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Pro-Israel protesters holding an Israeli flag and pro-Palestinian protesters, who self-identify as Orthodox Jews, argue at Times Square in New York
Pro-Israel protesters (R), holding an Israeli flag, and pro-Palestinian protesters (L), who identified themselves as Orthodox Jews, argue at Times Square in New York July 20, 2014.  Eduardo Munoz—Reuters

Birthright Youth Trips Continue As Israel-Gaza Conflict Rages On

Jul 22, 2014

Updated 6:08 p.m. ET July 22,2014

As airlines around the world are canceling flights to Israel in light of a rocket attack near the country's main international airport, the Birthright Israel program is carrying on with its mission of sending Jewish youth on free ten-day trips to the country.

Still, nearly a third of people scheduled to join upcoming trips have cancelled their plans since the conflict in Gaza has escalated, according to the organization. Some 2,600 people are currently in Israel on Birthright trips, according to the group, and more than 22,000 have participated over the course of the summer. Only 10 participants have returned early during the past few weeks, though some who recently came back from trips say they would have been unlikely to go given the current environment.

"There would be no way I would want to go on a trip now," says Heather Paley, who returned to the U.S. from a Birthright trip just as the conflict began to intensify. "It’s a really small country, and I realized when they mentioned places that were being attacked, I was at those places."

More than 600 people have died in the fighting as of Tuesday, Reuters reports, the vast majority of them Palestinian. One of the Israeli soldiers killed in the conflict was Max Steinberg, a Los Angeles native who enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces after visiting the country on a Birthright trip.

A Birthright spokesperson, Pamela Fertel Weinstein, says the organization is monitoring the situation in coordination with the Israel Ministry of Education, the Israeli Defense Forces, and other law enforcement organizations. She says that Birthright has maintained a strong safety record as conflicts involving Israel have ebbed and flowed, which she attributed to being "cautious and conservative."

For all travelers in Israel, including Birthright participants, the cancellations of flights to by American and European carriers may hinder their ability to leave the country. On July 22, the Federal Aviation Administration banned U.S. airlines from flying to Israel for a 24-hour period, and the order could be extended. Several European carriers have cancelled their flights as well. Nonetheless, Weinstein says that the program works with a variety of airlines and hotels to ensure that nobody is left without assistance and lodging in the event of cancellations or delays.

Other tourists are left up to their own devices. Julia May, who cut short a three-week educational program to Israel this month after seeing rockets from the beach, says she was torn between the opposing perspectives of her American friends who thought she was "crazy" to stay in the country and the positive mindset in Israel.

"Even when you’re just a visitor you get this mentality 'yeah, I can stay through this,'" she says. "But even if you feel safe, you know you’re still in a war zone."

