeli settler on Palestinian land.

Palestinians were protecting the Dome of the Rock, a holy building for Muslims, from Israelis throwing rocks at it (only heard about Israelis throwing rocks in passing, can't find source for it**). In response Palestinians attacked Jews at the Western Wall. IDF and police then stormed the Wall and Palestinian resistance, fights broke out in the street, and the IDF put blimps in the sky to watch over them panopticon/big brother style as seen in these two pictures, onetwo, manifesting as psychological terrorism to prevent people from disobeying their rulers. A Palestinian man was stabbed by an Israeli, then Israelis were bombed, then a Palestinian bus driver was hanged.

I asked our guide why we weren't visiting the Dome of the Rock and he said that Birthright is a Jewish trip, so we only go to Jewish places, part of the strict schedule teaching us just enough about Israel. After Birthright I visited the Dome of the Rock on my own during the strict hours allowed for visiting. While there I saw IDF soldiers scattered around chatting amongst themselves, Muslims praying and happily singing, and a few stray cats. I didn't know at the time but I learned afterwards that the Muslim community there doesn't want their holy site flooded with tourists, so it's disrespectful to go. 

For lunch we spent a few hours in a Jerusalem market. We were instructed to buy food we don't know or know little about that we could share with the group later that night. After dinner we crowded into a tiny room and shared the food together, going around to each person to taste it and have a big party trying each other's foreign food. It was fun, a great way for us to bond together.

We also sat around in a circle and did this activity where we throw a ball of string around to each person until it formed a giant web connecting everyone with the string wrapped around each person's wrist. With each person we threw it to we had to share something we liked about that person. It too was a fantastic method of community bonding, literally tying ourselves together. At the end of the activity we cut off the string and tied it around our wrist like in this picture, symbolizing our newly formed Birthright friendships lasting forever. One of our peer group leaders told us to keep it on our wrist as long as you can to remind yourself of the Birthright experience, and when it finally falls off months later she suggested to post it as a Facebook status that it fell off to share with Birthright friends.

Day six, Saturday: Shabbat at hotel outside Jerusalem

Since it was Shabbat we stayed at the hotel all day on the outskirts of Jerusalem without driving anywhere, occupying our time with discussions, swimming in the hotel's pool, and nature walks around the property.

During all this time I documented my observations in preparation for this essay, keeping my views mostly to myself save for a couple other dissenters and curious friends. Most people wouldn't have been able to accept my cursory notes at face value, as there was much of it that required former knowledge.

I was able to convince one of our group leaders (not the older guide but the leaders our age) for us to have a political discussion during one of our many get togethers.

I presented my views, citing the Gilad Shalit propaganda as my leading example for my argument that Israel was responsible for the most terrorism. Instead of people asking me further questions they instead told me their views (as if I'm wrong and don't know better) and agreed with each other without critically thinking. A prime example of this is when an IDF soldier casually mentioned that Hamas uses human shields when firing at Israel. I was alone to interject and ask if she was sure this was true to which she flatly rebutted that it was. Subsequently I cited this NYTimes article that claims it isn't true, corroborated by the BBC's Middle East editor, The Guardian, and The Independent. Reuters even claims that if anyone is using human shields it is in fact Israel.

Another IDF soldier said Israel warns Gazans of incoming attacks by dropping papers over the area ahead of time that say to leave the area. However, Israeli journalist Amira Hass says this practice is "sadism" as the "recorded message demanding hundreds of thousands of people leave their already targeted homes, for another place, equally dangerous, 10 kilometers away."

One of the few other dissenters among us brought up an Amnesty International report that accused Israel of war crimes. However, one of our group leaders pointed out that the author of one of the Amnesty International reports has been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism. I found this Israel Today article that calls out AI's anti-Semitism though much is conflating anti-Israel with anti-Jew and it doesn't point to one author. It does bring up some serious points however that I can accept as anti-semitism if verifiable. Regardless, that article does not deny that Israel is responsible for war crimes and the accusers are only anti-Semitic because they don't like Israel, which is absurd. And many other organizations like Human Rights Watch also accuse Israel of war crimes.

The right leaning Israel Today, by the way, is owned by Sheldon Adelson, who is one of the main donators to Birthright Israel with over $180 million coming from him. He has been quoted as approving Newt Gingrich's remarks that the Palestinians are an "invented people," and was a staunch backer of Gingrich and then Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign.

