Activsts: Jewish National Fund held hostage by settlers

It’s been a poor month for JNF as progressive upset continues to gather it negative attention. Voices inside and outside the quasi-governmental NGO have protested the dispossession of Bedouin in the Negev and Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
Two weeks ago, and after repeated calls for reason, JNF board member and pillar of the Arava Institute community Seth Morrison quit their board of directors and severed all ties with the organization:

My commitment to building a safe and secure Israel has not changed. My admiration for much of JNF’s environmental work has not changed. What has changed is a sense of betrayal I have at learning that JNF is a force in preventing long-term peace.
This fall, a subsidiary of the Israeli branch of JNF launched eviction proceedings against the Sumarin family, who live in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Under Israel’s controversial “Absentee Property Law,” the state may reclaim homes whose owners were not present in 1967, when Israel took control of East Jerusalem. In the case of the Sumarin family, the children of the original owner, Musa Sumarin, were declared absentees after his death even though there were other family members living in the home at the time. In 1991, the Israeli government took the step of transferring the property to the JNF subsidiary.
I have learned that the action on the Sumarin home is not an isolated case. JNF has gained ownership of other Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and, in many instances, then transferred these properties through its subsidiaries to Elad, a settler organization whose purpose is to “Judaize” East Jerusalem.
In my eyes, the expulsion of the Sumarin family is a violation of human rights. But it is also part of the systematic transfer of Palestinian property to ideological settlers who wish to put facts on the ground that hinder a lasting peace agreement.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity and Rabbis for Human Rights are leading a campaign to halt JNF’s expulsion of Bedouins from their homes in the Negev. The above video exhibits their protest at JNF headquarters in Jerusalem, decrying the JNF is “held hostage by settlers.” See more on their Facebook campaign page.
Why has JNF repeatedly explained it has nothing to do with these events, then admits involvement? Moriel Rothman, New Israel Fund fellow in Israel, explains the doublespeak in Huffington Post:

Himnuta, JNF’s shadowy subsidary company, is part of that dark side. Established in the 1930s “mainly to circumvent legal restrictions” on the JNF’s land dealings, Himnuta has been active over the past few decades in obtaining Palestinian land over the green line, and transferring the land to the hands of Jewish settlers.
The JNF, a United Nations NGO that has a “4-star rating from Charity Navigator” and “earned the Better Business Bureau seal of approval,” does not want to be perceived as an extremist, right wing organization responsible for the expulsion of Palestinian families in the some of the most sensitive areas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Thus, they carry out their more shady dealings through Himnuta.
Search the word “Himnuta” on the JNF’s website and you will find zero results. Search the word Himnuta on Israel’s Company Registrar, and you will find a company whose offices are located in the JNF’s Jerusalem headquarters. You will see that out of Himnuta’s 30,000,000 company shares, 30,000,000 of them are owned by the JNF. You will see that the head of Himnuta, David Lazarus, also serves as JNF-KKL’s CFO.

There are full details on JNF’s sale of land to Himnuta and then extremists settler group ELAD in Rothman’s piece. Luckily on November 28, a Jerusalem court ordered the demolitions frozen. But will it remain frozen long? It’s clear from Morrison and Rothman that JNF officials will persist until the family is evacuated and the land handed over to ELAD. On Wednesday, the Jerusalem city council handed the settler group a sweeping construction project in the tinder-box neighborhood of Silwan, already the center of volatile relations between settlers and Palestinian residents. It’s surely a disaster for Middle East stability and a shared Jerusalem.
And do we, as Mairav Zonszein suggests at +972 Magazine, even still need a JNF dedicated to Jew-only land development? Since Palestinian citizens of Israel only own 3% of Israel’s land, perhaps it’s time to enact some equal opportunity land policies that favor Israel’s most impoverished and largest minority group?
Indeed we do. Without all the legal costs and re-demolitions to evict the Bedouin and Palestinians, couldn’t we do a lot more peaceful and productive development instead?

11 thoughts on “Activsts: Jewish National Fund held hostage by settlers

  1. It’s about time progressives turned on the JNF. It’s time to evaluate the ‘entryism’ strategy embarked upon by those good folks at the Heschel and Arava Institutes.
    The very existence of the JNF is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that the delegitimzers of Israel have to demonstrate unequal treatment of Israeli citizens based on ethnicity.

  2. what is clear from the film is total apathy or even aggression from people who passed by the demonstration.these foreign students were perceived as irrelevant to the national dialog. perhaps they are-all israeli institutions dating from 1930’s were basically set up to disinherit the indigenous population and transfer their power and property-jewish or arab- to the new state,so why should the treatment of the Sumarin family,as terrible as it is,be seen as constituting something divergent to be demonstrated against?
    Instead what emerges is the disconnect of the demonstrators.are they so convinced of the righteousness of israel that they are blind to it’s reality?this is a thread which runs through many of the pieces in this blog making it noneffective in it’s noble attempt to improve should stick to reporting on the american jewish community- far less presumptions to cloud the air and where things are better understood and more important to you. israelis understand the evil and personify it.the moral aura surrounding the left[the founding community] or the religiosity on the right[rav kook] are coping mechanisms and anyone taking these at face value are trying to buy self peace at the price of self delusion.there are morals and true religion in israel but these are not in the province of the state, the synagogue, or the NGO’s which fund this blog and those demonstrators.

  3. I have been the only person I know who has researched this issue in my community. I found out about the “dark side” of the JNF when my tour leader on Birthright flat out told us that the JNF trees were there to push out the Bedouins – and she thought this was a good thing. Whenever I have mentioned this to others in my circle of progressive Jewish friends, they don’t believe that JNF with the friendly little blue boxes could do such a thing. Glad to see some information coming out.

