To the Editor:
Recently, Katy Habr wrote a column for The Cornell Daily Sun that attempts to shed light on issues surrounding the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, an all-expenses paid trip for Jewish youth to become connected to the state of Israel.
She criticizes the Birthright program for promoting the notion that diaspora Jews can make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) and gain citizenship, stating that it “entails the exclusion and expulsion of certain other groups.” First off, it is worth noting that anyone, regardless of nationality or religion, can visit Israel with a 3-month tourist visa. This is in stark contrast to the 16 Muslim countries that forbid entry to Israeli passport holders. Secondly, almost every European nation, in addition to Israel, has Jus sanguinis nationality laws which confer citizenship to people who are members of the country’s ethnic, cultural or religious identity (as opposed to granting citizenship based on place of birth). To defend her claim, Habr has to either categorically denounce the concept of Jus sanguinis, or explain why Israel’s version of this law, given its Jewish national identity, is worthy of questioning but other countries’ are not.
Habr also criticizes Birthright for not taking participants to the Palestinian territories. There are well-founded reasons behind this policy. Firstly, there are immense security concerns involved with bringing Israeli-led groups to Palestinian territories. To enter Gaza from Israel, a special permit is needed, which is difficult to obtain. Recent polls, like the one conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, show that there is also widespread and bitter hatred of Jews in the Gaza Strip and Area A of the West Bank, which would create dangerous touring conditions. Secondly, since the goal of Birthright is to forge a bond between participants and the land of Israel, visiting Palestinian territories would imply that these regions ought to be annexed by Israel, and that Palestinians have no right to form a state in these areas. This is antithetical to a two-state solution, and would only exacerbate the conflict. Despite what Habr believes, Birthright exposes participants to different facets of the conflict. Trips are made to Israeli Arab villages, and participants have the opportunity to hear about the experiences of Arabs living in Israel proper.
Another fallacy in Habr’s piece is her claim that there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees. In reality, an estimated 700,000 Arabs fled during the 1948 War (in comparison, the Syrian Civil War has generated roughly 6 million refugees). The figure Habr provides defines refugees as including descendants of original refugees, which is a definition used for no other refugee group and restricts the Palestinian population to perpetual refugee status. Many of these descendants of refugees do, in fact, still live in refugee camps, but this can be attributed to their host countries’ active refusal to assimilate them and grant them equal rights. (In 1959, the Arab League passed Resolution 1457, which states as follows: “The Arab countries will not grant citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their assimilation into the host countries.”) In other words, Habr stretches the definition of “refugee” in order to inflate Palestinian refugee numbers and demonize Israel.
Habr also states that Israel has rejected U.N. Resolution 194, which outlines how the Palestinian refugee problem should be solved. This is a fair point, except for the fact that it’s patently false. In July of 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a historic deal at Camp David to Yasser Arafat, then Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, which included a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, control over the Temple Mount, a return of approximately 95 percent of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip, a $30 billion compensation for the 1948 refugees and Israeli absorption of a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees. The deal was rejected by Arafat, and no counter-offers were made. The proposed deal would have certainly complied with U.N. Resolution 194, which states that compensating the Palestinian refugees is an acceptable way to resolve the refugee crisis. Moreover, polling data reveals that a majority of Palestinians would accept monetary compensation as a means of solving the refugee crisis. Therefore, it is clear that the Palestinian leadership has chosen to prolong the refugee problem.
I implore Habr and other detractors of Birthright to learn the facts in order to realize that Birthright is a perfectly reasonable program, and that her views on the Palestinian refugee problem and Israeli citizenship policy are misguided.
Evan Kravitz ’19