Returning to the group discussion, when someone pointed out that Israel receives billions of dollars in military aid our peer group leader countered that millions of United States dollars go to aid Palestine as well. To their credit, it is true, but the amount of aid has declined over the past couple decades and corruption was "encouraged by Israel," according to the USIP and the book International Assistance to the Palestinians after Oslo by Anne Le More, summarized here by Electronic Intifada. Moreover, international law requires that the occupier must provide for the occupied land however the United States and the European Union are paying instead of Israel, thereby subsidizing Israel's war crimes.

That same peer group leader also said that because Hamas fires hundreds of rockets they should be held accountable to the extent that each rocket was fired with the intent to kill people. I question the value of basing our judgements solely off of intention and not effect. There's a lot of debate between consequentialist and deontological ethics. Surely Hamas knows, for example, how ineffective their poorly built rockets are and don't think that each rocket will kill. On the other side, while IDF soldiers may believe they have intentions of peace, their commanders certainly do not.

The discussion overall didn't go as well as I hoped since it was dominated by rhetoric supporting Israel though it remained civil throughout. There was only one person who said I "offended them," just a few other people who openly questioned Israel's role, and even fewer people who asked me questions. Despite the copious notes I took, I only got to talk about a small portion of them. It ended well at least with someone thanking me for offering other perspectives and suggesting that we should all watch out for confirmation bias, so that we don't blindly accept what aligns with our beliefs. I also apologized for offending anyone.

Afterwards our guide gave us a tour of plant life outside hotel. I overheard him casually criticizing that Israeli retirement age is lower for women, saying it's sexist against men. He ignored sexism that makes it harder for women to earn money, like the pay gap, and that a lower retirement age for women is alleviating that.

We then had a discussion about the Holocaust to prepare for our visit to the Holocaust museum the following day. Since I only brought up dissenting viewpoints a few hours ago, I feared that people might think I was a Holocaust denier, which I am not. Interestingly though people brought up the subject early on in the discussion. I felt awkward, wondering if people thought that of me though I kept quiet (it was very cold and I could barely hear anyone due to the wind) and told only a few people.

Some of my dissenting friends brought up that as Jews we should not only prevent another Holocaust from happening to us but also to other people. Other genocides like the American Indian, Armenian, and Kurdish populations should be talked about with the Holocaust. It's almost as if Jewish ethnocentrism tends to ignore other genocides.

That night the Israeli Historian Iftah Burman of Middle East Learning Academy came visit us. He presented the "critical" perspective, the "doves" as Chomsky calls, as far left as they will allow us to get to make us think we are given the other perspective while still remaining center.

One obvious mistake he made was presenting the Western Media as left wing whereas it's in fact right wing (see the Propaganda Model, proposed in Herman and Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent). A common belief is to suppose that a violent media attracts more viewers and thus more money, so portraying Israel as more and more violent will gain more viewers as the media gets further critical Israel (or the United States, or any country). However this model commits the mistake that the viewers are the consumers paying for violent media, whereas in fact the viewers are the product and the consumers are the corporations buying airtime for advertisements. Given this economic model and basic laws of supply and demand, the media corporations such as CNN will only stay in business if they appeal to the demands of their customers, the corporations. Thus, corporations have a say in what is and what isn't news. Given that politicians can't get elected without corporate money, it's safe to say corporations effectively control both the government and the media and are both increasingly right wing. While Israel may be portrayed as violent the majority of the news portrays Muslims as more violent, which is patently false as shown elsewhere in this essay.

Chief among Burman's errors is his ignoring of much of Israeli violence and oppression. A good book highlighting this is Bad News From Israel by Greg Philo and Mike Berry. In addition, consider for example the long line of US vetoes of UN resolutions on Israel. They're pretty hair-raising. For instance, check out this General Assembly Resolution of 1988, which the US can't veto, that condemns Israel for using 'poison gas' to 'exterminate Palestinian children.'

While seemingly trivial it's a grave error to mix the usage of rockets and missiles, which ignores that Israel has a massive upper hand that's led to many deaths. Missiles are computer guided and only used by Israel, whereas rockets are uncontrollable and only used by Palestine.

He praised the Iron Dome despite that it's media hype and military industry profit. While it's true that most of the time Iron Dome has launched it has worked, it's only needed to work 20% of the time because most rockets are too far off course for Israelis to worry about. The occupation that controls what goes in and out of Gaza down to the calories consumed, as cited above, was ignored, as was the transportation of basic economic necessities, not just rockets, through the Gaza's tunnels. The icing on the cake was that when I asked him for his thoughts on the political work of Noam Chomsky, who has written extensively in critique of Israel and support for Palestinians, he said "Chomsky is not a historian," despite never even reading his work.

