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Testimony 5: Jess

As a sixteen-year-old I went on Israel Tour with a reform Jewish youth movement. I was eager to learn more about my religion and explore Israel for the first time. At this age, I knew very little about relations between Israel and Palestine – only that there was something going on referred to vaguely as a “conflict” which flared up from time to time and that I had seen more guns in two weeks on tour than ever previously while living in the UK.

In the midst of our coach journeys, endless refills of hummus and shawarma, and market shopping sprees, we stopped at a viewpoint from which you could see Gaza. A sense of solemnity descended over the group as our tour guide commented on how the area – no more than a blur at the horizon of our view – was volatile and dangerous. Amongst the seriousness there seemed also to be a feeling of intrigue and perhaps even excitement at being so close to a “war zone.”

“I want to see some bombs dropping!” said a member of my group, sounding bored and somewhat disappointed by the lack of explosions in our view. I remember feeling horrified at the time: it was as if the destruction of homes, lives, and communities was registered as no more than a tourist attraction to provide entertainment for visiting Jewish teenagers. The comment was made within earshot of our group leaders, who said nothing about its wholly inappropriate nature.

To me, this reflected a level of dehumanisation of Palestinian people as figures who only exist on the horizon, dispensable pawns in necessary warfare. It highlights the double standard by which Jewish youth movements often encourage their participants to think critically about social issues and stand up for justice, yet are happy to overlook and sometimes perpetuate the dehumanised and violent attitudes towards Palestinians.

Jewish youth organisations play a critical role in the community, and Israel Tour in particular is an experience which fosters learning alongside the formation of lasting friendships. There is a certain irony to these movements presenting themselves as “progressive” and “liberal” yet not tackling anti-Palestinian racism.