The role of the JNF in the establishment of the state of Israel and in its conduct after that is something that is neither well known nor understood. We are more used to thinking that the Government of the State of Israel is responsible, quite straightforwardly, for most of the injustices that Palestinians suffer. In many instances this is true, but in some it is not. The KKL/JNF has performed a role for the state apparatus that we don’t really have an equivalent for in the UK.*
It has been called a “parastatal” body, obviously not an official governmental department in itself but with some of the powers and, crucially, none of the international responsibilities of a state. So, when the UN passed resolution 194 in 1948, giving the Palestinian refugees the right of return to their lands after they had been chased out by the Jewish militias, the KKL was an extremely useful receptacle for those lands – ostensibly a private body, not part of the state apparatus and, therefore, not responsible for carrying out its international duties. And since the KKL was committed only to furthering the interests of the Jewish population with regard to owning and leasing land, Palestinians could not possibly be allowed to return to such land – even the ones living within the 1948 borders, a few miles away from their homes and farms.
Many Zionists in 1948 assumed that with the foundation of the state of Israel there was no longer a need for the Jewish National Fund. Indeed, it was seen as a potential source of conflict for the government of the fledgling state, too powerful to ignore and a source of a rival authority to the government itself. Ironically, it was “saved” by the United Nations Resolution cited above, which enabled the Israeli state to sidestep the resolution without appearing, as a member state, to be doing so. It did this by “selling” the land to a new owner – the Jewish National Fund, but as Shlomo Sand wrote: “…when will the Jewish National Fund… return the 130,000 hectares of “absentee” lands that were sold to it by the state for a symbolic amount…?” (The Invention of the Jewish People. P312.)
Just how the JNF operates is not obvious to people living in a state that is not involved in “…ceding state sovereignty…and entered into Covenants vesting its (the state’s) responsibilities with organizations such as …the Jewish National Fund which are constitutionally committed to serving and promoting the interests of Jews and Jews alone.” (Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel. P48)
*It could be argued that the extensive privatisation that many states, including the UK, have carried out in the last 40 years has attempted to provide just such a mechanism for denying state responsibility for myriad services and facilities by establishing buffer organisations that can be held responsible without being held to be properly accountable.