The Birthwrong Diaries – Chelsey Lichtman

Kabbalah time - Chelsey Lichtman

In December 2008 I embarked on a two-month trip to Israel and Palestine. For the first ten days I was a participant on a Birthright Israel tour. Birthright is a program that started in Canada in the late 1990’s and with the help of the Israel government and philanthropists, has since provided over 200,000 Jewish kids between the ages of 18-26 with free trips to Israel. I decided to use the free ticket as a way to visit my friends Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky who were making a film in Ramallah for the year. To this day I am still unsure if what I experienced on Birthright was worth the free ticket. Three days before I arrived Israel began its bombardment on Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of over fifteen hundred Palestinians. This here is my account.

From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: tripod
Date: Dec 21 ’08
To: elle —–

Hey Elle,
So birthwrong- The itinerary as far as I know is: Jerusalem the first two days so the 31st and 1st and then Tel Aviv the 2nd and 3rd. then we’re off into who the hell knows where-Tiberias, Eilat, hell, etc. It would be SO AMAZING if you and Tamira were able to meet up in any of those places. But the security is nutty. Like they don’t even let JEWS near us probs. But at night if I ‘stay in my room…’ I’m sure I could sneak out or something. There is also a birthright ‘mega event’- I feel like a nar even writing this stuff. It’s such fucking loser bullshit. But anyway the night of the 1st in Jerusalem I will be at a huge event thing and maybe I can sneak off for a bit. I have no fears.
Chelsey


From: Richard —
Subject: re: Situation in Gaza
Date:
To: Birthright Group 1122

** note: this is an email from one of the Canadian Birthright organizers to the group of Canadian kids preparing to go to Israel in December 2009

Hi Everyone,

I was on the phone with Momo, the head of our tour provider, earlier today and we spoke regarding the current situation in Gaza. I know that many of you are probably concerned and wondering if this will affect our trip. Momo has assured me that the situation is not going to affect us and that the media portrayals of this situation are not completely accurate. I can tell you from personal experience that Hamas has been firing missiles into Israel from Gaza ever since Israel withdrew from the territory. This has been pretty much a daily occurrence. The Israeli government has been warning Hamas for a long time that if they were unable to stop the missiles, Israel would do the job for them and that is what has just happened.

Regardless of this situation, Birthright groups have never gone anywhere near Gaza or within range of the missiles that are fired from Gaza. We also will not enter Judea and Samaria (The West Bank), or East Jerusalem while we are there. The safety and security of Birthright groups is of the highest importance to the tour staff and the Israeli authorities. All Birthright groups are accompanied by an armed guard, who is carrying a GPS equipped satellite phone that keeps the Israeli army informed of our location at all times.

Our group is proceeding as scheduled and it is highly unlikely that any of us will even notice that there is anything going on there other than normal daily activity. If you have any concerns or wish to talk to myself or Hindy, please don’t hesitate to call us, we’d be happy to talk to you. I’m really looking forward to meeting all of you on Tuesday,

Richard

From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: New Plan?
Date: December 29th, 2009
To: Elle —, Tamira —

Hi Women:
Okay so it seems like the kid I was coming on Birthright with is no longer going…I’m about to barf and kill myself. But anyway this means that I am not going to spend that week after, traveling between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem…I would rather be doing some sort of constructiveorganizing because the situation in Gaza is obviously escalating and is so fucking disgusting, dreadful, and horrifying. I can stay a week at a time and go between my fam and you guys still.

I just keep reading the news over and over and it’s just sickening and beyond measure. Since there is NOTHING happening here in terms of public outrage/outcry, it will feel better to be over there I guess. I am just so scared of Birthright but at this point I am not ruling out telling them to fuck off and defecting.

