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Protest against settler-friendly JNF expands, raises existential questions

Some of you may have been following the campaign to thwart the eviction of the Sumarin family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan by activists from Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity and Rabbis for Human Rights (both Israel and North America), reported on our site here.

As part of the effort to raise awareness, a group of activists staged a protest in front of the Jewish National Fund building in Jerusalem on Monday in order to send the message that the JNF is being “held captive by the settlers,” as they put it, since it continues to work to acquire and repossess land in East Jerusalem from Palestinians for transfer to Jews.

Their efforts have for the time being paid off, as Himnuta, the subsidiary of JNF responsible for this specific case, has postponed the eviction. Furthermore, the resignation of Seth Morrison, a member of the JNF US board, on December 13 sends a clear message that there are those in both Israel and the US who oppose JNF’s active involvement in the eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem for the benefit of Jewish contiguity throughout the “united” city.

In his resignation letter, Seth Morrision made clear that there are aspects of the JNF he respects, such as their environmental work, but that he cannot be part of an organization that “actively participates” in the “detstabalization of East Jerusalem” since it endangers “the very existence of the State of Israel as a democratic Jewish State.”

For an American board member to resign and openly state opposition to such a veteran Israeli institution that was paramount in the establishment of the state is a significant step in the willingness of American Jews to not only to make sure they are aware of the facts on the ground but to do something about it. The increasing awareness and activism regarding the JNF in Israel and the US, spearheaded by activists from the Sheikh Jarrah solidarity movement in Al Arakib and in East Jerusalem, poses a real challenge to a long-standing quasi-governmental institution whose founding mission is to acquire and market land exclusively for Jews.

Which is why I believe that while efforts such as Monday’s protest in front of the JNF offices are important and can indeed have an impact on policies, it is also necessary to question the motto of the protest: that the JNF is being “held captive” by a settlement agenda.

In my understanding, the very existence of the JNF (and by extension the State of Israel) – by definition a discriminatory organization, since it prioritizes real estate according to ethno-national affiliation – is a policy of Jewish settlement. So what does the JNF look like when it is NOT being “held captive” by a settler agenda? Is it OK for the JNF to repossess land for Jewish Israelis that is inside the Green Line (such as in the Negev town of Al Arakib) since this is not considered a direct affront to a two-state solution, whereas in East Jerusalem it is?

Or is it unacceptable to appropriate land for Jews no matter whether inside or outside the Green Line, if it means evicting a Palestinian family?  Are the activists working to stop the eviction of Palestinians like the Sumarin family from their homes in East Jerusalem also interested in the dozens of other homes that have been repossessed over many years by the JNF, whether inside the Green Line or outside of it?

These are important questions that need to be asked. The JNF is merely an elementary part of how the state was established and is still constructed, and touches on its very definition as a “Jewish and democratic” state – and thus must be addressed if there is to be any informed vision of how this place will function in the future.

In his resignation letter, Seth Morrison wrote:

I became a JNF supporter, and later joined the Washington DC Board because I was assured that JNF/KKL does not take political positions and does not own land outside of the Green Line.

While I appreciate his candor, it is beyond me how anyone could ever think that the JNF/KKL could possibly “not take political positions.” Jewish nation-building, like other forms of nation-building, has always and continues to be political, even if the consensus on which territories should or shouldn’t be built has changed. The important thing is to be honest about one’s political stances and aware of what consequences they have.

In the case of those actively campaigning against the JNF’s actions in East Jerusalem, it is not enough to oppose such policies by claiming that the JNF is precluding the chance for a two-state solution and the preservation of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”  I think one must also examine how the JNF has related to land since its establishment in 1901, and how it is part of the guiding values and principles that move Israeli policy. Are the principles of the JNF the types of principles that will lead to a better future for all those living here? Is JNF really being “held captive” by a settlement agenda or is it the entire mechanism upon which the state currently rests inherently an agenda of settlement?

These questions may be more difficult to deal with, but are necessary if one is to not only clear his own conscience of wrongdoing, but actually take part in an effort to re-imagine and redefine how Israelis are to find a way to exist democratically and securely in the long term.


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    1. Natan Brill

      Coming from someone who makes her living working for ACRI, the holier-than-thou hypocrisy is almost comic.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mikesailor

      Poor Natan, he cannot and will not comment on the substance of the article, so he falls back on the usual hasbarista position of ‘discrediting’ the messenger. The discriminatory aspect of the JNF is self-evident. They are an arm of the government with the agenda of promoting ‘Jewish’ residence over and above the equal rights of ‘Israeli’ citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Can a ‘Jewish’ state promote and enforce equal protection of the law for all of its citizens? Or is it time to discard the idea of Zionism and attempt to forge a new paradigm? Mairav has scratched the surface of the paradox at the heart of the entire Israel enterprise. My view is that, at its core, the entire idea of a ‘Jewish’ state is rotten. And lest you think that I am singling out Israel, I also think an ‘Islamic’ state or a ‘Christian’ state would suffer from the same infirmity. The real qustion should be: Should non-Jews have equal rights and responsibilities as Jews within Israel? Should there be an end to discriminatory practices? Should Israeli citizenship depend on something other than religion or ethnicity?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Natan Brill

      Actually, Mike, I come from further to the left. Try not to judge people by their names.

