[Boycott - Israel Supporters]
The Jewish National Fund (JNF)
Angus Geddes, Coordinator, Portsmouth Network for a Just Settlement of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
19 March 2008
The JNF was founded in 1901 as the principal Zionist agency for the colonization of Palestine. It bought Palestinian land and then settled Jewish immigrants on it. Its rules forbade selling or leasing any land it owned to non-Jews. If there were Palestinian tenants on the land the JNF encouraged the new Jewish owners to eject them. Hitherto the normal practice in Palestine had been for the new landlord to keep existing tenants to work the land.
The JNF participated in the village files project, a secret scheme to document details of each Arab village, including names of villagers hostile to the Jews and the British: many of them were summarily executed when the Jewish forces expelled the village inhabitants in 1948.
Yossef Weitz, the head of the settlement department of the JNF, wrote in his diary in the early 1940s “Is it not now the time to get rid of them? Why continue to keep in our midst those thorns at a time when they pose a danger to us?” and “Transfer does not serve only one aim - to reduce the Arab population - it also serves a second purpose by no means less important, which is: to evict land now cultivated by Arabs and to free it for Jewish settlement”, and went on “The only solution is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries. Not a single village or a single tribe must be let off.” Weitz became a member of the Consultancy, the inner circle responsible for planning and directing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. With his involvement in the village files, both as a contributor and a user, Weitz immersed himself in the practicalities of the ethnic cleansing process. He wrote that the takeover of Arab lands is a “sacred duty”.
It was a sacred duty that Israel carried out. By the time of the final ceasefire in 1949, nearly 80% of the Palestinians had been expelled from Israel, 531 villages had been destroyed and over three quarters of a million acres of Palestinian land confiscated. The Israeli government appointed a “Custodian of Absentee Property” for this land: it became state land, the property of the Jewish nation and so could not be sold to Arabs. The JNF bought over a quarter of a million acres of this land from the Custodian, including almost every destroyed village, together with all its houses and lands. It was the JNF that decided the fate of the destroyed villages - whether a new Jewish settlement would be built, the land allocated to a neighbouring kibbutz, or a forest established. In every case a major objective was to establish facts on the ground to pre-empt the return of the Palestinian owners whose land had been confiscated. This policy, plus laws against allocation of the land to non-Jews, not only prevented refugees expelled from Israel reclaiming their land, but also Palestinians displaced internally within Israel. The Palestinian Israelis, who made up 17% of the population of Israel after the expulsions, were confined to 3% of the land. Even after the establishment of the state of Israel dispossession of Palestinians’ land within Israel continued, particularly for building new Jewish settlements in Galilee, and the JNF was at the forefront of this campaign, getting military outposts erected at the entrances of villages to pressurise them into selling or exchanging their land. By 2003 the JNF had over half a million acres (2,555,000 dunams) in its possession.
The forests planted by the JNF wipe out all memory of the destroyed villages, and not only by their forest cover. Neither the information boards in the forest parks, nor the JNF’s website, give any clue to the fact that these were once the site of thriving Palestinian communities. Even in the rare cases where the names of destroyed villages are mentioned, these are presented as natural beauty spots with no indication of former human habitation or mention of who planted the apparently wild almond trees. We are rightly urged to remember the holocaust, but not, if the JNF has its way, the Nakba, the Palestinians’ catastrophe that followed it so swiftly.
The JNF’s influence and operations are not confined to Israel. After the 1967 war, the JNF was allocated land by the Custodian of Absentee Property in the Greater Jerusalem area. In the early 1980s it passed this land on to Elad, an Israeli NGO devoted to the “Judaization” of East Jerusalem. Elad has concentrated its activities on Silwan and stated openly that its aim is to cleanse the neighbourhood of its Palestinian inhabitants. The JNF has also established a subsidiary called Himnuta, 99% owned by JNF, to operate in the West Bank and acquire land for Jewish settlement. Establishing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice to be a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Thousands of acres have been acquired by Himnuta, much of it now on the Israeli side of the illegal “Wall” that the International Court regards as built to perpetuate a land grab. The JNF has also acquired plots of land in its own name around East Jerusalem and planted forests on them, ensuring that the land can not be used for settlement by Palestinians. It also operates through a subsidiary in the occupied Golan Heights captured from Syria in 1967.
