The activities of the KKL-JNF in the Amnesty Spotlight. February 2022

In the Amnesty International ReportIsrael’s Apartheid Against Palestinians”, published on 1st February 2022, the KKL-JNF – the Jewish National Fund as we know it – is mentioned on many occasions. At other times the report uses expressions like “Jewish national organisations” or “semi-governmental land institutions” of which the KKL-JNF is the major element.

Below are the parts of the report, quoted verbatim, that refer to it and to the operations it is directly involved in.

  1. The land regime established soon after Israel’s creation, which was never dismantled, remains a crucial aspect of the system of oppression and domination against Palestinians. It consisted of legislation, reinterpretation of existing British and Ottoman laws, governmental and semi-governmental land institutions, and a supportive judiciary that enabled the acquisition of Palestinian land and its discriminatory reallocation across all territories under its control.
  2. Between 1948 and the early 1950s, Israel instituted a series of emergency regulations and laws to seize the land and property belonging to the Palestinian population and to formally transfer the ownership of this land to the State of Israel, and from the state to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL), municipal councils, Jewish localities and Jewish individuals and companies. Three main pieces of legislation made up the core of the Israeli land regime and played a major role in this process: 1) the Absentees’ Property Law (Transfer of Property Law) of 1950; 2) the Land Acquisition Law of 1953; and 3) the British Land (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance of 1943. The laws and their subsequent amendments, which remain in force, were instrumental in expropriating and acquiring Palestinian land and property, leading over the years to their exclusive ownership by the Israeli state and Jewish national institutions.
  3. Since East Jerusalem’s annexation in 1967, the entire Israeli land regime has been utilized in East Jerusalem for the expropriation of Palestinian land and its conversion mainly to state land. Israeli authorities have also enacted additional legal tools that affect Palestinian land and housing rights in East Jerusalem.
  4. In parallel, the Israeli government enabled Jewish localities and settlements to use the expropriated lands. In Israel and East Jerusalem, it transferred from the state to Jewish national organizations and institutions, many of which serve Jews only, while the legal title of the land remained in the state’s name. In the rest of the OPT, the Israeli government adopted policies that allowed the allocation of state land almost exclusively to Israeli state institutions and organizations, state and private companies, for the benefit of Jewish Israeli citizens only.                                                                                                                                                                      
  1. Jewish national bodies generally do not lease land to non-Jews and do not accept them in the housing projects and/or communities they establish on state lands that have been developed specifically for new Jewish immigrants. About 13% of state land in Israel, or over 2.5 million dunams, is owned and administered solely through the Jewish National Fund for exclusive use by Jews.
  2. The Negev/Naqab is a prime example of how Israel’s discriminatory planning and building policies aredesigned to maximize land and resources for Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinian land and housing Instead of zoning Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Negev/Naqab as residential areas, since the1970s, the Israeli authorities have zoned the villages and the lands around them for military, industrial or public use. Over the years, Israel has recognized 11 of these villages but 35 remain “unrecognized” with residents considered to engage in “illegal squatting” and unable to apply for a building permit to legalize their established or new homes as the lands are not designated as residential. The buildings of whole communities have been repeatedly demolished as a result. By contrast, Israeli courts have retroactively approved Jewish communities built without outline plans and building permits in the same area. The lack of official status also means that the Israeli authorities do not provide these villages any essential infrastructure or services such as healthcare or education, and residents have no representation in the different local
    governmental bodies as they cannot register for or participate in municipal elections.
  3. Israel’s control of water resources and water-related infrastructure in the OPT results in striking inequalities between Palestinians and Jewish settlers. The Israeli authorities restrict Palestinians’ access to water in the West Bank through military orders, which prevent them from building any new water installation without first obtaining a permit from the Israeli army. They are unable to drill new wells, install pumps or deepen existing wells, and are denied access to the Jordan River and freshwater springs. Israel even controls the collection