      Substantially, on all fronts, ACRI is guilty of the same “don’t rock the boat” cowardice that so troubles Mairav.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Michael W.

      As someone who has donated his time and money (just my spare change) to JNF, I am compelled to comment and learn more about this case. If this case is as clear cut as you make it seem, I’ll contact a close friend in JNF North America and state my concern.

      As far as the basic nature of JNF, and by extension, the State of Israel, I still feel strongly in its mission of building infrastructure and planting trees in Israel. I have directly benefited from it. When I volunteer at JNF, it is always towards a specific project within the 1949 armistice line.

      Do you have objections to how the JNF operated pre-1948?

      Suggestion, I think that if you argue in terms of right to private property, rather than evicting Palestinian families, you’ll reach more ears and eyeballs.

      BTW, JNF has owned and still owns land beyond the Green Line, and not just in the West Bank.

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      Michael – are you not aware that “planting trees in Israel” amounts to expropriating the land of Arab villages?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Lauren

      Michael W…. what about planting olive trees to replace the trees that the Settlers burned on Palestinian land?
      And if you are a National organization, then why do you have a JNF North America?
      Israel has never held any line. Israel has never heeded anything from the UN unless it served their purposes. So the Green Line is really no line. Israel will continue to expel non-Jews, build on Palestinian land and allow the settlers to burn mosques, attack innocent civilians and do as they please… way outside the Green Line.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Natan Brill

      Mairav, what do you about ths motto for direct action: ACRI is held hostage by the Zionist Left and therefore doesn’t question the constitutional inequality of “Jewish Democratic”

      Reply to Comment
    8. Michael W.

      Aristeides, if you are referring to land where Arab villages existed in 1947, here is my view – I do not expect that all stakeholders who lost private property during the Israeli-Arab conflict to actually receive those properties. However, I believe they should be compensated for said property. I believe this will only occur through negotiations.
      As you might be aware, many Jews lost private property at the hands of Arab governments. My own family lost property in Tunisia, not that we had much, but I don’t expect to be compensated for it. Other Jews on the other hand, had much more private property.
      Lauren, I won’t be against it, but that is what the JNF was made for. I won’t be against the JNF replacing those trees.
      I don’t understand what you mean by “National organization.” JNF North America raises money for projects in Israel.
      Israel has made peace with two Arab countries. As far as the violence that occurs in the West Bank, that is something that the state should deal with. This is not within the realm of JNF’s concern. There are other organizations that deal with that.
      Are you wondering why I even bother with building infrastructure in Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    9. aristeides

      Michael – do you support ANY Arab property owners regaining their land? The existence of the JNF forests is, in many cases, the sole excuse for excluding the rightful owners from their property. It is the main reason they were planted. It is the main activity of the JNF, the basic purpose of its existence: the Judaization of Arab land.

      You claim that you have personally benefitted from this activity. Have you never considered who has been harmed by it?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Sinjim

      @Michael: I’m so sick of people excusing what happened to Palestinians because of what happened in other countries. Firstly, Tunisia never expelled its Jewish citizens the way Egypt or Iraq did or the way Israel expelled the Palestinians. Your family’s property in other countries is between you and those other countries, and no one else. It has absolutely nothing to do with Palestinians nor does it justify what the racist JNF did and continues to do to them.

      Reply to Comment
    11. On December 21, Israel demolished the village of Al Araqib for the 33rd time. Al Araqib is one of approximately 45 Bedouin villages that will be demolished in the Negev. As Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, the producer of the film ‘Sumoud’ points out (http://electronicintifada.net/content/new-film-documents-resilience-bedouin-village-destroyed-30-times/10688), the JNF plans to build a forest over the expropriated land of Al Araqib. As soon as the Bedouins there are forced out.

      And this is part of the larger plan by Israel and the JNF to ‘Green the Negev’ while expelling the 45,000 Bedouins who live there (http://electronicintifada.net/content/israel-plans-forcibly-transfer-40000-bedouin-citizens/10084).

      Israel calls it the Prawer Plan. The JNF calls it ‘Project Negev’. As Todd Patkin, the VP of the JNF in Massachusetts, says of ‘Project Negev’ in the video on this site – http://www.jnf.org/work-we-do/blueprint-negev/working-with-bedouin.html – “that’s our goal to bring an extra 600,000 Jews to the Negev in the next ten years”.

      As Mairav asks in the post, is all of that cool with you readers, since the Negev is part of the land taken by Israel in ’67?

      All of these activities have been going on for decades – in Israel, in the West Bank, in Gaza. It’s what Israel and the JNF do!

      Reply to Comment
    12. Michael W.

      Aristeides, I never heard of that excuse. The UN resolution dealing with the refugees states why they are “excluded” from return.
      Has anyone ever been harmed by trees and water reservoirs? Ha!
      Sinjim, I’m not excusing it. I think it should be corrected. I already stated how it should be handled.

