Eight more abandon Israel Birthright tour to see realities of occupation
Livestreaming the event, the Americans abandoned their trip in the “City of David” archaeological area in order to talk to the Sumreen family, who are facing forced eviction by the Jewish National Fund and The Ir David Foundation (Elad), a right-wing organisation "dedicated to the preservation and development of the Biblical City of David and its environs".
The two groups are known for forcing Palestinians from their homes in the Silwan neighbourhood that the so-called City of David site belongs to.
We’ve had a hard time with some of the misinformation and some of the generalisations we’ve been hearing
- Americans' statement
Israel says the area, which it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, holds evidence of Jewish life from antiquity. Palestinians have lived in Silwan for hundreds of years.
Elad, which manages the City of David site, is planning to confiscate the Sumreen family home and give it to a Jewish family.
The family has been fighting eviction since 1991.
“There’s a family a few blocks over there and we’re going to go over there to learn about their experience of living under the occupation,” one of the Americans said in a statement announcing their abandonment of the tour.
“We’ve had a hard time with some of the misinformation and some of the generalisations we’ve been hearing, and this is a real opportunity and a rare one to listen and learn and take a stand against occupation.”
Peace Now, an anti-occupation NGO that invited the Americans to visit the Palestinian home, said: "We were glad to meet today the young Americans who left the Birthright tour to hear about the situation in Silwan and the story of the Sumreen family, who is in danger of being evacuated for the benefit of settlers."
Birthright Israel, an organisation that takes young Jews from across the world around Israel for free in an attempt to significantly strengthen their connection to the country, does not allow people who leave the tour to rejoin it.
The eight Americans are now expected to visit the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which Israeli authorities are seeking to demolish in an operation many in the international community have said would constitute a war crime.
The Americans are also slated to visit the West Bank city of Hebron with anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence.
On 28 June, five other Jewish Americans similarly abandoned their Birthright tour to visit Hebron with Breaking the Silence.
Israel "is not providing the kind of education that we really need... and is telling a one-sided story," one of those leaving the June tour said at the time. "This is not fair, and we deserve the truth."
Breaking the Silence is made up of Israeli army veterans who seek to raise awareness of the effects of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its siege of the Gaza Strip.
Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, is a flashpoint area where Israelis have illegally settled in the city centre, cutting entire areas off for Palestinians.
In a statement the youths released after they abandoned the tour in June, the Americans said Birthright would not engage with their questions truthfully.
"We each came on this trip separately with hope that - especially in light of the recent killings of more than a 100 protesters in Gaza and Trump moving the US embassy to Jerusalem - Birthright would trust its participants enough to give us an honest education," the statement said.
"We came with questions about what's happening in the occupied territories and wanted to engage with new perspectives, but what became clear over the course of 10 days was that Birthright did not want to truthfully engage with our questions," it added.
"It's clear that young Jews who have critical questions about Israel are not welcome on Birthright. It's shocking that given all the recent violence Birthright would continue to act as if we can't handle the truth."
'More young Jews are joining the protest against Birthright's attempt to cover up the occupation'
- Breaking the Silence, NGO
Birthright, which insists it is an apolitical project, claimed on Sunday that it was “the leading educational initiative in the Jewish world”.
“Birthright believes in the ability of the participants to formulate their views and opinions themselves. That is why Birthright will not allow groups with any political agenda to sidetrack the plans for the tours. Participants who interfere with the experience of their friends in the groups for any political objectives will forfeit their deposit and their plane ticket,” it said in a statement.
Breaking the Silence welcomed the latest departures from Birthright and said young Jews are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Israeli government and occupation.
"More young Jews are joining the protest against Birthright's attempt to cover up the occupation, and instead choose to see what we did as soldiers in the Occupied Territories," it said in a statement.
"It's time for our right-wing government and Birthright to understand: a prolonged occupation will widen the gap between the Jewish diaspora and Israel."