by Rani Allan
“You will never be allowed entry.” That’s what the Israeli official told me at the Allenby-King Hussein border checkpoint in January 2015, the first time I was denied entry to the land where my grandparents were expelled from their homes during the Nakba in 1948.
This summer, I tried again to visit Palestine. Again, I was denied entry, and I was reminded of the violence and harassment I underwent the first time in January 2015, when I was questioned for 11 hours about the names of my relatives, where they were born and what my links were to Palestine. I was reminded that, despite having a U.S. passport and being born in New Jersey, I was deemed a threat to Israel simply because of my ancestry- an experience shared by the over 7 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, exiled during the Nakba in 1948, who are barred by Israel from returning to their homeland.
This is why, as a Palestinian, I was excited to hear that Jewish Voice for Peace students and young Jews are launching the #ReturntheBirthright campaign, calling on young Jews to boycott Birthright. It is fundamentally unjust that, for thousands of Americans a year, going on a free trip to Israel can be as easy as riding a bus. Going on a Birthright trip whitewashes the ongoing human rights violations of the Israeli government, which continues to hold a severely inhumanitarian blockade and siege on the Gaza strip, illegally occupy the West Bank, discriminate against Palestinians and non-Jews, and ban the displaced indigenous population from returning to their land as stipulated by UN Resolution 194.
At Hunter College, where I go to school and organize with the Palestine Solidarity Alliance, a trip was recently coordinated by the Hillel chapter to bring student leaders of influential student groups- all non-Palestinians- to visit Israel, where, in all likelihood, they were bombarded with Zionist propaganda as they walked atop the ruins of ethnically-cleansed Palestinian villages. Of course I, as a leader of Palestine Solidarity Alliance, was not invited. The purpose of these trips is clear- Zionist organizations are desperate to present a rosy, whitewashed picture of Israel as a democratic, pluralistic safe haven for Jews, an outpost of Western values, while erasing all trace of the land’s original inhabitants, and hiding Israel’s continuing assault on Palestinian rights from view.
Every time I hear about someone’s trip to my homeland or see pictures of them there, I get a painful reminder of the Palestinian experience. I remember the pictures I saw online of my village — Al-Qubab — before it got ethnically cleansed in 1948. I remember the Israeli interrogator slamming their hands on the table, calling me a liar while searching my phone, before denying me entry. I remember the bus I was forced to ride on back to Jordan like I was a prisoner. I remember being called a terrorist, even though I wanted to go to my own land. Overall, I remember what white supremacy is like for a Palestinian.
If a non-Palestinian wants to understand the Palestinian point of view, go to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, where over 5 million currently reside. They are not less Palestinian than the ones in Haifa or Ramallah. If you go to Israel/Palestine, help resist the expulsion of local Palestinian residents. Meet with rights organizations to amplify the grassroots call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid. Don’t go on a Birthright trip, where you will be complicit in whitewashing Israeli crimes, and an active participant in the wider Zionist agenda of eliminating Palestinian rights and existence on the land of our ancestors.
I am encouraged that young Jews across the country are taking the pledge to Return the Birthright, as people of conscience all over the world join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian human rights. With racism and white supremacy on the rise in America, Israel/Palestine and around the world, now is the time to take action.
Rani Allan is of Palestinian and Lebanese descent and a senior at Hunter College majoring in political science and human rights. He is the founder and former president of the Palestine Solidarity Alliance of Hunter College and an organizer with Adalah-NY: Campaign to Boycott Israel.