Birthright Unplugged


Our Unplugged trips are designed for people of all backgrounds. We particularly look for people who come to their work with an anti-racist framing and are well positioned within their community/ies to work for justice upon return.

In six days, we visit Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps in the West Bank and spend time with internally displaced Palestinian people living inside Israel. Throughout the journey, we help participants develop an understanding of daily life under occupation and the history of the region from people profoundly affected by and under-represented in Western discourses about the occupation.

After the program we support our participants’ involvement in human rights based and justice oriented efforts, including contributing to the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement against Israel until it complies with international law. This initiative is a direct response to the call from Palestinian civil society and is designed in the footsteps of the ultimately successful movement against South African apartheid.

New: Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions against Israel and Investment in Palestine (BDS + I) Institute

Birthright Unplugged also organizes travel for groups in addition to our Unplugged and Re-Plugged offerings. Our most recent delegations include Brandeis University/Carter Center and Boston College student groups and a Workmen’s Circle group from Boston. Please contact us to inquire about the possibility of working together.

Our trips are facilitated by Dunya Alwan, Birthright Unplugged Co-Founder and Director. Dunya works with a team of trip leaders most of whom are Palestinian, all of whom have spent extended periods of time Palestine/Israel living and working in the communities where we spend time with our groups.

Birthright Unplugged’s Summer 2010 Program

(deadline May 8, 2010)

Since 2005, Birthright Unplugged has facilitated travel in Palestine for numerous multiple groups of people. We do this because we have found that when people have firsthand experiences of and relationships with Palestine, it strengthens their resolve, credibility, and accountability to do sustained justice movement work.

Our 2010 program will include seven days of travel and a one-day institute. Together, these elements are designed to support work related to the 2005 call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel (BDS). This call seeks to bring about the end of apartheid in Israel, end the occupations of Gaza and the West Bank, and implement the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It is a non-violent strategy that has been critical to bringing about the end of other systems of oppression, most notably apartheid in South Africa. To date, we have worked with student activists, faith-based organizers, and community organizers to help develop and strengthen their respective BDS campaigns.

2010 Travel Component:

In seven days, we will visit Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps in the West Bank and spend time with internally displaced Palestinian people living inside Israel/’48. Throughout the journey, we will help participants develop an understanding of daily life under occupation and apartheid and the history of the region from people profoundly affected by these realities who are otherwise under-represented in Western discourses, and learn about the dispossession and occupation of Palestinian people.

2010 Institute Component:

For the past several summers, we have offered a short institute as a complement to our travel program following the trip. Our workshops are designed to support the 2005 Palestinian call for BDS by helping participants begin to integrate the knowledge they gain on the trip and preparing them to engage in campaign work in their home countries. There will be sessions for participants to share campaign work currently taking place in their own communities, build organizing skills, and develop strategies that are specific to the work they hope to do when they return home. It is our hope that institute participants can learn from and contribute to ongoing grassroots justice campaigns and movement work, and that they might especially become able to invigorate current campaigns already ongoing in their own communities.

Dates: July 9, 2010 – July 17, 2010

Includes: 7 days of travel, 1 day of organizing workshops, and some breaks

Application: can be downloaded at Please email completed applications to by May 8, 2010.

Costs: Sliding scale program contribution is $750 – $850. This includes both the travel and institute portions of the program. Airfare is not included. This contribution covers most ground transportation, meals, translation, admission fees, and lodging expenses during the program. Participants may purchase additional food and drink, souvenirs, and gifts at individual discretion. Participants are expected to pay for a few meals (est. $5-$15/meal) and car rides ($2-$4 ea) during free times and any liquor, argile, gifts, internet café use, and personal items. Transportation to and from airport is est. $10 – $15 each way and is not included in the program contribution. You should expect to spend a minimum of 10% more than the Birthright Unplugged contribution during your trip, plus airfare.