From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: re: urgent action
Date: January 2nd, 2009
To: Jenny

I am here already watching this crazy fucking country carry on as they are killing off the Gazans. Birthright is everything and nothing you can imagine. I am video taping as much of their racist bullshit as I can and am planning something big for later. The homophobia is sickening. Today Samira and another woman from Aswat[1] came to meet me in Tel Aviv and the reactions from my Israeli trip leader and the people on my trip was abhorrent. I don’t even know if that makes sense because I am on no sleep. It is their tactic. to bring everyone to a point that they are just hallucinating Zionism. No sleep. Anyway more later.
chelsey


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: greetings from hell.
Date: Friday Jan 2nd, 2009
To: Liz, Alexis, Anna, May, Elle, Jen, Julia, Joan, Reena, Karine, Kaleb, Leah, Emma, Helen, Vivian, Chloe, Tamira, Bec, Hannah, Jenny

Today was intense because Samira and one of her friends from Aswat came to meet me in Tel Aviv during my free hour and when they escorted me back to the bus my prick, fuckhead, piece of shit Israeli tour guide gave them dirty looks and when I finally got on the bus, I overheard him saying to the Canadian tour guide that they are lucky that Israel lets them live here because if they lived in Palestine they’d be dead.

This is ONE example of the disgusting crap that this guy, Uri, my Israeli tour guide has said.

Last night we played 2 truths and a lie and for one of my truths I said that my father was born in Palestine and there was a chorus of aggressive, “what’s Palestine(s)?”

The truth is, I am not sure how I will make it through the next few days till this shit is done. I am really not sure. But I am trying to convince myself I am here to expose something …but we will see. I do think I have an out, because of the homophobia, and if it did so happen that I couldn’t take it and had to defect, and if they tried to take me to court, I could maybe counter threaten with a counter suit of discrimination.
Chelsey


To: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: wow-speechless
Date: Jan 2nd, 2009
From: Reena

here are a list of empowering lezzie (retro) words for ya from me and karen:

womb an
wimmin
womyn
yummy snizzy carpet munchies
pussy power
labial liberation
lesbian avengers
riot grrrrrls
your bubbie wears combat boots
amazon warrior princesses
the labrys
bonobo matriarchs
praying mantis

and non-zionist kick ass jews:

judith butler (i think she’s jewish)
emma goldman
hannah arendt
neta golan
naomi binder wall
b.h. yael
ME
🙂


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: hi.
Date: Friday Jan 3rd, 2009
To: Alexis, Karine, Liz, Emma

This morning we were walking and Uri asked me again if Samira and her other friend were out to their families and started talking about honor killings and then I said that my girlfriend who is born and raised in Canada is not out and that many people I know aren’t out either and that Samira is Muslim and Palestinian and is out, and that it depends family to family not necessarily country to country and he wouldn’t have any of that. Funny thing was that Samira called me in the middle of the conversation and she told me to ask him if he had heard of the Tel Aviv shelter for Jewish queer kids who come out and then have to flee their families. Then we started talking about world pride and he said something like, “you know what-in this case i am against the gays. They should know better than to try and gather in a place like Jerusalem.” I was like “uh well maybe world pride couldn’t be in a place like Jerusalem because not everyone can access that place.” And that he understood.

It was nice to see Samira this morning because she is always so encouraging about me finishing the trip and she knows I am having a hard time (obviously). I keep telling her that it is not such a huge sacrifice, what I’m doing. It feels so fucked up that she is congratulating me for enduring my ‘birthright’.

Tomorrow I get to sleep in a tent in the desert with all these little fuckers (literally, they are all fucking each other) and then climbing Masada at like 2am.

I have started a new tactic where I tell people that my grandfather who served in the Irgun (jewish underground) is a staunch anti zionist because of all the bad things he was made to do to Palestinians when they were massacring all the villages starting before ’48. THESE PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS STATE WAS FOUNDED. I make shit up, literally string together pieces of what I know and remember from books, docs, etc-I don’t care how off it is, the foundation of what I’m saying is correct. I had a lengthy conversation with this guy today and really enlightened him. Then at the end he asked me, “so uhh then, do you not believe there is any reason for zion?” ZION! like the lauryn hill song!

I am okay with the people on my trip they are nice and are nice to me. but they do want to hear about the way I fuck other women, etc. but I can handle that. It’s the fascism coming from the Israeli tour guide that is going to drive me to drink absinthe.


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: re: hi

Date: Jan 4th, 2009

From: Reena

hang in there, girl
you are in the belly of the beast.
i am thinking of you.

and tonight,
when you
remember the people of gaza
your prayers will be amplified

just like rachel (i think it was her)
who prayed silently
as her lips moved
and hashem listened
not because of her volume
but because of her
intention.