    of rainwater in most of the West Bank, and the Israeli army often destroys rainwater-harvesting cisterns owned by Palestinian communities. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, the coastal aquifer has been depleted by Israeli over-extraction and contaminated by sewage and seawater infiltration, resulting in more than 95% of its water being unfit for human consumption.
  4. Another major transfer of Palestinian refugees’ land was from the Israeli government to the JNF/KKL, known as the “two million deal”. The first million dunams (more precisely 1,109,769 dunams) were transferred in January 1949, a month after the passage of UN Resolution 194 on the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The second million dunams (more precisely 1,271,734 dunams) were transferred in October 1950. The JNF/KKL worked with the Israeli government to make these lands available for Jewish settlement and forestation. Thus, the land of the Palestinian “absentees” was transferred to various Jewish institutions, governmental bodies and municipal councils, and then leased to individual Jewish Israelis who either lived in the houses or apartments of Palestinians or leased the land for industrial or agricultural purposes. By 1950, the JNF/KKL owned 2.1 million dunams and the state claimed ownership of 16.7 million dunams of land.
  5. From the late 1950s, Israel used the ordinance to expropriate massive areas of privately owned Palestinian land and transfer it for the building and development of Jewish cities, towns and settlements by allocating it to the JNF/KKL.
  6. As pointed out in 1957 by Yosef Weitz, a pivotal JNF/KKL official who became the first director of the Israel Land Administration: “The aim of work until now has been to secure state ownership of its lands. The aim now is Yihud ha-Galil [Judaization of the Galilee] …
  7. As a result, individuals living in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) who wished to register previously unregistered land had to do it privately under a procedure known as “first registration”. However, the large amount of evidence required to prove both possession and continuous cultivation of land, the high costs involved and the length of the procedure meant that it was inaccessible for most Palestinians. The procedure therefore mostly benefited Israeli settlers and companies who wanted to register the ownership of land that they had bought, or claimed to have bought, in the West Bank. Amongst such companies are subsidiaries of the JNF/KKL whose presence and activities were facilitated through Israeli military orders and amendments to Jordanian laws.
  8. The Israel Land Authority, a state body that succeeded the Israel Land Administration in 2009, administers state land in Israel and its Council determines how the land is managed and allocated. The Council is made up of 14 members including the minister of housing as chair, seven representatives of government ministries and six representatives of the JNF/ KKL, making it a national institution that explicitly privileges Jews.
  9. In 1901, the WZO established the JNF/KKL specifically to acquire land in Palestine for “the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties.”
  10. Before 1948, the JNF/KKL acquired a little over 800,000 dunams in Palestine. Following the establishment of Israel, the JNF/KKL continued to act as a custodian and trustee of “Jewish national land”. The JNF/KKL also played a crucial role as a company registered in Israel that performed certain state functions on the basis of the Jewish National Fund Law of 1953. The law grants the JNF/KKL a special status in designing Israel’s land policies in general and entitles it to tax breaks and financial benefits, while retaining semi-governmental functions. Its remit includes the purchase and acquisition of lands and assets in areas in Israel or “in any area subject to the jurisdiction of the Government of Israel” for the purpose of settling Jews on them, and the reclamation and development of land in Israel. After the purchase of 2 million dunams (the “two million deal”) from the state in 1949 and 1950, the JNF/KKL became the largest agricultural landowner in Israel, serving Jews only, as per its charter. In addition, the JNF/KKL purchased some 360 properties in the West Bank and claims to be able to prove ownership for approximately 170 of them. Most of these purchase deals were completed by Himnuta, a subsidiary of JNF/KKL.
  11. About 13% of state land in Israel, or over 2.5 million dunams, is owned and administered solely through the JNF/KKL for use by Jews.
  12. Land and property grabs by settler organizations have taken place with the assistance of state institutions, including the Custodian General, the JNF/KKL and the judiciary.
  13. A JNF/KKL report shows the strong connection between the JNF/KKL and Elad in transferring properties to Elad and facilitating its Jewish settlement enterprise in Silwan.
  14. In 1981 for example, 81.15% of farmland was located on state land owned by both the Israeli state and the JNF/KKL. Of this, only 0.17% was allocated to Palestinian farmers.
  15. The plan to build the Jewish community of Hiran is supported by the JNF/KKL and key NGOs, including the OR Movement.