The Jewish National Fund (JNF) was created in 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Switzerland. Its purpose has always been to acquire land in historic Palestine for — according to its Memorandum of Association– “the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties.” Crucially, this land could never again be sold or leased to non-Jews.
Today, the JNF enjoys charitable status in over 50 countries worldwide, including Canada. While the JNF asserts itself as an environmental NGO, it operates as a quasi-governmental body in Israel.
Through planting trees and supporting agriculture, the JNF claims to be “redeeming the land” and “greening the desert”, but in fact, the JNF’s parks and forests are largely situated over depopulated and demolished Palestinian villages, and therefore, serve as a means of erasing the historical presence of Palestinians, and make it difficult for Palestinians to exercise their right to return to their lands as enshrined under international law.
Today, the JNF is complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, supporting West Bank settlements and settlers in East Jerusalem. The JNF funds infrastructure for illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley—located deep in the West Bank, as well as in East Jerusalem and other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. While these settlements expand with the aid of the JNF, more water and lands are being stolen from the Palestinians. In illegally-annexed East Jerusalem, the JNF, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Himnuta, has been evicting Palestinians from their homes and providing these properties to the settler organization, Elad.
The JNF also has a direct role in implementing Israel’s discriminatory policies against its Palestinian citizens, who make up 20% of Israel’s citizenry. 13% of the land in Israel is owned by the JNF, and the JNF has significant influence over the remainder of public lands through appointing 6 out of 13 members on the Israel Lands Council. 93% of the land in Israel is controlled by the Israel Lands Council, comprising the JNF’s 13%, and an additional 80%, which are deemed to constitute state lands.
Israel’s Attorney General ruled that the JNF practises institutional discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian citizens, and that this should no longer be permitted. Nonetheless, the practising of institutional discrimination persists. In the court case, the JNF’s response to a petition filed against it stated:
The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel… The JNF, in relation to being an owner of land, is not a public body that works for the benefit of all citizens of the state. The loyalty of the JNF is given to the Jewish people and only to them is the JNF obligated. The JNF, as the owner of the JNF land, does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state. (JNF’s response from December 2004 to a petition filed by Adalah to the Supreme Court of Israel – HC 9205/04)
The U.S. State Department (p. 24) and the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have also concluded that the JNF practises institutional discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
Canadian Tax Dollars Fund Illegal JNF Activities
Because the JNF Canada has official Canada Revenue Agency charitable status, it provides tax receipts for donations, meaning that a significant proportion of their budget effectively comes from our taxes.
The JNF Canada raised $15 million after the 1967 war to build Canada Park (now referred to by the JNF as Ayalon – Canada Park), a 3200 hectare park between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Shamefully, this “tribute to Canada and the Canadian Jewish community” was built over the ruins of three depopulated and demolished Palestinian villages – Imwas, Yalu and Deir Aiyub – as well as over lands belonging to the village of Beit Nuba. A 1986 UN Special Committee reported to the UN Secretary-General that the villagers were being denied their right of return to their land now occupied by this park built by the JNF Canada.
The park was established with donations from the City of Ottawa, ex-premier of Ontario Bill Davis, and other prominent sources. To this day, additions and beautifications to the park are subsidized by Canadian taxpayers through tax-deductible donations to the JNF Canada (p.40).
Numerous donors to the park demanded that their names be withdrawn from the plaques at the park’s entrance, upon learning that the park sits within occupied territory and over the ruins of depopulated and demolished Palestinian villages. Sadly, however, the large majority of current donors to the JNF Canada are unaware of these realities, since the JNF Canada refuses to make mention of the true history behind their project, and even reports in Charity Returns to the CRA that its donations are used inside Israel, when in fact, Canada Park lies unequivocally within the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
JNF is uprooting Bedouins to Plant trees
Palestinian Bedouin residents in the Naqab (Negev) are being forcibly relocated and refused access to their villages and lands under the highly controversial Begin-Prawer Plan law, which has been temporarily shelved, but which Israel continues to put into practice. The Bedouin village of Al-Araqib has been destroyed at least 70 times. It is one of 35 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in Israel, and therefore receives no municipal services such as access to an electrical grid, water, paved roads, hospitals, schools or other basic services. The JNF, with support from the Christian Evangelical ‘God-TV’, has planted trees on land belonging to the villagers of Al-Araqib, and plan on using the land that the village is on for a ‘God-TV forest’. According to a coalition of Bedouin and Jewish human rights groups,
“The JNF, instead of promoting civic equality for all Israelis – the basis for trust and peaceful co-existence – is now supporting (and being supported by) an evangelical ministry that wishes to utilise Israel and the planting of trees to bring about the Second Coming of Christ.”
Also on the lands of Al-Araqib, the JNF has established ‘Ambassadors’ Forest’, where it has planted trees in honour of foreign ambassadors to Israel. South Africa’s former ambassador in Tel Aviv, Ismail Coovadia, found out that 18 trees were planted in his name after the current Israeli ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, presented him with a certificate. Coovadia, in a letter to Jewish-South Africans Mark Kaplan and Heidi Grunebaum, said that “I have supported the struggle against Apartheid South Africa and now I cannot be a proponent of what I have witnessed in Israel, and that is, a replication of Apartheid!”
It is through the Begin-Prawer Plan, a proposed law that aims to destroy 35 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages and confine between 40,000 and 70,000 Bedouin into confined urban townships against their will, that Al-Araqib is repeatedly destroyed. The JNF, through its project ‘Blueprint Negev’, is planting forests and has plans to establish Jewish-only settlements over the ruins of these Bedouin villages. The Begin-Prawer Plan has been condemned by the European Union, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, over 90 Canadian authors, and many others. The JNF’s ‘Blueprint Negev’ works hand in glove with the Begin-Prawer Plan. Despite the fact that the Begin-Prawer Plan has not passed into law, the JNF continues to trample Bedouin rights in the Naqab, aiding in the Israeli state’s goal of further dispossessing the Bedouins.
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