  4. Interesting how this group has hijacked the word “progressive.” In using such a word, they promote themselves as “the new and better way.” Slick use of verbage, but not necessarily honest.
    Is it “unprogressive” for the Israeli government to insist that the Bedouin cities are planned, receive proper permits, and adhere to building codes and regulations?
    What happens when a structure collapses? Illegal electric lines cause fires? Illegal sewage and water lines deprive the residents of basic sanitation? Isn’t the Israeli government responsible for the safety of all its citizens? Don’t the Bedouin deserve proper living conditions? That’s why there are building codes.
    That’s progressive. Insisting that the laws apply to everyone, everywhere. Arabs, Jews, Bedouin, Druze….everyone.
    And where did the “progressive” protestors drag in the settlers from? The illegal Bedouin encampments are almost all in the Negev, within the Green Line, not in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria.
    “Progressives” should really get their facts right before they head out on the protest line. Considering that the Bedouin will benefit more than anyone else from environmental advancements in their areas, based on adhering to the same building codes that all Israeli citizens must, it seems pathetic to try to deny them these basic amenities based on a desire to be seen as a “progressive.” The “progressives” should check out their facts before enjoying a guerilla PR campaign.

  5. Laurie,
    I have spent time in the Negev with both the Bedouins. The issue is whether change is managed with the Bedouins or imposed on them.
    Forcing indigenous people to suddenly fit into modern society by evicting them, destroying their heritage and ignoring their culture has not worked anywhere in the world.
    Sadly the KKL, and the Israel Land Authority have decided what is best for the Bedouins without consulting them. When you scratch the surface you learn that their priority is there view of what is best for Jewish Israelis using the excuse of helping the Bedouin.

  6. Forcing indigenous people to suddenly fit into modern society by evicting them, destroying their heritage and ignoring their culture has not worked anywhere in the world.
    Not to be a contrarian, but what you’ve described is precisely how forced urbanization has occurred in the world. I was born and raised in Moldova, where the Roma/gypsies/tzigany, in their hundreds of thousands, were herded into prefab structures straight off the steppe. Many times their children were taken from them for reeducation. Similar processes occurred in the US, Australia, etc.
    You may have a problem with the Soviet approach to problem solving, but a few generations of misery later the Roma lived like the rest of us. In other words, forced urbanization works. You cannot say it doesn’t. The goal of a modern, empathetic society should be to minimize cultural, economic and social transition costs. This is all very well studied and understood.
    There are two main problems with the Bedoin in Israel. The first is that you have a cadre of mid-level officials who treat them like dirt and would rather drive them off into the Sinai. The second is that many of the Bedouin are liars and thieves who understand the State wants to accommodate them, understand that it will happen at some point, that the State needs it to happen more badly than the Bedouin need it, and are therefore staking their markers on half the Negev to claim as much land (bargaining position) for themselves as possible (so they can bargain it down to 1/4 with the government and still make out like bandits), and then go to court for the other 3/4ths because it won’t hurt to try.. It’s very difficult to be fair with liars and thieves while fighting off the racists. And yes, I also spent time with the Bedouin. It doesn’t make me an expert, I assure you. Loved the kids. Very rough and tumble, and sweet. Real hunger in their eyes for learning. The adults… meh. But it’s like that for me with most cultures.

  7. Seth,
    I live in Israel and have spent much time with Bedouin neighbors. The Bedouin tribes who live in the north are mainly urbanized today due to the government’s land management. They are subjected to the same laws as other citizens of Israel.
    In the south, their nomadic lifestyle is only now being challenged because that part of the country is developing in a way which does not allow sprawling tent encampments.
    You could, theoretically, say that imposing any Israeli laws on the Bedouin — “customs” such as marrying off pre-adolescent girls, no formal education, no rights for women, smuggling, etc, constitute “forcing indigenous people to suddenly fit into modern society” but in point of fact, I doubt that you’d be amenable to honoring such “heritage” and “culture.”
    I’d be interested to know how many countries in the world you can find that do not insist that citizens adhere to land policies aimed at controlling usage of land and resources.
    I also would like to point out that, while the Bedouin are subjected to the same laws and regulations as other Israelis, they also receive the same benefits, including education, social services and health care.
    Sadly the KKL, and the Israel Land Authority have decided what is best for the Bedouins without consulting them. When you scratch the surface you learn that their priority is there view of what is best for Jewish Israelis using the excuse of helping the Bedouin.

  8. Between the folks who want enforced gender separation across Israel and now this, is it any wonder I can’t relate to israel.
    Let’s be clear: I am a Jew without a connection to Israel.
    If the modern state of Israel ceased to be tomorrow, it would not affect my Judaism.
    Because my Judaism is not based on an ability to travel, on tourism, on having lots of money.
    My Judaism is based on creating a virbrant Jewish community in the place where I live.
    And more than ever, it’s clear that I don’t really need Israel to exist as a Jewish theocracy for any of that.
    Israel? Whatever.

  9. If the modern state of Israel ceased to be tomorrow, it would not affect my Judaism.
    Because my Judaism is not based on an ability to travel, on tourism, on having lots of money.

    The modern state of Israel and having lots of money?
    Um, you must not know much about living in Israel.

  10. Um, you must not know much about living in Israel
    Isn’t that kind of the point? Beth seems afraid to learn anything that might upset her comfort zone. It’s ok, Beth, don’t worry. The rest of the Jewish people will still be at it tomorrow, struggling in our small, individual ways to make the Israel before our eyes match the one in our hearts, and being thankful for the journey. Hope you do grow up one day.

  11. Seth Morrison is a traitor to the Jewish people – as are all spineless non-Zionist American court jews

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