Day seven, Sunday. Holocaust museum, Mount Herzl.
(Again I'm not a Holocaust denier, don't confuse me)

Holocaust museums alone are haunting, depressing, and makes you feel emotions you never thought you had. To use the Holocaust as a propaganda tool however is grotesque to the worst degree.

We visited Israel's National Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, in the morning rain, one of only two times it rained during the program, and after the three hours in the museum we exited to a beautiful sunny day, a perfect symbol for the darkness the Jews suffered coming to an end after WWII.

I was disappointed there was nothing at the end saying we will prevent this from happening again, to anyone else anywhere. There was no talk about other genocides like Kurdish, Armenian, or American Indian. It was a moving museum nonetheless, with beautiful architecture.

Naturally, it impacted us heavily and primed us for the events later that day when we visited Mount Herzl, the burial site of Theodore Herzl, the founder of Modern Zionism.

As I said above, Herzl wanted a poor man's funeral and to be treated as an ordinary person. I told Maxi that Herzl was socialist and his response indicated he has no idea what socialism even is stating that, "Socialism is when you help everyone and Herzl's goal was to just help the Jews, so he was not a socialist."

All over Mount Herzl are the graves of other Israelis where you need to be either an IDF soldier or have a lot of money to be buried on there. Towards the top are the famous rich people, and then we descended to tour IDF graves. 

We stopped by several grave sites of IDF soldiers and read their stories, each one a tale of their life, time in the IDF, and how they died. Photographs, trinkets, and mementos adorned each of their graves, one even with balloons for perhaps a birthday that was never had. Some IDF graves we saw were those of Americans who had joined the IDF after being inspired by Birthright to join, which means Birthright is complicit in their death. (It was just four years ago in 2011 that I had considered joining the IDF myself, before my views were upended when I thankfully found the Left.)

One story in particular was of a soldier who's last conversation with his mom was on the phone. We pulled out our smart phones and heard that very conversation in Hebrew, as the IDF soldiers that were with us translated for us. The now dead IDF soldier in the story had called his Mom to tell her to check the notes section of his phone if something happens to him, implying a goodbye message was written there in case of death.

I ask you now to reflect that the ratio of Palestinians dead to Israelis dead is the inverse of what the mainstream media has you believe. Many more Palestinians have died, each with stories of their own, often dying in the arms of their families.  If our Birthright trip took the time to visit and hear the stories of each person who has died at the hands of the IDF we would be there for months.

I don't mean to cast the deaths of IDF soldiers as meaningless. They are human beings that deserved a full life. But I am simply pointing out that the IDF is just as complicit with compulsory military service for Israelis and has more blood on their hands than Hamas as many more Palestinian civilians have died than Israelis.

Note that this was very calculated that this happened right after Holocaust museum. It effectively gave us a persecution complex to make us feel like everyone hates Jews and justify the atrocities IDF commits. Mount Herzl, however, is right next to the Holocaust Museum, so while it simplifies the program by planning these two activities to happen right after each other, it also shows how deep the propaganda goes and just how pervasive the oppressor's culture is throughout Israel. The persecution complex woven by Israel is in the very fabric of the geography of Israel, they placed the IDF graves next to the Holocaust museum because of the constructed persecution complex. We went to the IDF graves not because Birthright is alone as a propaganda tool but because the geography of Israel is a propaganda tool in itself that works to reinforce ideology for all the citizens of Israel and tourists who visit.

Such practices are not uncommon in Israel, where the Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu "frequently invokes the Holocaust in urging the international community to crack down on Iran's nuclear program." In the same vein, the education system has recently began teaching the Holocaust to children as young as first grade despite the resistance from parents, teachers, and psychologists warning that this is too young of an age. Mandatory teaching of the Holocaust started in 1982 after successive wars with neighboring Arab countries and is part of an increasing trend using the genocide as a "political ploy meant to guilt and traumatize children into a certain kind of patriotism."

To abuse the Holocaust story in this way was absolutely disturbing. As someone of a Jewish background, I do not want this done in my name. It sickens me to the bone.

As the sun set atop Mount Herzl and the wind picked up we scurried off to the bus to escape the cold and took the short drive back to our hotel outside Jerusalem.

That night we lightened up the mood by bonding with our IDF soldiers in games. The forty of us split up into four groups of ten to cycle around four different activities. In the first, pairs of us raced each other to put on the IDF uniforms in a celebration of militarism. Apparently some IDF can get dressed in under two minutes as this is drilled into them by their commanders. We then moved on to the next station for a quiz on ethnicity and diversity that downplayed and ignored white supremacy. Flags of other countries dotted an Israeli map from whichever one we chose would give us questions on that ethnicity in Israel. Next up was a dating game with economic buzz words stayed within the mainstream neoliberal economic thought, talking about the high price of living in Tel Aviv. Finally an apolitical session of team puzzles, like the human knot, reinforced friendships and thus ideology.

