Beit Hanoun, Gaza— A group of Birthright tour-goers ended their ten-day excursion to Israel yesterday, soaking up the sun and snapping photos of the ruins of Beit Hanoun, a new tourist destination installed by the Israeli Defense Force. For many of these visitors, this is their first experience in a decimated city, though one of them comes from an area near Camden, NJ. They had spread out their beach towels on what used to be someone’s backyard and laid down to listen to the calming thrum of M109 howitzers.
“This is the best! It’s so peaceful and quiet without highway traffic,” exclaimed one visitor, a 20-year-old girl from Yonkers, NY wearing a Eddie Bauer bikini. “Except sometimes you can hear the crying.”
“My parents were, like, getting all crazy about me coming here, like it wasn’t safe or something.” stated another visitor, an 18-year-old boy from Long Beach who was tossing a frisbee with some of the other people in his group. “This place is safer than LAX. That’s what Roi told us, anyway.”
Roi was the group’s leader, a short man in his early thirties wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a giant grin and an M14. He told us we didn’t need to speak to anyone else because he knew what all the kids were saying. “Great trip! Awesome time! Totally safe! I’m moving and joining the IDF! This is sort of thing I get so much, all the time.” He stopped to grab his rifle briefly and shout at someone in Arabic. Then he smiled and offered us oranges. “Grown right here! Well, not, like, right here.”
This is a new part of the Birthright trip, which aims to strengthen Jewish identity and community by bringing young Jews to Israel to drink and hook up with Israeli soldiers. In between visits to the nightclub and co-ed dorm rooms, the trip seeks to expose visitors to the realities of Jewish culture.
This new addition to the trip is the initiative of the Chair of Birthright Israel, Joshua Nash. In a press conference, Nash explained, “I want Jewish youth to get the experience of what being a Jew in Israel is all about.”
Some new additions to the trip include tank rides, voting for the Likud party and being forced to join the army. Trip-goers are also given the opportunity to pilot their very own drone. Those that are able to carry out strikes without hitting any hospitals are automatically promoted to Lieutenant.
These experiences have begun replacing trips to places from Israel’s history such as Masad and the Western Wall.
“The other places didn’t really fit with the story we were trying to tell. And after all, we only have ten days,” Nash explained.