The following article appeared first in the Electronic Intifada, July 20th 2020
The Bedouin village of al-Araqib has been repeatedly destroyed to make way for a Jewish National Fund forest.
Image courtesy of Oren Ziv ActiveStills
The Jewish National Fund promotes itself as the “oldest green organization in the world.” By running social and environmental projects, the JNF has diverted attention away from how it has played a central role in the Zionist colonization of Palestine and, by extension, the dispossession of Palestinians.
Almost 120 years after its inception, the JNF remains firmly committed to Zionism, the ideology underpinning Israel’s apartheid system.
And a trawl through JNF documentation reveals that it enables Israeli violence on a massive scale.
Unnoticed by the Western media, the organization – headquartered in Jerusalem – is hoping to implement an ambitious blueprint known as “Israel 2040.” It aims to settle 1.5 million Israelis in the Negev and Galilee regions over the coming two decades.
The stated reason behind that objective is a desire to make Israel “a more stable and demographically, economically and socially balanced country.”
Judging by the JNF’s activities until now that language appears to be code for subjugating Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are often called a “demographic threat” by Zionists.
The JNF has sought to displace Palestinians so that many parts of their historic homeland are reserved exclusively for Jews. Palestinian Bedouins living in al-Araqib, a village in the Negev, have seen their homes destroyed repeatedly by the Israeli authorities on the pretext of developing a JNF forest.
Capital of weapons industry
The Israel 2040 plan is to be implemented in conjunction with the Israeli military, which is reportedly moving the bases of its “technological units” into southern Israel.
Under the plan, the Negev would become the “capital” of Israel’s weapons industry, Daniel Atar, the JNF’s chair, has said.
Unit 8200 – comprised of people aged between 18 and 21 – is the best known division in the Israeli military dedicated to technological innovation. Atar stated in May that the JNF has been engaged in “educational collaboration” with Unit 8200 graduates for the past three years.
Atar has depicted the “collaboration” as benign.
Part of it has involved setting up technology-focused youth centers in peripheral regions. Fostering innovation is “the true realization of Zionism today,” Atar said in 2017.
Yet the work of Unit 8200 is far from benign.
In 2014, a group of Unit 8200 veterans issued a letter stating their refusal to join operations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The letter revealed that Unit 8200 personnel had been instructed to retain any damaging details of Palestinians’ lives that they came across.
That included information on sexual orientation, financial problems or family illnesses that could be “used to extort/blackmail the person and turn them into a collaborator.”
Unit 8200 graduates have gone on to establish numerous cyber warfare firms, the most notorious of which is NSO Group. That firm’s software has been used to spy on the mobile phone communications of journalists and activists around the world.
Based in London, the JNF UK poses as independent of the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem.
While it may enjoy operational autonomy, the JNF UK nonetheless supports many Jewish National Fund projects. Among them are the construction of an after-school center for teenagers in Kiryat Malachi, a town in the Negev.
This center has been described as a “house for excellence” by the JNF. Activities in the “houses for excellence” network are being developed in cooperation with Unit 8200 graduates.
The JNF UK’s website says that it supports Zionism as a “philanthropic activity.”
It appears to have a curious understanding of the term “philanthropic.” Accounts for the JNF UK show that it provides financial backing to recruitment drives for Israel’s army – the army which imposes a brutal occupation on Gaza and the West Bank.
Among the beneficiaries of JNF UK funds is Ein Prat, a group which arranges training courses for North Americans who join the Israeli military.
Ein Prat has boasted of how “over 35 percent of our graduates” gain officer positions in Israel’s army.
Derech Eretz is another group that has received funding from JNF UK. According to the group’s website, it runs programs for young Israelis “from the lower strata of society” so that they can be better integrated into the military.
JNF UK has also given money to Otzem, a school that provides training to boys before they enter Israel’s army.
Otzem was originally formed by Israeli settlers in Gaza during the 1990s. It moved to the Negev after Israel’s government withdrew the settlers from Gaza, while keeping it under military occupation, in 2005.
The school’s founder Rafi Peretz went on to become the chief rabbi in the Israeli army. Today, he heads the far-right Jewish Home party and holds the Jerusalem affairs portfolio in the Israeli government.
Otzem’s ethos is encapsulated in one of its brochures. Above a photograph of young men clutching machine guns, the brochure promises a “uniquely Israeli experience.”
Violence is indeed an integral part of the “Israeli experience.” That, however, is not a message you are likely to find in the JNF UK’s publications.
The funding which the JNF UK offers to projects aimed at benefiting the Israeli army makes its status scandalous. It is a charity which supports war crimes.
Greg Dropkin is a researcher based in the English city of Liverpool.
David Sheen contributed translation.