Soon after being accepted to our Unplugged 2010 Summer Program and prior to your trip, you will be asked to make your sliding scale contribution of $750-$850 towards the cost of the program and complete and submit a Participant Agreement. Your contribution is non-refundable except in the event that the trip is cancelled. We encourage those who can pay more to do so as program contributions do not cover program costs. We also encourage participants to engage in personal fundraising, which has been very successful for past participants. There is a template fundraising letter you are welcome to use on the costs page of our website:

December 2009 mailing from Birthright Unplugged

From: Birthright Unplugged <>
Subject: [birthrightunplugged-news] Birthright Unplugged’s Summer 2009 Communiqué
Date: Saturday, 12 December, 2009, 15:02

Birthright Unplugged Communiqué – Summer/Fall 2009

Dear All,

We are writing to fill you in on Birthright Unplugged’s recent summer season, to let you know what’s on the horizon for us in the upcoming year, and to put in a plug to make us part of your end of the year donations.

This spring, we expanded our Re-Plugged program significantly.  Based on our past work and in conversation with our partners, we developed a curriculum for a pilot project of Birthright Re-Plugged called “Rehearsing Return.” This summer, we launched the new program with 20 children from Jalazone Camp, just north of Ramallah.  As usual, we started our journey by traveling to Jerusalem and then headed for the sea.  Most of the children had never visited any of the places we traveled to and were thrilled to do so and, as we have come to expect, braved jellyfish in order to spend the maximum time possible in the surf.

Prior to our departure, the children had researched the villages and towns their families fled in 1948 by interviewing their families and searching the archives of Upon their return from the Re-Plugged trip, the children then made a study of the past and present uses of these lands in order to prepare themselves to imagine the future of these lands. The children’s families are originally from four villages with different histories of expulsion and land confiscation. They found that between 1948 and 1952, three of these Palestinian villages –  ‘Abbasiyya, ‘Innaba and Bayt Nabala – were depopulated and destroyed, and in their place Israel had built seven exclusively Jewish towns, among them Kefar Truman, named after U.S. president Truman.  The fourth village, Al Lydd, is where the Jewish Army committed its biggest massacre in Palestine, in which 426 men, women, and children were murdered.  Soon after the massacre, most of the residents of al-Lydd fled, although some were able to return.  Of the 19,000 people who used to call al-Lydd home, however, only 1,052 were allowed to stay. Al Lydd’s name was subsequently Hebrewized and is now a city called Lod with a predominantly Jewish population. The village’s lands have been parceled out to the Jewish-only towns of Zeitan, Yagel Ahi’Eser, and Ginnaton (and the Ben Gurion International Airport).

When we returned to the camp, the children reviewed their photos and reflected on what they had seen.  They began a process of developing ideas, drawings, and proposals for their imaginings and hopes for the future based on these historical developments, given what they had seen of the land’s post-1948 development and who is now living there.  While we plan to continue to work with Palestinian young people and facilitate their travel to Jerusalem, the sea, and their ancestral villages, we hope to develop this component of the program, which supports them to explore and express their aspirations to end their refugee status in accordance with international law.

We are pleased to report that this year, for the first time, all of our Re-Plugged staff, chaperones, guides, drivers, hosts, and trainers were Arab and predominantly Palestinian.  We worked with people from ’48/Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank.  Given increasing Israeli travel restrictions on people of Palestinian descent, constraints that divide Palestinians from one another, we were especially proud to have been able to thwart Israeli segregation efforts in this way.

As we often do, we put out calls to the media in an effort to have these children’s stories be told widely.  Despite past efforts to garner media attention, Re-Plugged has not attracted interest from English-language media, which have only sought to cover our Unplugged program.  Re-Plugged has previously been covered by Arabic media, and this summer for the first time two English-language outlets expressed interest in Re-Plugged.  There were many challenges presented by this interest and ultimately, in order to prepare the children for conversations with journalists, we held some media trainings for the children.  We worked with a former grade school teacher and staff journalist at the Palestinian Broadcast Service to develop and conduct a training session with the kids, in order to help them consider the kinds of messages they might like to share with the media.  Following the training, the children were so excited about working with press that when the journalist asked for two or three children to be chosen to speak with her, so many raised their hands that the interview became a collective conversation.  The piece that resulted was based largely on the children’s conversation with the journalist and was circulated widely around the world.

