I've decided to travel to Israel this winter despite the Knesset's recent law banning foreigners who have advocated for boycott of the settlements--which I've often done to protest the Occupation. I've been there at least 24 times, and it'll be sad if I'm turned away--not to mention a travesty of the state's democratic principles--but I think it's urgent for American Jews who care deeply about Israel's future to do some serious fact-finding on the ground.
And that means doing more than just traveling on the kind of Israel mission offered too often by synagogues and Jewish communal institutions. To my mind, most of these reveal a narrow geographic, political and ideological viewpoint and a propagan-distic objective. They want to make people fall in love with Israel (which I did more than 40 years ago) but also to forestall any doubts or questions.
Jewish visitors' overall impression of Israel depends largely on the places they're taken to and the people sponsors have chosen to give them "briefings." Most Jewish institutional sponsors want our impression to be 100 percent positive, with no disturbing images or contradictory narratives to muddy the picture. The Israel they show us is a miracle of bustling nightlife, rich cultural ferment, medical and technical wonders and happy, harmonious citizens. We could spend ten days there and never notice the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or have a meaningful encounter with an Arab. (Many such tours also offer little access to female leaders, but that's another problem.)
One synagogue itinerary I saw recently was a case in point. It featured a discussion of the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations--with an Israeli speaker but no Palestinian. One day's activity was to "explore Christian East Jerusalem through visits with Christian personalities and institutions," but there was no comparable exploration of Muslim Arab perspectives.
As a result, the people on that trip probably missed a major contentious development in East Jerusalem. They wouldn't have seen what Elad, the religious nationalist group funded by the late U.S. bingo millionaire Irving Moskowitz (among others), has been doing to "Judaize" Arab Jerusalem--forcing out or buying out Palestinian owners in order to move Jews into those homes, and excavating the ground under Palestinian properties, ostensibly for archeological research but actually to establish Jewish claims to "biblical, historical" sites so that those properties can never be...