I ma gine th at you are Palestinian. You, as well as your mother, father and several generations of your family were born in Nazareth, Palestine. Your entire family was expelled and forcibly removed from their homeland because it was declared that your house, your property and your homeland now belonged to the Jewish people. You now live in America as a refugee of Palestine. Despite the Right of Return implemented in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the state of Israel has barred you and your entire family from ever returning home. The house you once lived in is gone, the village you grew up in has been destroyed and renamed a Jewish name and the history of your people in that place has been erased.

This is not the story of one, but 5 million. Palestinians constitute the largest group of refugees in the world. Beginning in 1948 with the creation of Israel, 400 towns were destroyed, villages were massacred and 750,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homeland to make way for the new, exclusively Jewish homeland.

Now let’s try and imagine what your extended family, who managed to remain in Israel, and what is left of Palestine, experience. In these places, your family, as non-Jews, experiences a very different Israel than their Jewish counterparts. While the Jewish people benefit from a range of basic rights, Palestinians live under a radically different and often untold legal system.

Your family, as Palestinian citizens of Israel, is subjected to over 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against them in all areas of life — including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources and criminal procedures. They exist as second-class citizens — invisible people denied the same freedom that black people in America fought over 70 years to obtain, that South Africans fought over 80 years to obtain and that the undocumented community in America continues to fight for today. The discriminatory legal system that Palestinians are forced to live under constitute what the United Nations and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa deem as fitting of the term “apartheid.”

Your family living in the Occupied Territory of Gaza face a harsher reality. The Israeli government controls every aspect of Palestinian life here. They control how many calories your cousins are permitted to eat. They control how much water they are permitted to drink. They control which roads they are allowed to drive on. They outright prohibit Palestinians living there from leaving — thereby constructing what Noam Chomsky described as “the largest open air prison in the world.”

So why are we telling you this?

As an organization focused on revealing the truths that many do not want to hear, we know too well that there are opposing forces, organizations and programs that attempt to hide, deny or obscure these truths. We believe that the Ivy Plus Leadership Mission to Israel, whether it be intentional or unintentional, will in fact obscure and hide many of the oppressive actions of the Israeli government that are categorically wrong and illegal.

It is highly likely that during your trip to Israel, you will not see the horrible truths described in this article. You will see the amazing military technologies created by Israel, but not what those technologies do to Palestinian people. You will see beautiful tourist sites, but will not be told that you are standing on what was once a Palestinian village, school or religious site. You will be educated on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but will not be informed that Israel dominates the Palestinian people — that they occupy 4.4 million bodies, exploits them, abuses them, humiliates them and imprisons them all in the name of “security.” You will be told that Israel is a democracy, but will not be told that it is only a democracy for some.

As many of the participants in this program are presumably unfamiliar with Israel or Palestine, it is important to recognize how a program like this can misleadingly shape your ideological and political views. We hope that you — young, intelligent and ambitious students — will challenge yourselves to learn more about the issues we’ve presented and to think critically about the messages imbedded into these sorts of initiatives.

Penn for Palestine is a student activist group that focuses on combating the human rights abuses committed against Palestinians and advocates for an end to the Israel occupations. Any questions or comments can be sent to pennforpalestine@gmail.com.

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