In English, the piece appeared in news outlets in Singapore, India, Switzerland, Lebanon (The Daily Star) and the U.S. (ABC News, MSNBC, and the New York Times).  The piece was also translated into Portuguese, Indonesian, Arabic, and Spanish, and was featured by Reuters Arabia.  Link to the story in English and in Arabic:

As far as we know, “Rehearsing Return” is the first program of its kind to be conducted with residents of a Palestinian refugee camp and we look forward to its next phases.


This summer’s Unplugged program also went well.

We traveled with our largest group ever and yet still maintained a scale and atmosphere that encouraged conversation amongst ourselves and with our hosts.  Our group included students, an organizer, a college professor, a judge, and a lawyer with an illustrious resumé that included defending the rights of indigenous North Americans against the U.S. federal government in the Wounded Knee case.  We also traveled with many members of a family comprised of both Native North American and Jewish people.  All of our participants were committed to working on social justice issues.

As usual, our trip focused on Palestinian lives and first person accounts from a wide swath of Palestinian communities and perspectives.  We spent time in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and increased time in ’48/Israel.  Gaza was represented by Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian human rights lawyer, activist, and organizer with the Free Gaza Movement.  The Free Gaza Movement is one of several efforts to break the siege on Gaza.  Specifically, they have attempted to sail from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip in order to deliver food, water, and medicine, traversing international waters essentially closed by Israel.  Since August 2008, there have been several successful voyages, and they have also brought international witnesses with them to see firsthand the devastating effects of Israeli violence against the Palestinian people. In 2008, their ship The Dignity was brutally rammed by the Israeli navy, inflicting considerable damage to the vessel and later causing it to sink. In 2009, another ship of theirs, The Spirit of Humanity, was confiscated by the Israeli navy, and efforts are currently being made to recover it.

We started our trip in East Jerusalem.  Our last several groups have seen firsthand the aggressive evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.  This summer the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood continued to be besieged by settlers and bulldozers. These activities elicited international condemnation, including by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who called them “provocative,” strong words from an administration that has otherwise set a low bar for Israel.  On our last several trips our groups have met with Um Kamel, a refugee from ’48 resettled by the United Nations in the 50’s to Sheikh Jarrah.  Her home was bulldozed, and we have met with her in recent years in the tent she lives in with her family near the rubble of her home.  This summer, however, when our group met with her, her tent had been bulldozed, and the area where it once stood was fenced off.  In other words, Um Kamel and her family were again made refugees, and the Israeli settlers next door had picked through the furniture of the displaced to use in their burgeoning neighborhood.

Our travelers also learned about Israel’s tightening travel restrictions insofar as they themselves were confronted with the government’s latest experiment: “West Bank Only” visas.  Issued this summer, these visas – given at the border crossing from Jordan to the West Bank, a passage controlled by Israel – restrict the travel of foreign nationals to only the West Bank.  While this measure seems have been temporary, it has been threatened for years, and one can only suspect that it was an experiment in curtailed movement that, unless the trajectory shifts, will resurface in one manifestation or another. This new development signals the greater reach of Israeli segregation efforts to divide people based on their identities.  This has been the case for Gazan, West Bank, Jerusalemite Palestinians, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and Palestinians in diaspora. This latest initiative, to limit the movement of foreign nationals, will further divide people from one another and puts both Birthright Unplugged and Re-plugged in jeopardy.

