Why the JNF?
- The Zionist project is a settler colonial one, and ethnic cleansing is a key element of that process.
- As early as 1884, Prof Herman Shapira proposed establishing a “body that would redeem the land of Israel from foreigners in order to turn it into a national acquisition that would not be for sale but would rather be for leasehold only.” Thus, from its inception, Zionism focused on racial exclusivity and the de-Arabisation of Palestine: a key agent of this expulsionist dream was – and is – the JNF.
- JNF was involved from its foundation in 1901, in the transfer of land from the Palestinians to Jewish immigrants. Land purchase was the JNF’s initial strategy both before and during the British Mandate period. The JNF began to build its land holdings with little interference from the British authority, whose support was conditioned by the dictates of the Balfour Declaration. Much of the land the JNF bought came from large absentee landlords, but this proved to be too slow a process, inadequate for Zionist ambitions. In fact, only around 7 per cent of Palestine’s agricultural land had passed into Jewish ownership by 1948. Most of the land that the JNF ultimately acquired after the Naqba was land that Zionist militias, and later the IDF, seized forcibly by expelling, and preventing the return of, its Palestinian owners.
- The Zionist settler colonial process, in which the JNF plays a key role, is continuous and happening today; however, within that relentless process there are historic landmark dates, such as 1948 and 1967.
- We should note that long before these historic dates, the JNF leader, Yosef Weitz, had identified “transfer” as the mechanism to acquire Palestinian land as rapidly as possible. As early as 1940, he spelled out why the JNF was collecting money internationally: “There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, to transfer all of them… not one village must be left… for this goal funds will be found.”
- Weitz’ position, that Palestinians must be expelled, reflects his awareness of the failure of the JNF to achieve its goal through land purchase before and during the British Mandate period. As Meron Benvenisti said, Weitz was “the originator and indefatigable champion of state seizure of Arab land.”
1948: The Nakba
The ethnic cleansing of the Nakba began as soon as the UN partition plan was announced in November 1947. The Zionist problem was that 45% of the population in the putative state of Israel, envisaged in the UN plan, was Arab and this did not fit with their concept of Jewish exclusivity.
- The JNF played a role in developing Zionist ideological thinking in the direction of employing the strategy later called ethnic cleansing. Weitz joined Ben Gurion’s Consultancy, the elite inner circle, but he and his JNF colleague, Nachmani, expressed frustration at the leadership’s approach. “This is not enough,” he complained. Believing the Consultancy lacked direction, Weitz encouraged transfer as “the cornerstone of Zionist policy”.
- The JNF also contributed to ethnic cleansing in militarily practical as well as ideological ways. The Village Files were the essential handbooks for ethnic cleansing. Yigael Yadin, Israel’s second Chief of Staff, said that the Files enabled the Jewish militias to sweep through the Palestinian landscape. They also enabled the murderous targeting of villagers whose crime was not to embrace the Zionist project: these people were named within an index of hostility.
- Salman Abu Sitta recounts how the JNF initially pressured the army to drive the inhabitants out of villages and to ensure that buildings were destroyed to prevent people returning home. Later this strategy evolved into planting trees, forests and making “parks” on Palestinian land, to make the Right of Return, enshrined in UN Resolution 194, impossible.
- 1948 established the JNF modus operandi: press the state to adhere rigorously to the principle of Jewish exclusivity, especially in the question of land; tidy up after ethnic cleansing episodes by absorbing stolen land and converting its use to forests, parks and reservoirs to prevent the right of return and project a misleadingly green image to the world, cloaking war crimes behind a veil of ecological credentials.
1967: The Naksa
More of the same ethnic cleansing occurred in 1967 after the Six Day war. But by now the JNF had acquired a special position, a parastatal body within Israel, and its role shifted, whilst retaining its essential Zionist core and purposes: to exclude Palestinians, to fund/facilitate ethnic cleansing and to project a positive image to the world.
