My Jewish Week article this week, on a Birthright group visiting Hebron.
An Australian Birthright trip made what is believed to be an unprecedented stop in Hebron last week complete with a post-visit webcast, raising questions about whether the program has shifted policy on visits to the West Bank.
The group, led by trip provider Israel Express in conjunction with Chabad on Campus in Melbourne and the Zionist Federation of Australia Israel Programs, toured Hebron’s Cave of Patriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount and a site that is also holy to Muslims. Recently deemed a National Heritage Site by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Cave of Patriarchs is believed to house the graves of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives, according to all three major monotheistic religions.
â€œBe’ezrat Hashem [with the help of God], all the Birthright [trips] will come to Hebron, connect with â€˜the mamas and the papas,’â€ said tour guide Daniel Gutman on the webcast, referring to Judaism’s matriarchs and patriarchs. The webcast still appears on video host WeJew.com but has since been taken down from YouTube.
Prior to the Hebron visit, trips to West Bank towns – as well as Gaza and most parts of east Jerusalem – have been consistently prohibited by Birthright, which sends young diaspora Jews on free 10-day trips to Israel. “Our tours do not travel to or through areas of the West Bank of Gaza,” reads a Birthright web page detailing its security measures. Similar stipulations appear on Israel Express’s Web site, which guarantees that tours do not travel in such places that they deem “unsafe.” Continue reading…