Day eight, Monday: Masada, Dead Sea, Eilat, we're alone or with privileged people during both. It's a day of plastic, rich people tours for Westerners.

We left the hotel on the outskirts on Jerusalem at dawn after staying there for three nights to see the sun rise atop Mount Masada, an ancient site overlooking the Dead Sea where Herod the Great built his fortress. Our guide spoke much about Jewish history yet nothing about Palestinian history or what was going on in this land during the Ottoman Empire. After the climb down the mountain we entered the Masada tourism complex (see website) for buffet style breakfast, a short documentary on the History of Masada mostly about people of Herod's time played by white people and ignoring Ottoman and Palestinian history. One of the hot topic stories told is that Israelis atop Mount Masada were facing the oncoming wrath of the invading Roman Army. Rather than being caught by them they all committed suicide. This theme that death is better than slavery is symbolic of sacrifice for one's country, a key tenet of Zionism.

We exited through the gift shop and drove on to the salty Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth where it is so salty the human body stays afloat and cannot stay in longer than fifteen minutes due to blood pressure changes. Swimming in it was fun yet challenging as I was floating far higher than usual and I had to keep my head out of the water to avoid the pain of too much salt in my eyes. Due to its high mineral content, the Dead Sea is a source of extraction and thus environmental issues as Israel and Jordan exploit the resources to make high fashion skin care products and potash. Palestinians however are restricted from visiting our building their own factories along the Dead Sea. It's their land that they can't use or profit from. In response to this, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israeli occupation of Palestine calls for boycotting companies making Dead Sea products like Ahava. Ahava, they told us in Birthright, is the only Israeli company exploiting Dead Sea minerals and thus has a monopoly. They told us the chemical process is kept secret and they keep emergency evacuation vehicles on site in case of a chemical spill.

While at the Dead Sea we saw an IDF propellor plane fly from the south to the north along the Israeli-Jordanian border. Given its size I doubt it was acting in defense and was probably either for show or transportation.

Our place of stay at the Dead Sea was clearly a resort for the wealthy, as the only other people there were overweight white people in speedos with expensive clothes.

Before departing we said goodbye to the IDF soldiers that only stayed with us for part of the trip. It was tough leaving them for some of us and we spoke up about how meaningful it was for them to be a part of our journey. Many of us will keep in touch with them on Facebook though as well as the official Birthright Facebook group designated for our trip.

On our bus ride away from the Dead Sea our guide told us the Dead Sea is shrinking due to various factors including humans, where he alluded to climate change. This is when he spouted that there was debate among the scientific community as to whether climate change is caused by humans or not, which is totally false, and makes him a climate denier.

Driving to Eilat we saw a Chai symbol on the side of the desert like one would see a Christian cross in the American South. Perhaps, I mused to myself, this was symbolic of Israel's turn to the right.

Day nine, Tuesday: Eilat, snorkeling in Red Sea, Lotan Kibbutz, Bedouin tents.

We woke up in Eilat to go on a huge yacht in the Red Sea for snorkeling over the coral reefs that are decaying due to human activity that I couldn't even see and saw barely any fish.

These last few days are basically privileged tours for rich people on vacations. Birthright was giving us fun and entertainment while keeping us away from the poor and Palestinians.

The Israeli city of Eilat is at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba off of the Red Sea, where Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia converge. Eilat is literally right next to the Jordanian city of Aqaba, which we could clearly see from our yacht. Our guide pointed out the King of Jordan's private villa on the beach of Aqaba and showed us where the King put what he claims is the tallest flag pole in the world. He clearly said this to mock the Jordanians for their antiquated monarchy while celebrating Israel's "democracy." This blatantly ignored how the Israelis painted an enormous flag on their own side (see pic) and that Eilat is a city with a plethora of fancy hotels that cater to the capitalist ruling class.

After lunch we drove up north to Lotan Kibbutz. By visiting a kibbutz we think that the kibbutzim communal life is still thriving, ignoring that it's being wiped out by capitalism and other factors. In fact the kibbutz workers even told us they are in a transition period shifting to a more "modern" style of economy with bosses and paid workers. It was far away in the middle of the Negev Desert, away from any other people.