The JNF ended up with 13% of Israel’s state lands, but it influence spreads much further through its decisive role in appointing half the directors of the Israel Land Authority (ILA) that was eventually given ownership of 80% of state lands, the latter comprising more than 90% of Israel’s land. Legislation and ILA policy combined to ensure that Palestinian Israelis could not buy or lease ILA land either.
The Jewish author Susan Nathan, in her 2005 book “The Other Side of Israel”, describes how the JNF currently operates. She describes it “as a kind of bullying overlord towards Israel’s Arab citizens, constantly seeking ways to confiscate private land on the flimsiest pretext and transfer it to its own or state ownership for the sole benefit of Jews”. She goes on to describe a friend’s predicament in some detail. First the JNF confiscated some of his land that had been in the family for generations, saying he had not been working it properly. Then they planted pine trees over the access road to his remaining land so that he could not get to it and tend his olive trees. He was in danger of losing this land too, charged with its neglect. Consulting lawyers, he found that if he moved fast and the pines were still saplings, he was entitled to destroy them and re-open his access road. A careful pass with a bulldozer and the JNF were thwarted. But they still refused to allow an electricity supply to his agricultural store.
In 2004 and 2005, in response to legal challenges by Israeli civil rights NGOs over discriminatory practices, the Israeli government and JNF agreed that any land the JNF had to sell or lease to non-Jews would be compensated by the transfer of a comparable amount of state land. In exchange for its municipal lands, the JNF would receive large areas of state land in the Negev and Galilee for establishing Jewish settlements. Will non-Jews in fact be able to buy or lease JNF land? Susan Nathan describes how, in the case of the ILA, non-Jews can now in theory buy ILA land, but in practice they first need to sign contracts with other agencies that can discriminate against them. Moreover, the recent court rulings against discrimination may be nullified. In 2007 a draft Israeli law restricting the sale of JNF land to non-Jews passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset and in the Israeli High Court JNF is arguing for the right to continue discrimination against non-Jews.
Since 1999, JNF in Israel, known there by its Hebrew acronym KKL (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael), has been in dispute with JNF UK. In 1996 JNF UK sent nearly £3.7m to KKL. By 2004, this had dwindled to £440,000 out of £12m raised. JNF UK used the rest for non KKL projects, reducing its transfers to KKL because it was afraid that KKL’s discriminatory policies would jeopardize its UK charitable status. By January 2008 the dispute had been resolved, bar a few details, with the appointment of Samuel Hayek, the Chairman of KKL Charitable Trust, set up by KKL as a rival to JNF UK, to be Chair of both JNF UK and KKL Charitable Trust. Samuel Hayek is quoted as saying “I am looking forward to working with ---- the new Board to drive the organisation to new heights, with JNF UK re-engaged with the KKL agenda and dedicated to promoting the key objectives of JNF UK and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael - supporting Israel for life” (my italics). According to KKL – JNF, both KKL Charitable Trust and JNF UK will continue to raise money for KKL projects in Israel.
It has been reported in the Jewish Chronicle (1-2-08) that Prince Philip will be hosting a special fundraising dinner for JNF and other Jewish organisations at Windsor Castle on 7 April this year (2008) to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. There will be 300 guests and the organisers would like President Shimon Peres, President of Israel, to be guest of honour. In view of the foregoing I suggest that the JNF is not an organisation that should be honoured in this way, and that to do so would bring Prince Philip and the royal family into disrepute. Gordon Brown and David Cameron should also reconsider their positions as patrons of the JNF UK lest they bring themselves and their parties into disrepute too.
Angus Geddes, 19 March 2008
Coordinator, Portsmouth Network for a Just Settlement of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
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