The JNF as a Pillar of Israeli Apartheid (1948-1967)

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Recommended video resources on the Nakba.

  1. Al Jazeera 6-minute overview of the Nakba
  1. Al Jazeera al Nakba: 4-part series: Powerful and well documented series. Even if you already know a lot about the Nakba, this is well worth viewing, especially on Britain’s part in the Nakba.

“The Nakba did not begin in 1948. Its origins lie over two centuries ago….”

So begins this four-part series on the ‘nakba’, meaning the ‘catastrophe’, about the history of the Palestinian exodus that led to the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and the establishment of the state of Israel.

This sweeping history starts back in 1799 with Napoleon’s attempted advance into Palestine to check British expansion and his appeal to the Jews of the world to reclaim their land in league with France.

The narrative moves through the 19th century and into the 20th century with the British Mandate in Palestine and comes right up to date in the 21st century and the ongoing ‘nakba’ on the ground.

Arab, Israeli and Western intellectuals, historians and eyewitnesses provide the central narrative which is accompanied by archive material and documents, many only recently released for the first time.

Editor’s note: Since first running on Al Jazeera Arabic in 2008, this series has won Arab and international awards and has been well received at festivals throughout the world.

  1. A 3-minute overview of the legislation used to seize Palestinian land Israel’s Absentees’ Property Law

“Financing Racism and Apartheid: Jewish National Fund’s Violation of International and Domestic Law.”  Salman Abu Sitta, 2005.

This article is a key location for addressing many issues, in particular the JNF’s complicity in violations of international law. The JNF claims that: All KKL-JNF land was paid for in full with money contributed by Jews all over the world…These were regular property deals in every way, on the strength of which full and complete ownership of this land passed into the hands of KKL-JNF.”

However, Salman Abu Sitta’s detailed article challenges this assertion. It illustrates the central fact that “Under international law, ethnic cleansing, destruction of property and depopulation of villages are war crimes. JNF has participated in these war crimes. All such actions are punishable. Remedy/restitution must be made, as was the case in many cases during the Second World War and in the Bosnia, Kosova War. JNF actions must be viewed in this context. As war crimes have no statute of limitations, JNF responsibility is still standing.”

The Nuremberg Charter defines war crimes as:

“Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labour or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity”.

 The role of the JNF in Israeli Land and Planning Law

As early as 1948, Agriculture Minister Tsizling had said that it was “important in the international arena and before the world community that what is happening here appears legal”, implicitly recognising the illegality of Israel’s actions in the Nakba. To this end, a raft of legal structures was devised to further seize, retain, expropriate, reallocate, and reclassify the Arab lands, in an attempt to normalise the situation and divert international opprobrium.

The Historical Context of the Israeli Land and Planning Law Regime by Gerry Liston of Badil describes this process. It also reveals the influential role of the JNF in those state bodies which today regulate the use of land (Israel Lands Administration and Israel Lands Council).

The article brings the matter up to date and concludes that “Recent developments in the Israeli land law regime amount to a continuation of the confiscation of Palestinian land, the ‘Judaization’ of that land, and the resulting containment and concentration of the Palestinian population in Israel as described above.”

These policies are in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under International Human Rights Law. They are also contrary to the Apartheid Convention which prohibits measures “designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups” as well as “the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups.”

Yosef Weitz 1890-1970

Yosef Weitz was a Polish Jew who settled in Palestine in 1908. Between 1932 and 1948, Weitz was the powerful director of the Jewish National Fund’s Land Settlement Department. and he also was the prime mover behind the first and second Transfer Committees (1937-48).The UN proposed a partition plan for Palestine, and the coming hostilities, provided Weitz the opportunity to set in motion long-nurtured plans of “transferring” the Palestinian people out of their homes, farms, and businesses, a plan which was essentially the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

His diary (contained in five volumes located in the Zionist Archives in Jerusalem was started from 1932 and continued until his death in 1970) is replete with injunctions not to “miss the opportunities” offered by the 1948 war. The diary documents a great deal of incriminating statements and evidence of many war crimes, looting  and atrocities perpetrated by the “Jewish state’s” army. 

Weitz was described by Meron Benvenisti (writer and former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem after 1967) as “the indefatigable champion of state seizure of Arab land.” However, it is important to note that although Weitz operationalised or exemplified the Zionist colonisation drive, he was not its sole originator. The Zionist colonial drive had two prongs: one was the ‘conquest of land’ (to which the JNF dedicated itself) and the other was ‘the conquest of labour’, which essentially meant using the kibbutzim and the Histadrut to push Palestinians out of the labour market. 

Weitz is also useful for illustrating the underpinning racist ideology of the JNF, amply illustrated in quotations from his diaries.

Weitz and the Village Files

Under the guidance of Yosek Weitz, the Village Files were complied. These are carefully constructed surveys and records of Palestinian villages: topographcal detail, roads, quality of the land, water sources, names of leading figures, political affiliation etc. Special reconnaisance units were recruited to draw up the Files, many entering the Palestinian  villages in person, taking advantage of the traditional hospitality they encountered there.

The Village Files took many years to construct but were nearly complete by the 1930’s. The Village Files were of great strategic importance to the Jewish militias during the Nakba. Not only did they offer invaluable information which informed the attacks on villages, for instance identifying routes in and out, but they contained names of Palestinians in the national movement, who were later identified and executed during the process of ethnic cleansing.

Case study: the al Ajarma family of Ajjur.

The al Ajarma family was forcibly displaced from Ajjur in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and has lived ever since in Aida Refugee Camp. After the Nakba, their land, and the lands of their neighbours, were taken over by the JNF and converted into British Park.

In 2018, an application was made to the Charity Commission seeking the deregistration of the JNF UK and highlighting, among other matters, the case of this family. Documents proving their ownership of land in Ajjur, now lying under British Park, formed part of the submission.

The Charity Commission’s barrister made this admission in his argument to the court:

It may be that Ms Al Ajarma and her family have legal rights that have been breached by the actions of the Jewish National Fund, but in no way have their rights been breached by the Commission’s Decision.” (i.e. the “decision” = not to remove the JNF from the register of UK charities)

Despite this admission that a family’s legal rights may have been breached by the JNF, the Judge presiding over the First Tier Tribunal (Charity) ruled that Kholoud al Ajarma had no legal “standing” (or right) to mount an appeal against the Charity Commission’s refusal to take the case further.

More information about British Park:

Uri Davis discusses the history of The British Park  in one of the Stop the JNF eBooks.  (Page 21ff). Among other matters, his article spells out the “legal rights” which the JNF has infringed.

“The relevant articles of international law include the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (10) and Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (11), specifically article 4:

  1. Special measures shall be adopted as appropriate for safeguarding the persons, institutions, property, labour, cultures and environment of the peoples concerned.
  2. Such special measures shall not be contrary to the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.
  3. Enjoyment of the general rights of citizenship, without discrimination, shall not be prejudiced in any way by such special measures.

In addition, the British Park veils other, no less pernicious, violations of international law, namely, depositions of illegally stockpiled nuclear weapons (in “the hideaway systems of subterranean caverns and halls”) in the locality of Zakariyya.”