Why is JNF UK throwing a Bedouin-themed party?

The JNF has played a fundamental role in the displacement of the villagers of al-Araqib, an unrecognized Bedouin village that Israeli authorities demolished for the 90th time last week. Later this month the organization is holding a ‘Bedouin Night’ party in London.

The Jewish National Fund in the United Kingdom (JNF UK) will be hosting a Bedouin-themed party catering to young professionals in London later this month.

According to the invitation, the event — which is slated to take place on November 26th — will be held at a “secret Central London location” in a “unique Bedouin style venue,” and will include a “mystical night of cocktails and (non-tobacco) shisha.”

Invitation to a 'Bedouin Night'-themed event, put on the the U.K. branch of the Jewish National Fund.
Invitation to a ‘Bedouin Night’-themed event, put on by the UK branch of the Jewish National Fund.

The JNF has played a central role in the displacement of Israel’s Bedouin in the Negev Desert.

The organization, which was formed in 1901 as a means to purchase land for Jewish settlement in Ottoman-controlled Palestine, is the largest private landowner in Israel today, controlling 13.1 percent of the country’s land. As a quasi-governmental non-profit that operates mostly in line with government policy – the JNF only markets its land to Jews.

The JNF prides itself for being an environmental friendly non-governmental organization that plants trees, although a closer look at its projects reveals that it uses sub-contractors for projects across the Green Line, including Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In 2012 investigative journalist Raviv Drucker exposed a list of JNF-funded projects in West Bank settlements.

The choice of theme for the London event is staggering considering the JNF’s direct involvement in the wholesale expropriation of Bedouin land. In 2002, the state announced plans to forcibly relocate the residents of Atir to the township of Hura, in order to make room for the man-made, JNF forest of “Yatir.”

The concept of an event honoring Bedouin culture grows even more absurd in light of a reality in which villagers are slowly being forced to abandon the same traditional, pastoral lifestyles the JNF is trying to portray in its event.

“The JNF’s forestation projects have become a tool to kick Bedouin from unrecognized villages off their land, destroy their villages, and push the residents into townships,” says Michal Rotem, of the Negev Coexistence Forum.

Israeli policemen stand by as a bulldozer demolishes the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib for the 64th time (photo: Activestills.org)
Israeli policemen stand by as a bulldozer demolishes the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib for the 64th time (photo: Activestills.org)

JNF policy has also played a fundamental role in the displacement of the villagers of Al-Araqib, an unrecognized Bedouin village, which was demolished by Israeli authorities for the 90th time last week.

In 2010, the JNF erected a giant sign on village land declaring plans for “God-TV Forest,” a forestation project funded by an American evangelical television station on village land. In the unrecognized Bedouin village of Awajan, JNF bulldozers began clearing land in May 2014 to build a major forest that would displace its residents.

As my colleague Amjad Iraqi previously pointed out, Atir, Al-Araqib, and Awwajan are hardly the only cases in which forestation has been used by Israel and the JNF as a method of displacement and land grabbing against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.

In addition to designating areas as “state lands” in places such as the Negev and the occupied Jordan Valley, the policy is also facilitated by the Land Ordinance of 1943, a law dating to the British Mandate, which allows the state to confiscate and use lands for “public purposes.”

The results of this policy have included the establishment of ‘Ambassadors Forest’ (also on the land of Al-Araqib) ‘Ramot Menashe Park’ over Lajoun in the Triangle; ‘South Africa Forest’ over the depopulated Palestinian village of Lubya in the Galilee; and ‘Canada Park’ over Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nuba outside Jerusalem, among many others.

JNF UK’s response:

JNF UK is an independent UK charity supporting an array of social, cultural and environmental and humanitarian projects in Israel.

Today JNF UK’s work takes place almost exclusively in the Negev, the desert region in Israel’s south where most of the Bedouin community live. As such, JNF UK has a long and proud record of supporting Bedouin communities throughout the region. Projects supported by JNF UK are saving and transforming the lives of Israeli Bedouin; and creating new possibilities for Bedouin youth.

JNF UK provided bomb shelters to protect Bedouin communities from rocket attacks during Operation Protective Edge. We are improving the infrastructure of Bedouin villages and have supported the provision of medical care to the Bedouin community – with a particular emphasis on researching and treating common genetic disorders prevalent within the community.

In addition to these life-changing initiatives, JNF UK funds a young leadership project called Desert Stars, which is the only programme of its kind to work with the Bedouin community – providing mentoring and direction to young Bedouin with leadership potential and an interest in social engagement.

JNF UK are bringing the Desert Stars’ founder to the UK later this month where he will be highlighting the life-changing differences that the project has and continues to make to Bedouin youth.

Alan Aziz, CEO of JNF UK said, “We support Desert Stars because we feel passionately about funding a project which changes the lives of Bedouin youth. This leadership and educational programme was designed and launched together with Bedouin community leaders, so I was incredibly shocked to hear negative comments being made towards events we are holding to honour the work that the Bedouin community and JNF UK are doing together.”

During his trip, the founder will be speaking at a number of JNF UK events including schools, synagogues and a JNF UK Young Leadership Weekend. He will also be speaking at a JNF UK Young Professionals evening, which is inspired by his incredible work which helps the future of the Bedouin
community in Israel.

Correction: The JNF UK is is not the UK branch of the JNF as previously stated. This article has been amended to reflect the fact that JNF UK is an independent organization.

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