The JNF is a fundamental pillar of the Israeli settler colonialism project

In 1884, Prof Herman Shapira proposed 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”. In 1901 the JNF came into being at the 5th Zionist Congress in Basle. According to the JNF Memorandum of Association its “primary objective” is to acquire land “for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands” and, in line with Shapira’s original concept, JNF can lease lands to Jews only. Thus, a core concept of the JNF ab initio is racial exclusivity and the de-Arabisation of Palestine.

In its early years, the JNF bought land from absentee landlords and then pressurised the new Jewish owners to evict the Palestinian tenants and use only Jewish labour. Yosef Weitz oversaw the process of buying land, but it proved too slow for him, and from 1937, some 10 years before the Nakba began, the word “transfer” appears in his diary.

In 1940, Weitz spelled it out: “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.” To this day, the JNF worldwide still channels funds for dispossession of Palestinians to Israel.

In the years leading up to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the JNF played a central role. The Village Files were drawn up, meticulously charting topography, roads, land, water sources, with population profiling by age and political affiliations and – importantly – an index of hostility to Zionist colonisation. The Village Files became a crucial military tool for the Jewish militias’ ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the targeting of those who resisted.

The JNF, in the figure of Yosef Weitz, influenced the pre-state apparatus and strategy in other ways too. Weitz became part of Ben Gurion’s inner circle, the Consultancy, planning the Nakba. As a key member of the Transfer Committee, Weitz advanced transfer as “the cornerstone of Zionist policy”. The JNF became a key voice, not just in planning for ethnic cleansing, but in cementing a consensus among the leadership for this policy.

In the words of Salman Abu Sitta: “JNF through their great influence directed the Israeli military operations for the conquest of Palestine even before the British Mandate ended and before the state of Israel was declared.” The Hope Simpson Report of 1930 voiced strong reservations re the JNF but under Zionist pressure any British concerns were effectively buried.

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Read more: Why the JNF?