Lying by omission: The JNF’s role in setting Negev land policy

The Jewish National Fund has in the past been caught lying about its role in East Jerusalem evictions of Palestinians. Now its role in Israeli land policy in the Negev is revealed to be much larger than it admits. A former JNF board member demands the organization take responsibility for its actions.

By Seth Morrison

Lying by omission: The JNF's role in setting Negev land policy
A Bedouin woman looks over her the ruins of her home after Israeli forces demolished the Negev village of Al Araqib, September 12, 2010. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

For many years the Jewish National Fund (KKL/JNF), the group known largely for planting trees in Israel, has denied any involvement in taking Bedouin land as part of its efforts to Judaize the Negev. Its website says, “KKL-JNF develops land only in areas designated in the master plans as instructed by, and as requested by the ILA (Israel Land Authority), which are state lands or KKL-JNF lands.”

Putting it simply, they were just taking orders.

The sad truth is that the KKL/JNF has lied by omission. On the ILA web site we learn that that the Israel Land Council determines the policy of the ILA. It goes on to say, “[t]he Council is comprised of 22 members; 12 represent government ministries and 10 represent the Jewish National Fund.”

In other words, JNF controls 46 percent of the votes deciding Israel’s land allocation policies.

In late 2011 I stopped giving to the JNF and resigned from its Washington, DC Board when the JNF/KKL first denied and then acknowledged evicting Palestinians from homes in East Jerusalem. Now, without immediate action at the JNF National Conference in Denver, Colorado in late October, Israel’s and by extension the JNF’s moral crisis will get much worse.

Click for +972’s full coverage of the Prawer-Begin Plan

In a matter of weeks, the Israeli Knesset is expected to approve the Prawer-Begin Plan to forcibly evict up to 70,000 Bedouins from their lands. This plan – developed without input from the Bedouin communities being relocated – has a simple aim, take Bedouin lands and build segregated communities for Jews. It is bad enough that this plan disenfranchises 70,000 Israeli citizens; why should JNF compound the situation by denying involvement in this forced removal of non-Jewish Israeli citizens from the Negev?

The JNF/KKL website brags about a few projects to help the Bedouins, but doing a bit of good work does not cancel out the terrible evil of the Prawer-Begin Plan.

If JNF truly cares about Israel as a functioning democracy, if not for Palestinians under Israeli control then at least for its own citizens, it will take responsibility for its actions and devote time at the National Conference in Denver to demand that Israel cancel the Prawer-Begin Plan, recognize the unrecognized villages and engage in meaningful negotiations with the Bedouin community. Then JNF should provide funds to the Bedouin citizens of Israel to rebuild homes that it destroyed and provide the same services to all Israeli citizens living in the Negev. Only then will I resume donations to the JNF.

Seth Morrison is a Middle East Peace Activist volunteering for a number of related organizations.

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