New Masa Restrictions May Prevent Students From Meeting With Palestinians in West Bank

Max Antman, 27, arrived in Israel last fall to begin his rabbinical studies in a year-long program at Hebrew Union College’s Jerusalem campus, determined to take advantage of living in the city “to experience everything going on both in Israel and in Palestine.”

But shortly after his arrival, he said, he was “surprised and upset” when Masa Israel Journey, which gave him a $3,500 grant for his studies in Jerusalem, asked him to sign a document severely restricting his ability to travel to any part of the West Bank as a condition for the funds.

Masa, a joint enterprise between the Jewish Agency and the Prime Minister’s Office offers grants for young adults enrolled in long-term Israel programs. The program includes scholarships for rabbinical and cantorial students during their year of studies in academic institutions affiliated with the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements.

The document he was asked to sign required him to acknowledge that “movement within geographic borders – entering territories A and B independently, not as part of a trip organized as part of the program, is expressly prohibited for all Masa participants, whether independent or groups. Any independent movement of participants in the West Bank (Area C) requires the participant/s to inform the organizers in advance and receive the organizer’s authorization and relevant instructions.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) poses for a photo with members of Masa in Jerusalem, 2014.AP

Areas A and B comprise approximately 40 percent of the West Bank – including the cities of Hebron, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus – and are either primarily or partially controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Area C, which is 60 percent of the West Bank, is under complete Israeli control and contains the majority of Jewish settlements. Some Masa-funded programs are located at institutions in Area C, like Yeshiva Har Etzion.

Antman says the restrictions are hampering his and other fellow Masa scholarship recipients’ ability to participate in a popular weekend program for international rabbinic and cantorial students in Israel. The six-year-old program, run by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, supplements their studies with monthly activities and learning experiences designed to help them “develop their rabbinic voice on human rights issues in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The program offers “on-the-ground learning experiences” led by Israeli human rights activists and includes trips to the south Hebron Hills, a tour of Hebron with the anti-occupation veterans group Breaking the Silence, visits with Bedouin communities in southern Israel and meetings with asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv. Antman is part of a group of T’ruah Israel Fellows who help run the program for their peers.