A program that gives free 10-day tours of Israel to young Jews is scrapping the Tel Aviv portion of its trip for fear of Hamas rockets targeting the city.
Taglit-Birthright is skipping visits to the memorial for Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister who was assassinated by a right-wing Jew for signing a peace deal with the Palestinians. Also crossed off from Birthright’s itinerary are a tour of where Israel’s declaration of independence was read, as well as tours of Jaffa and the Old City, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Birthright usually gives tours that encompass much of Israel, but the southern portion of the country has been axed from tours because of the rockets being fired into the country by Hamas from Gaza. Save for a tour of a Bedouin village in the Negev Desert, Birthright is dropping southern Israel -- the part of the country most susceptible to rocket attacks -- from its itineraries, a spokeswoman told Haaretz. The tours usually include a weekend at a kibbutz in southern Israel and a day at a farm near the Gaza border known as the Salad Trail.
Tours of Jerusalem and northern Israel are untouched by changes to the Birthright itinerary, the spokeswoman said. The decision to abandon the Tel Aviv portion of the trips was made even though the city has not experienced any fatal casualties from Hamas rockets, which are notoriously unreliable. Haaretz noted that most of the rockets are intercepted by the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, which is deployed in areas most likely to be targeted by Hamas.
The spokeswoman said Taglit-Birthright has seen a considerable drop in cancellations since Operation Protective Edge began three weeks ago, with about 30 percent to 40 percent of participants declining to go through with the program. She said 6,000 young Jews have participated since the Israeli operation started.
The program was expected to see its strongest showing this year, with Taglit-Birthright making a marketing push in North America over the winter, Haaretz reported. The paper said about 40,000 Americans and Canadians signed up for Birthright this summer.