- Canada Park achieves all three aims in one. In 1967, over 5,000 Palestinians were expelled from the 3 villages in the area of the Latrun salient, as it was labelled in 1948. The Jewish militias had failed to conquer it originally and there is a suggestion that the razing of the villages in 1967 was an act of revenge. Canada Park was built over the three villages, Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nuba. The Park was funded by Canadian taxpayers, their nation thereby drawn into complicity with the JNF in covering up ethnic cleansing with a park. The park contains historic ruins, misdescribed by the JNF, to conceal truth in a process dubbed “memoricide” by Ilan Pappe.
- Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nuba are not recognised in any JNF signage and, very significantly, the JNF does not alert visitors to the fact that the park is a double crime scene: a park built on an ethnically cleansed foundation and an Israeli park built outside the Green Line of the state’s recognised borders.
- Uri Davis, an Israeli scholar and human rights activist says, “Canada Park is a crime against humanity that has been financed by and implicates not only the Canadian government but every taxpayer in Canada.”
- Canada Park is not unique: Zochrot tells us that JNF parks cover 86 ethnically cleansed villages, each park concealing crimes, each park implicating the named sponsor, willy-nilly, in that crime.
JNF and ongoing ethnic cleansing today
Today, the JNF UK is explicit in its commitment to “developing” the Naqab/Negev and the Galilee. It is coyly cautious, officially at any rate, about its role in the Judaization of East Jerusalem, which is illegally annexed territory. The JNF leaves that shady work to its subsidiary, Himanuta.
In the Naqab, Bedouin citizens of Israel are being removed from their villages, often unrecognised villages deprived of the services to which their taxes entitle them. Thus, Hiran replaces Umm al Hiran; the Ambassadors Forest cloaks land near Al Araqib and that village has been demolished 170+ times. It has become an emblem internationally of Palestinian resilience.
- As part of the state plan to “develop” the Naqab into a centre for high tech industry and the military, Jewish citizens are moving into new towns, replacing the Bedouin. The Admissions Committee Law means that residents of these towns are vetted for their social suitability, a euphemism for racial discrimination.
- The JNF’s role here is more subtle than in 1948: it acts to support the growth of such apartheid developments in the Naqab, funding projects to enhance Jewish towns, planting more trees, throwing the odd developmental crumb to the Bedouin. Meanwhile, the JNF’s publicity tells another story. JNF UK website claims that the Naqab is not a politically complicated region and work there does not involve matters of political controversy!
In the Galilee, similar work is afoot, as is well illustrated by the development of the Gazit reservoir. Built over the ethnically cleansed ruins of al Tira, the Kibbutz Gazit is serviced by a reservoir built with Scottish KKL donations. The JNF was actively implicated in the original crime of 1948 and today supports a water project which will serve the Jewish, not Palestinian residents of the area.
East Jerusalem could prove to be an Achilles heel for the JNF. In 2020, an international coalition in support of the Sumarin family threw a spotlight on the partnership between Elad, the radical settler movement, and Himanuta, JNF’s shadowy subsidiary. This group carries out “discreet” operations outside the Green Line in violation of international law. In addition, the secretive role of wealthy donors, like Roman Abramovich, in funding East Jerusalem “development”, effectively facilitating the removal of Palestinians from the city, hit the mainstream news, revealing the massive channelling of wealth from Zionists abroad to the Judaization project.
Himanuta is not mentioned on JNF/KKL websites, but it is 99% owned by the organisation and shares its headquarter offices in Jerusalem. Himanuta exploits Israel’s web of discriminatory legislation, in particular the Legal and Administrative Law of 1970, to claim ownership of Palestinian homes and then seek evictions. The Palestinian families often have no knowledge of the process until the deed is done; challenging through the court is both expensive and very difficult.
Thus, in garb that shifts with the times, the JNF’s ethnic cleansing mission has remained intact from its inception in19th century to today.