Our guide kept rambling on about how the Israelis are making better use of the desert by developing it into sustainable agriculture, this is subtle racism implying Jews are better than Muslims. However, desert farming is inherently unsustainable because you will always need resources not from the desert. It's claimed that Muslim countries don't do it because they don't have technology, motivation, or ideology, but it's in fact because they've been here longer and know the land better: that it is stupid to farm in the desert since it is incredibly difficult and unsustainable. Israel farms there because they are trying to colonize as much as possible, and wipe out the Bedouin nomads who have lived in the desert for thousands of generations.

That night we visited a tourist trap that exploits Bedouin culture (website). At long last, we had our first Birthright sanctioned visit with a Muslim, the only one Birthright officially had us meet and he's dressed in full Bedouin garb for us in a traditional tent with non-Bedouin Israeli Jews working the tourist trap (picture). While he tells us he uses modern technologies the setting induces the vibe that we remember. That they are stuck in the past and unchanging. Orientalism and otherization, painting Muslims and Arabs with a broad stroke of a brush to keep them separate and inferior to us. To sleep that night all forty of us crowded together in an "authentic" Bedouin tent with electric lights, heating, mattresses, and blankets.

Given that we've actually met a Muslim this implies Birthright is not about Jewish culture but Israeli culture, so the claim that we are ignoring Palestinians because they aren't part of Birthright's goal of focusing on Judaism is false and instead suggests we are ignoring them on purpose. To avoid listening to the oppressed.

During the time we were there we would occasionally hear IDF planes and helicopters fly overhead. I asked one of the workers there how they like that and they said it gets annoying sometimes when trying to nap.

Day ten, Wednesday: camel riding at Bedouin tents, back to airport.

We woke up at the Bedouin site for a half our camel ride, tied to the camel in front of you without freedom to wander, which is part of the tourist package (picture). It was fun seeing the occasional broken glass and trash along the camel path.

Later we drove off on our bus to hike in the desert to a water hole (picture) during which our guide talked about camel sex, domestication, and evolution.

The Ben Gurion memorial was our next visit, a site dedicated to Israel's first prime minister. Maxi explained how Ben Gurion accepted and gave land and money to white, European Ashkenazi Jews as a repayment from the horrors they suffered under Nazi Germany but gave nothing to the Mizrahim Middle Eastern Jews, which sparked much controversy at the time. However, Maxi ignored Ben Gurion's acknowledgement and approval of colonization:

"Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves ... politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves... The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country." David Ben Gurion, quoted on pp 91-2 of Chomsky's Fateful Triangle, which appears in Simha Flapan's "Zionism and the Palestinians" pp 141-2 citing a 1938 speech.

By evening we made it to Jaffa, the southern part of Tel Aviv, where we wandered around antique shops and markets for a short while before heading to a hotel for our final hours. We crowded into a room to hear a representative talk to us about Masa Israel and Israel Pathways, both of which are more programs we could do as American Jews in Israel. The woman talking to us was around our age it seemed and told us Birthright changed her life so much it made her decide to move to Israel from Toronto, Canada. She was very passionate about what she does.

She left and the boss of our guide came to see us during our final discussion where we all got in a circle and shared what we loved about Birthright, how it changed our lives, and how it was meaningful for us. I was very tempted to talk about politics but I declined to respect the last moments we would all be together. I'm not sure if I regret staying quiet about politics or not. Hopefully this essay will be enough.

We ate a fabulous dinner at the expensive hotel and drove to the airport. Once there it was a mad rush to say our goodbyes and fly off while over half of us were staying in Israel, taking a train elsewhere or a different flight to continue traveling to other countries.

I took a train with a friend and our guide towards Tel Aviv. They were getting off at other stops but I had my own stop at my Dad's friend's place on the outskirts of the city.


I'm not sure what kind of an effect this essay will have. Hopefully I have reached my goal and will inspire people to research more into this subject and discover the truth for themselves.

For further information on the propaganda that is Birthright Israel, I recommend checking out out these sources:

For further information about the Palestinian struggle, I recommend these books:
  • Anything by Edward Said, especially The Question of Palestine and After the Last Sky
  • I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghuoti
  • The Battle for Justice in Palestine by Ali Abunimah
  • Anything by Norman Finkelstein
  • Anything by Noam Chomsky, especially The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians and Gaza in Crisis, the latter of which is co-authored by Ilan Pappé
  • Anything by Ilan Pappé

Palestinian justice news sites:

Palestinian justice organizations:

In solidarity with the Palestinian struggle join the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

For another perspective of my Birthright trip check out my fellow Birthright participant Ezra Siegel's blog entry discussing the same ten days, "Arriving in Israel for my Birthright."