Monday, August 4, 2008

Birthright. . .Palestine?

An interesting concept to connect members of the Palestinian Diaspora connect with their ethnic roots leaves me with several questions.

I'm going to try to write this as simply as I can, because there is nothing uncontroversial about this topic.

First, Palestinians are not an ethnic group. Really. They are a national identity created in the '60's, much like the Isreali national identity was created in the
40's and continues to evolve today.

Before 1948, Israelis called themselves Palestinian Jews and Palestinains called themselves. . . well, I guess either just Arab, or Jordanian or whatever, but certainly not Palestinian. That is not to say that the elements of a national identity weren't starting to form, but the current Palestinian identity is a very recent creation

These identities, and cultures, are not without valid basis, and elements of history, but like Kwanzaa, ultimately, they are deliberate creations.

I understand the value of propaganda, and in its field, Birthright (or Birthrate, if you prefer) is certainly unparallelled for Return on Investment.

As a totally biased observer, here is my take on the two programs:

Comparison: BR Israel seeks to bring young Jews to Israel to connect with their Jewish/Israelite/Hebrew roots and to see what the country of Israel is about. Despite its stellar budget, camp/youth group atmosphere, short timeframe, BR Israel is fundamentally about helping young Jews to understand their history, all several thousand years of it, revolving around being in, or desiring to be in Israel.

BR Palestine brings young Palestinians to the Palestinian territories to spend time learning about the tough living situation, hear local perspectives on the Israelis and to connect with locals, get internship experience, and more.

Both are total propaganda tools to indoctrinate the youth.

That being said, if either one of these trips could be used as a tool for honest discussion based in historical fact (if that even exists), and critical analysis, both sides would be better off.

I think my own Zioist leanings are brough into relief by how uncomfortable the idea of Birthright Palestine makes me feel.


Anonymous said...

An interesting topic to say the least.

I'm not quite sure what the relevance is of stating that the Palestinians are not an ethnic group. It seems to be a meaningless attack. You never defined what an ethnic group is, so I find it hard to just go along with your claim. Whether you want to call the Palestinians an ethnic group or not, they have a shared identity different from other Arabs largely based on their experience of dispossession, oppression, and resistance. Their story is filled with myths, just like the official Israeli/Zionist story. I do think that their version is often more dishonest. Calling their identity a deliberate creation makes it sound as though they wished this identity upon themselves. I don't think it was completely within their control.

I completely agree that both programs are prapaganda. I can't speak to the Palestinian program as much, but I wish that Birthright Israel was a little more complete in showing the realities of Israel. But that's not realistic considering Birthright's purpose and sources of funding.

I believe you have more to say about Birthright Palestine but you haven't written them for any number of reasons. Y? If you do feel comfortable, could you please elaborate as to how/why Birthright Palestine makes you feel uncomfortable.

Y? said...


You have a point about the Palestinian identity, it was heavily influenced by the events of the 48, 56, and 67 wars. Not simply in the results of the wars, but in the way that the Arab world, and the UN treated the refugees (their special status, for example). Clear attempts were made from within, however, to shape the Palestinian national identity and to frame the struggle in the same anti-imperial and colonial messages that abounded in the world at that time.

I brought the ethnicity notion into question because I think that there is a myth regarding the ethnicity of Palestinians, just as there is a myth regarding ethnicity of Israelis.
They are national idendities.

In this age of identity politics and social networking, from a Palestinian perspective, the most important tool is to create sympathizers and those who feel connected with the struggle, and who better than those who can trace direct roots to that land.

There are several things that make me uncomfortable and I'll try to do them justice.

First, BRIsrael connects Jews with their religious homeland, first and foremost. There are other areas that are important in modern Jewish history but there is no place so important in the Jewish history as Israel. BRI is not for Israelis who have left as much as it is for Jews who have never been.

BRPalestine has, at its core, some of the same goals, ie. to make young Palestinians feel connected with the land of their grand-parents or great grand-parents. But The religio-historical aspect is totally different.

BR Palestine ultimately makes me uncomfortable because of I am biased and Pro-Israeli, and I see the potential for a program like this to deliberately deliver misinformation and foment hatred.

There is also the possibility that this program does the opposite, bringing young, well educated Palestinian minds into the West Bank, and creating opportunity and changing the culture to create a viable solution for peace.

I hope that in this case, the second possibility is the outcome.