Birthright Israel has issued temporary instructions to trip vendors to avoid parts of the country’s southern region, sources said. The move follows the heightened military situation in the area around the Gaza Strip, including rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel in past weeks, and the intensified dispatching of incendiary kites and balloons which have caused devastating fires.
Thousands of young Jews from North America and around the world are currently on the trips, now in the peak of the wave of Birthright trips due to the university summer vacations. The tours of Israel, free for young American Jews, are designed to offer them an intensive, 10-day experience to strengthen their connection to their Jewish heritage.
Without specifying precisely what parts of the country the trips were instructed to avoid, a Birthright spokesperson said that “at the moment, minor changes being made to daily itineraries in accordance with our security guidelines.” They said that all trip itineraries were being approved on a daily basis by a “situation monitoring room” run by Israel’s Education Ministry in coordination with the Israel police and the IDF and that it would spare “no effort or expense is spared as it relates to the security of our participants.”
“The safety and well-being of participants is our primary concern and the ongoing priority across our organization,” the organization added in a statement. “Closely monitoring the situation, we constantly implement the most stringent and comprehensive security measures, far exceeding that of the Israel Security Authority guidelines. We have a well-deserved reputation for being cautious and conservative, a reputation that we have earned in the eighteen years of our program, hosting over 650,000 participants with no security issues.”
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Over the years, the program has been quick to respond to military and terror-related situations, erring on the side of caution and adjusting the itineraries of its trips when parts of the country were deemed too dangerous.
In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, the program dropped nearly all of southern Israel from its itineraries: the only place in the south that tour organizers were being allowed to include in their trips for a period of time was a Bedouin village in the eastern part of the Negev. Typically, Taglit-Birthright groups spend several days in Israel’s south, often spending a weekend on a kibbutz and half a day at Salad Trail, a hands-on farm near the Gaza border.
The same summer, it dropped Tel Aviv from itineraries for the first time after Hamas rocket fire from Gaza targeted that city.
In 2015, following a spate of stabbings and car ramming attacks in Jerusalem, Birthright cancelled its groups visits to crowded outdoor spaces like the pedestrian mall on Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian and the Mahane Yehuda market.