Israel's Ground Invasion of Gaza Continues

A Palestinian Christian man from Gaza tries to push the coffin of Jalila Ayad in her grave during her funeral on the small and overcrowded cemetery of the St. Porfirius church in Gaza City, July 27, 2014.
A Palestinian Christian man from Gaza tries to push the coffin of Jalila Ayad in her grave during her funeral on the small and overcrowded cemetery of the St. Porfirius church in Gaza City, July 27, 2014.Oliver Weiken—EPA
A Palestinian Christian man from Gaza tries to push the coffin of Jalila Ayad in her grave during her funeral on the small and overcrowded cemetery of the St. Porfirius church in Gaza City, July 27, 2014.
Palestinian men gather things they found in the rubble of destroyed buildings on July 27, 2014 in the Shejaiya residential district of Gaza City as families returned to find their homes ground into rubble by relentless Israeli tank fire and air strikes.
PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
A Palestinian man walks past destroyed houses in Beit Hanoun northern Gaza Strip, July 26 2014.
Palestinian women react amid the destruction in the northern district of Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip during an humanitarian truce on July 26, 2014.
Destruction in Gaza City
Palestinian girls peers from inside a UN school in Jabalia, north Gaza Strip, on July 25, 2014, where they found shelter after escaping from their home.
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over the Gaza Strip, July 25, 2014.
Israeli APCs drive near the Israeli border with Gaza as the come out of the Gaza Strip July 25, 2014.
Mortar cases are piled at a military staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip, July 24, 2014.
A Palestinian man holds a girl injured during shelling at a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014.
Blood stains of displaced Palestinians are seen inside the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun after it has been hit, Gaza Strip, July 24, 2014.
A Palestinian woman stands in front of buildings damaged by Israeli bombardment in the Jabalia district of the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014.
Relatives hold the bodies of Palestinian children Hadi Abdel Nabi, 3, and one and a-half-year-old Abdel Rahman Abdel Nabi, at the cemetery in Jebaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, during their funeral, July 24, 2014.
A young Palestinian girl who got injured when a UN school for refugees was allegedly hit by a Israeli tank shells, lies on a hospital bed in the emergency room of Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, July 24, 2014.
Displaced Palestinians from Beit Hanoun sleep inside the UNRWA school in Jabalia, July 23, 2014.
Wounded Israeli soldiers are brought to a helicopter on July 23, 2014 near Kafar Aza, Israel.
Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border
Comrades of slain Sgt. Max Steinberg are comforting each other at Mt. Herzl cemetery, Jerusalem, July 23,2014.
Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border
Palestinians take cover as warning Israeli air strikes are fired at a nearby building in Gaza City, July 22, 2014.
Women grieve during the funeral of Islamic Brigades fighter Abdalla Ismail al Buheisi, in Deir Al Balah, on the Gaza Strip.
Gaza Strip, Gaza Street: A Palestinian man looks through the window of his house at the buildings damaged  overnight by an airstrike in Gaza City.. ALESSIO ROMENZI for TIME
A mosque destroyed overnight in attacks in Rafah, Gaza.
The mother of Israeli soldier Tal Yifrah mourns over his flag-covered coffin during his funeral in Rishon Lezion near Tel Aviv, July 22, 2014.
Israeli soldiers evacuate their wounded comrades at an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, on July 20, 2014.
Israeli soldiers stand near their tank while smoke due to airstrikes and shelling rises from Gaza on July 22, 2014 near Sderot, Israel.
Conflict in Gaza
Palestinian men bury the bodies of a family who was killed after airstrike in Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian refugees unload mattresses at a United Nations shelter in Rafah, Gaza Strip, July 19, 2014.
Palestinian refugees unload mattresses at a United Nations shelter in Rafah, Gaza Strip, July 19, 2014.
Palestinians flee the Shujayeh neighborhood during heavy shelling in Gaza City. July 20, 2014.
Palestinian woman gestures as she stands amidst the rubble of her house which police said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
A damaged house in Shujaya district in Gaza, seen during a humanitarian cease-fire, July 20, 2014.
Palestinian man holds the hand of a woman, who medics said was wounded in an Israeli air strike, in the northern Gaza Strip
Relatives of three Palestinians from Abu Muamar family, who medics said were killed in an Israeli air strike, mourn during their funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
Palestinians flee east Gaza neighbourhood
Palestinians carry a body inside the Shifa Hospital morgue, in Gaza City. July 20, 2014.
Casualties mount in Gaza City, Israel expands ground operation
A Palestinian woman wearing clothes stained with the blood of other relatives, who medics said were wounded in Israeli shelling, cries at a hospital in Gaza City
Palestinians, who medics said were wounded during heavy Israeli shelling, sit at a hospital in Gaza City
Rescue workers enter Shuja'iyya to retrieve dead and wounded
A Palestinian girl sits in a minibus after fleeing her family's house during heavy Israeli shelling, in Gaza City
Palestinian woman, who fled her house following an Israeli ground offensive, stays at a United Nations-run school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
Israeli soldiers fire their weapons during the funeral of their comrade Bnaya Rubel in Holon
Funeral of Israeli soldier Amotz Greenberg
Smoke rises during what witnesses said were heavy Israeli shelling at the Shejaia neighbourhood in Gaza City
A Palestinian family who fled their homes is en route to seek shelter in a UN school in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014.
PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-UNREST-GAZA
Death toll rises in Gaza
Israeli tanks maneuver outside the Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014.
Israeli soldiers put on their gear on the side of a road across from the Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014.
Israeli soldiers rest inside an armoured personnel carrier outside central Gaza Strip
APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
Multiple rocket launches from a site inside the Gaza Strip firing towards Israel as seen from a lookout point in southern Israel on July 17, 2014.
A Palestinian salvages rubble of their destroyed homes after their apartment building was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on July 18, 2014.
Gaza War 2014 - Funeral
Palestinian mourners gather around the bodies of three siblings of the Abu Musallam family, during their funeral in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014.
Mideast Israel Palestinians Photo Gallery
Netream Netzleam holds the body of her daughter Razel, 1, who died in an Israeli air strike on Thursday afternoon, at her funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014.
Israeli troops move into Gaza
A Palestinian Christian man from Gaza tries to push the coffin of Jalila Ayad in her grave during her funeral on the sma
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Oliver Weiken—EPA
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