Beliefnet News

By Michele Chabin
Religion News Service

JERUSALEM (RNS) After seeing how successful Birthright Israel has been in acquainting young Diaspora Jews with Israel and Judaism, a Palestinian group has established Birthright Palestine to help youths of Palestinian descent connect with their roots.
The program is organized by the Palestine Center for National Strategic Studies (PCNSS), which is based in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, and the Siraj Center of Holy Land Studies in nearby Beit Sahour.
The program is intended for first-generation, Western-born Palestinians over the age of 18. Organizers hope to bring young Palestinians to their “ancestral homeland” so that “they can reunite and witness firsthand how their brethren are living under illegal Israeli military occupation, while assimilating them into Palestinian society.”
The program will involve education, touring, hospitality and volunteering. It was “created to maintain Palestinian unity on an international level and to make foreign-born Palestinians feel at home in their homeland,” a press statement said.
The program’s Web site ( tells potential participants that “we are assuming that your parents did not leave their native homeland by choice and rather unwillingly abandoned their homes due to the grave difficulties that they faced under occupation and war.
“Thus, your parents, as well as their descendants (you) are technically refugees. You are a refugee because the reason you are living in a foreign state is due to the fear of persecution in your homeland simply for being born an Arab.”
The first Birthright Palestine participants will come to the West Bank this summer, right after Israelis celebrate their country’s 60th anniversary. Participants will be housed by families living in the Dheisheh refugee camp.
Unlike Birthright Israel, which provides young Diaspora Jews with a free 10-day trip to Israel, participants in the Palestinian program will stay for two to three months and are expected to pay their own way.
Gidi Mark, international director of marketing for Birthright Israel, declined to comment on the Palestinian program. A Birthright Palestine spokesperson was also unavailable for comment.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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