Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine hung flyers across campus last week urging undergraduates to boycott Harvard Israel Trek, an annual subsidized spring break trip to Israel and the West Bank.
Organizers for HOOP — a student group spearheaded by the Palestine Solidarity Committee that calls on Harvard to divest holdings linked to Israel’s presence in Palestine — posted flyers with QR codes linked to a document that alleges trip-goers are “complicit in apartheid and settler colonialism.”
In 2019, the PSC distributed a petition urging undergraduates to boycott Israel Trek, which was ultimately canceled due to Covid-19.
Applications for this year’s trip closed last October. According to Israel Trek student leader Ty L. Geri ’23, more than 450 students applied for just 100 spots.
The trip includes a visit of the West Bank and discussions with high-ranking Israeli and Palestinian officials. In emails about the trip sent last semester, organizers say the trip provides participants an opportunity to explore “unique and nuanced realities at the core of Israel’s geopolitical landscape.”
HOOP organizer Christian B. Tabash ’21-’22 said he rejects the idea that the trip can provide a balanced perspective on the conflict between Israel and Palestine despite including the West Bank on its itinerary.
“It doesn’t matter if you spend a few hours in the West Bank, a day in the West Bank, a few days in the West Bank, or if you talk to a Palestinian,” Tabash said. “That is irrelevant, because power is unequal and Palestinians exist as the colonized.”
Nadine S. Bahour ’22, who is also a HOOP organizer, said she does not oppose Harvard students visiting the region but rather the way the trip “sells itself to be a balanced perspective.”
“You’re going at the expense of Palestinian refugees — over five million Palestinian refugees that can’t visit the region,” Bahour said.
As part of its campaign, HOOP has compared attending Israel Trek to visiting South Africa during apartheid. A poster hung around campus reads, “Would you go on a trip funded by South African apartheid? No? Why go on Israel Trek?”
Geri said he respects HOOP’s right to put up the posters, but disagrees with their claims.
“We’ve designed this itinerary to give the participants the opportunity to actually challenge these questions, ask these questions, ask the things that are on the poster, perhaps, to people on the ground that are trying to make a difference,” Geri said. “That’s an incredibly unique opportunity.”
Estela Lacombe França ’23, who is attending Israel Trek this spring, said despite the boycott’s claims she believes the trip leaders are committed to providing a “diverse” perspective.
“The leaders are just constantly willing to speak to us about anything that we are concerned about,” Franca said. “They make a really conscious effort to make sure that we have access to as many varied viewpoints as possible.”
Tabash said the best way for students to become educated about Palestine is through attending events hosted by the PSC and HOOP.
“The space in which Palestinians congregate and find community and organize, that is the best space at Harvard in which you’ll actually learn about the reality of this Israel-Palestine issue,” Tabash said.