In addition to spending time in occupied East Jerusalem, we also spent time in communities in the occupied West Bank affected by the Wall, and rural and urban areas. We also spent time inside ’48, meeting with Palestinian citizens of Israel, Bedouins in the Naqab/Negev, people in unrecognized villages, and internally displaced people, learning about the lack of rights they have relative to Jewish citizens of Israel. Finally, we stayed in a refugee camp and learned about the critical importance of respecting and promoting the rights of all refugees, including Palestinian refugees.

In contrast with Re-Plugged, our Unplugged program has a history of press interest by Western outlets, and this summer was no exception.  Most prominently, our work was featured in an article in Ha’aretz English, an Israeli daily paper:

In addition, the Palestinian Broadcast Corporation did an interview focusing on the Unplugged trip and BDS, broadcast in Arabic.

Our Unplugged trip continues to include information necessary to understand and support the Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.  This summer, we held our second three-day BDS institute, which was comprised of workshops designed to develop resources and strategies to support the international BDS Campaign.  Our participants were from relatively diverse communities; all came prepared to develop skills to apply to campaign work and all left poised to work on BDS in their own communities.

Right now, we are preparing for our winter Unplugged trip, when we will be working with Boston College once again on a travel program connected with a course this Fall entitled Social Justice in Israel/Palestine.


In 2009, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr addressed a capacity crowd and spoke about the BDS movement.  He said, “This is more than the simple spewing of hatred. This is a conscious campaign to shift policy, to transform the way Israel is treated by its friends to a state that deserves not our support, but our contempt; not our protection, but pressure to change its essential nature.”

Staff members of Birthright Unplugged have just returned from the recent Student Divestment/BDS Conference organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine at Hampshire College (Amherst, MA, Nov. 20-22, 2009). In February 2009, Hampshire became the first college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies on the grounds of their involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and we are extremely proud to report that two of our alumni were part of that groundbreaking work.  Not only this, but seven of our alumni were involved in the conference itself, as organizers, attendees, organization representatives, and workshop leaders.  Forty colleges and universities from across the U.S. and Canada were represented at the conference and many more have expressed interest in this work. We believe that 2010 will be an important year for BDS work and hope all of you will consider finding ways you can participate in your own, local campaigns.  For example, there are many Israeli products on all kinds of grocery shelves throughout our communities.  One easy thing you can do is to carry coupons that say “DON’T BUY INTO APARTHEID.” When you check out, simply hand the coupon to the cashier with your money or credit card. You can also request that the store not stock Israeli products.   Coupons for downloading and printing can be found here:

While the international BDS campaign has already had a number of early triumphs, there are also casualties.  In particular, we want to draw your attention to the case of Mohammed Othman.  Mohammed has worked for ten years in the non-violent struggle against the Apartheid Wall, is a staff member at Stop the Wall working on BDS, and has met with a number of our Birthright Unplugged delegations and groups.  On  September 22, 2009, Mohammed was on his way back from a trip to Norway where he was doing BDS work when he was detained by the Israeli military.  Norway had recently announced that it was pulling all of its investments from Elbit Systems, an Israeli defense company that manufactures the monitoring system installed on rural sections of the West Bank Wall.  The Norwegian Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen was quoted as saying, “We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law” (Associated Press, September 3, 2009).  After 61 days of detention for the purpose of interrogation by Israeli Security Agency officers, Mohammad was placed in administrative detention for a three-month period, during which time he is being held without charge or trial. To support Mohammad and follow his case, you can join the Facebook page: Free Mohammad Othman2


We will continue to do the work for which you have come to appreciate us. And, as always, we need and cherish your support.  A number of you have pledged annual contributions, for which we are extremely grateful.  These grants sustain us, and allow us to be able to focus our work on Palestinian liberation, rather than on fundraising. We hope you will continue to give.  To donate to Birthright Unplugged, visit us at:

Please also spread the word about our work.  The more people involved in the struggle for justice, the better.

With all our best,

Dunya Alwan & Heike Schotten

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