JPost covers UPZ’s birthright israel trip — the only progressive such trip in existance, now in partnership with the New Israel Fund. And I couldn’t agree more with the impact of showing people the real Israel over showing them the facade of a Jewish Disneyland:

[UPZ Executive Director Tammy] Shapiro believes that bringing young Jews into direct contact with the often unsettling reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can help to strengthen the connection of young Jews with Israel. “When people actually go to these places and learn about things for themselves, they can go back to their campuses in America and talk about it better than they did before,” she says.

American pro-Israel activism is pretty pathetic. And it’s failing. American Jewish students are in a miserably uneducated place to defend accusations of human rights abuses in the West Bank — the daily reality, as attested to by soldiers themselves — but they are expected to do so by the pro-Israel establishment as it stands. This is the success of UPZ’s progressive birthright israel tours, NIF’s social activist tours, Encounter’s tours of Bethlehem and Shovrim Shtika/Breaking the Silence’s tours of Hebron. Support for Israel should be divorced from support for the occupation. But presently they go part and parcel, to the uncomfortable disaster of students connected to Israel. And non-students, not to mention.
But just whipping a little checkpoint-and-poverty on students is detrimental and thus wasteful, as they leave Israel feeling that reconciliation is impossible between their values and their Israel aspirations. This is why the UPZ is so important and why they, NIF, Encounter, and Shovrim Shtika stand out amist the plethora of other tours which happen to be organized by Jews also:

…But the UPZ’s program isn’t the only tour bringing Diaspora Jews into contact with Palestinians. Birthright Unplugged, which has no connection to birthright israel, brings North American Jews to the Holy Land to engage in Palestinian solidarity activism, many of whom return to US campuses as anti-Zionist activists, says Shapiro.
“Birthright Unplugged is an alternative to birthright which includes the Palestinian narrative, but ignores the Jewish narrative,” she says. “Our tour is more complex and doesn’t ignore either one. We are not coming from the perspective of animosity toward Israel; we care about the country deeply.”

I fully believe it’s impossible to understand the conversation about settlements without seeing the varieties of settlements yourself. I think it’s fully impossible to address the first-hand testimonies of ISM and pro-Palestinian activists without also having experienced East Jerusalem and the territories. And I think it’s disgustingly disingenuous to laud Israel’s civil rights record in relation to her Arab neighbors without paying heed to the pains and struggles of disenfranchised Israelis. We are all dangerously vulnerable of being mindless pundits if we have read only what other people say. (Read our comments exchange about Hebron to see what happens when talking heads fall under the bulldozer of first-hand experience.)
UPZ/NIF’s trip won’t take you to Gaza City. But the closer you can get, the more credibility you bear and the more able you can defend Israel interests — her moral interests and her security interests.
Registration for UPZ/NIF’s two trips are now open at www.israelexperts.com, 1st trip: May 19th-May 30th and open to ages 18-26. 2nd trip: July exclusively for ages 22-26, exact dates for this trip will be determined after registration. Email UPZ director Tammy Shapiro at [email protected] for full details.