This winter, the University of Connecticut students will be able to participate in a 10-day “Israel Discovery Trip” hosted by UConn Hillel, according to The Daily Campus. The trip comes with an out-of-pocket cost of just $200.
The flyer publicizing the trip claims that participants in the trip will get to “explore the country and hear from a variety of speakers on various topics in Palestinian and Israeli society,” with notable subjects including history, human rights and politics. The trip is billed as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students in leadership positions,” joined by welcoming Canva clipart of hearts and a smiling community on its advertising materials. The publicity around the program makes no mention of whether students will have the opportunity to “discover” the human rights violations committed against Palestinians, whether they will “hear from” refugees displaced by the systematic and illegal settlement of Palestinian lands nor if they will get to “explore” the Israeli military’s blockade and imprisonment of Gaza. This discovery trip is poised to be little more than a whitewashed tour of a state actively involved in settler-colonialism and apartheid — and UConn is complicit.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, in a campaign of mass displacement and settlement known as “Al-Nakba,” wherein approximately 750,000 Palestinians were ousted from 78% of their historic lands by Israeli paramilitary groups. Israel has maintained a program of ethnic cleansing, apartheid and settler-colonialism of Palestinians. To this day, Israel illegally occupies 60% of the West Bank, one of two territories granted to the Palestinian Authority by the 1994 Oslo Accords. The Gaza Strip is commonly referred to as an “open-air prison,” because it is subject to an illegal blockade by the Israeli military; this contributes to a resource crisis from which 96% of water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption, according to UNICEF, and half of the Gazan population suffers from food insecurity. The widespread containment and starvation of Gaza is a form of collective punishment and constitutes a violation of human rights.
In more recent months, the Israeli military has been conducting near-nightly raids on cities in the West Bank through drone bombings and conventional warfare, which have killed over 120 Palestinians this year. Combined with the systematic evictions of Palestinians from their homes; attacks by extremist settlers backed by the Israeli state; and an unequal, discriminatory system of apartheid enforced across Israeli-occupied territories which denies Palestinians their full rights to suffrage and property, Israel is unequivocally continuing to erase Palestinians from their historic lands. As UConn Students for Justice in Palestine and the Editorial Board have previously amplified, major UConn Dodd Center for Human Rights partner Amnesty International has even recognized Israel as an apartheid regime.
The Israel Discovery Trip is one significant example of UConn’s consent to these crimes. The programming makes no mention of shedding light on rights violations, nor does it acknowledge “Palestinian territories” as occupied illegally. The trip has also been criticized for posturing itself similar to a study abroad trip or a vacation, as SJP UConn Vice President Jenna Rabah voiced to The Daily Campus. SJP President Layan Alnajjar also expressed the criticism that the Discovery Trip allows students to travel to Palestinian territories with ease while Palestinians, including UConn students, are denied the right of return to their historic land that they are afforded by international law.
Hillel staff used ambiguous language to imply that it would be “logistically” difficult to include Palestinian students on the trip, thus affirming the double standard acknowledged by SJP. Regardless, the inclusion of Palestinians would not change the trip’s problematic foundations.
The trip’s funding source, The Maccabee Task Force, which contributed a budget of $110,000 to the trip according to The Daily Campus, specifically tasks itself with “fighting Israel hate on campus,” according to the home page of its website, and has called the international Boycott, Divest, Sanctions protest movement against Palestinian oppression antisemitic. MTF routinely denies well-documented allegations of Israeli war crimes and apartheid and, according to SourceWatch, has donated $400,000 to Prager University, a right-wing media organization that espouses explicitly anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQIA+, Christian nationalist and Zionist videos — multiple of which MTF executive director David Brog has appeared in. An organization with a clear record of rights violations denial and support for extreme right-wing propaganda will not support a clear view of a decades-long campaign of violence against Palestine.
The Daily Campus Editorial Board holds that the Israel Discovery Trip is a flagrant attempt to erase the violence against Palestinians, which is well-understood by UConn students whose own lives are affected. UConn must answer for its complicity and complacence in Israeli human rights abuses which it has demonstrated by hosting UConn ROTC conferences with the Israeli military, sending administrators to the country to make commercial connections and more.