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: re: An Open Letter From Anti-Zionist Jewish Youth in Canada
Date: Jan 10th, 2009
To: Liz, Alexis, Anna, Reena, Karine, Kaleb, Helen, Bec, Hannah, Christina

I am in Ramallah! Driving in was obviously a real shocker. Well not the city itself but definitely seeing the wall. It’s HUGE. And made out of concrete. Not sure what I expecting it to be made of.

There is so much for me to process. So much going on. Its really a trip to go from 10 days of brainwashing to here.


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: hi
Date: Jan 12h, 2009
To: Dad

Hey Dad,
Got your message. Everything is fine except for the fact that Israel is committing a genocide about an hour from where I am staying.


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: rebel grrrl
Date: Jan 13th, 2009
To: —

The day was very intense. Its like I can’t even process the fact that I saw bombs dropping on Gaza and heard them. We didn’t get that close but about 5km away.


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: Just one day in Palestine
Date: Jan 15th, 2009
To: Alexis, Anna, Molly, Aviva, Reena, Chloe, Rachel, Kaleb, Karine, Leah, Kelly, Julia, Hannah, Helen, Jen, Jordan, Julie, Liz, Melissa, Emma, Christina

Every day that I am in Palestine I understand the realities of occupation more and more and I am just a very temporary visitor. What I have been witnessing I am afraid that I will not find the words to explain when I come back. I can’t really articulate what I have been observing just being here. There is so much I can’t even begin to get it all down.


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: something special
Date: Jan 21st, 2009
To: —

Just had gay movie night in Ramallah!


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: hi
Date: Jan 30th, 2009
To: Mom, Dad, Aunty Shari

Hey Everyone
Just a quick update-I have had my life threatened twice during my time here. Once was by an Israeli soldier who overheard a conversation on the bus I was having about being queer. He said if he wasn’t in uniform he would kill me and my friend.
The other time was by a settlement security guard who took away our passports and threatened to shoot us if we moved. We had just taken a wrong turn.
Welcome to Israel.


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: so you know

Date: Feb 3rd, 2009

To: —

Hi!
I am in the Internet cafe I sometimes use in the Jerusalem bus station and without fail, every time I am here, there are orthodox Jewish girls on facebook screaming about getting married and having babies and its hilarious! and their statuses are always like, Elisheva Bracha Goldberg is so excited that Chana is getting married!

From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: Re: Just one day in Palestine
Date: February 4th, 2009
To: Kelly

I had an incredible time here and have learned more than I ever would have expected. I am just really scared that I am going to become a self hating Jew because of what I have seen done to the Palestinian people in the name of a Jewish state. I haven’t felt like this since I was 14. That I really am not sure why I would have a connection to Judaism even though I have developed such a positive anti Zionist Jewish community in Toronto. I am just not sure anymore. So we’ll see what happens when I get home and process, process, process!


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: Re: Just one day in Palestine

Date: February 10th, 2009

To: Kelly

Had some trouble re settling and was feeling pretty down and depressed and not knowing how to deal with or process with my trip. I am so out of money and desperate to find work but at the same time feeling so lazy and just want to lie around all day and hang out with friends


From: Chelsey Lichtman
Subject: Sigi Video
Date: February 15th, 2009
To: Elle —, Tamira —

So are you guys back yet? Everything is fine here back in T.O. – you know, same old… answering the most unbelievable questions about my trip and really realizing how little people know about Israel/Palestine. There really are some dumb people out there. Give me a small update and tell huda that alicia says hi!
Xo
Chelsey

References

[1] ASWAT is a Palestinian lesbian organization in Haifa with members in both Israel and the West Bank.

Chelsey Lichtawoman is the co-founder of the fat activist and performance troupe The Fat Femme Mafia and has been touring and performing across Canada for over five years. She was also the host and curator of Granny Boots, the weekly radical queer performance night at the Gladstone Hotel. Chelsey recently had her first photography show entitled All About Her: versions of the woman exposed, which showcased her photos of Toronto queers. You can visit her at http://www.chelseylichtman.com.

Comments from old site:

Submitted by aj (not verified) on Mon, 11/08/2010 – 01:46.

Wow–thanks for this account.

I was just looking at the Canada Israel experience website…scary. I noticed the Air Canada logo–does anyone know if they’ve been targeted for BDS?

http://www.canadaisraelexperience.com/IWantToGo/Programs/IFFHome/Home.as…