      Reply to Comment
    13. aristeides

      Michael W – and have you never heard of “internal refugees?” Citizens of Israel who are forbidden to live in the homes that they were driven from, to be covered by these forests?

      Go into those forests, and you will find homes, schools, churches and mosques being buried by the trees.

      Reply to Comment
    14. AYLA

      If everyone could just take it down a notch (Michael W. — I think you’re doing a great job, tonally, on an emotional issue)–and get off their high horse (american jews who’ve never even visited, as far as you’ve revealed)–this–what @Mairav is further reporting on regarding the JNF–is a very key story for helping Americans who believe with all their heart in the majority-goodness of Israel to see the way things are truly going, here.
      Could people please try to understand that this is emotional for everyone? It’s like finding out that your parents, and your whole family business of countless generations, has succeeded on hurting people. And, which people? The people who, if you’re Israeli, you’ve been raised to believe are the enemy (with evidence, and possibly with people you love who’ve been physically injured or killed, not in combat). The people who, if you’re American, you probably believe are mostly good people, BUT, Alas, the terrorists ruin it for everyone, and etc. What I’m trying to say here is that no one is going to suddenly see the light because self-righteous people who don’t give a shit about Israel are trying to shame them. @Sinjim–your presence here does help. I do wish you could step into other people’s shoes a bit more; it wouldn’t mean giving up your own, but okay–I’ll hold out hope that that’s for another day, after you receive a big, public, governmental apology and the end of the Occupation, for starters.
      Meanwhile, Michael W. is one of the most sympathetic posters I’ve seen on 972, and he gives me hope. He’s exactly someone who grew up planting trees, knows that Israel is not all good but also believes in Israel, who is trying, now, in the wake of Seth’s resignation (thank you, Seth), to grasp a new level of what’s going on here. Let’s attack him!

      Reply to Comment
    15. AYLA

      I would just like to add that I posted the above comment before reading on Aziz’s post Aristeide’s suggesting that Ami, who was born here, should be leaving Israel in order to be consistent with his political beliefs. @Aristeides–you may be on the right side of a moral right and wrong, but your understanding of things here is in no way deeper than Michael W.’s, and from what I can tell, much more shallow. Facts do not knowledge make. Facts are, actually, easy to acquire, and it seems that Michael W. is setting out to acquire them, though if I were him, I’d have been so turned off by your responses that I’d have gone back to planting trees by now (and not every single tree here has uprooted a Palestinian; oh, if only it were all that simple). But the thing is, once Michael W. does acquire his facts, he’s still going to have his heart and other senses. Facts are easy. Hiding behind them, cowardly. Who the hell are you, Aristeides? Any special reason you won’t just tell us? Also, I wrote a note to you a few days ago on Joseph Dana’s post about Tear Gas manufacturers. Check it out, Philadelphia.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Michael W.

      Thanks Ayla. However, I won’t describe it as you have. While I have some sympathy, it will only go so far. That’s why I like to frame things in a matter of property rights. It doesn’t see the victims’ and perpetrators’ identity – and their national causes. Just two parties in a dispute.
      I’ve visited an official Bedouin “city” in the south. Why bother rebuilding the same “village” 33 times when there is place elsewhere? The only people that act likewise are the settlers who live in the outposts, rebuilding the same structures over and over again.
      I’d like to hear from an actual Bedouin. Maybe one of the 972+ contributors/commenters can help me to an article.

      Reply to Comment
    17. AYLA

      @Michael. I wonder, since it’s 3:30am in NYC right now, where you live? Are you in Israel? Or California ;)? I actually spend a lot of my time in Tel Sheva (a settled, Bedouin town), because one of my dearest friends on earth lives there. (She’s Bedouin). And I live in the Negev. Your comment reflects no understanding of Bedouin life, which isn’t your fault. It does, however, bother me to hear you claim that your sympathy will only go so far. How do you know? It sounds like you’re predetermining how much you’re willing to let in.
      And I agree–it would be nice to have Bedouin contributors, here. I’ll suggest it to my friend. There have been several Bedouin opinion writers in Ha’aretz, but I don’t think their pieces have revealed what’s beneath the surface of their plight. I was actually asked to write an op ed about forced resettlement for a pro-Bedouin publication with over 10,000 readers. You’re reminding me of the importance of that unwritten piece.
      Michael–learn with an open mind, not knowing what you’ll discover and how those discoveries will affect you. It’s the only way to be in any true relationship; the minute we think we know our spouse, for example, the minute we shut down the ongoing, dynamic relationship that is marriage. People such as myself, who see more each day the ways in which Israel is built on harming others are not, now, anti-Israel. (some may be, but many, such as myself, are not). We’re fighting for her, with broken hearts.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Michael W., Aristeides is mainly referring to the people who were classed as ‘present absentees’ by the newborn State of Israel. (That is the official name given to internal refugees – people who were displaced from their original towns and villages, but who remained within the boundaries of the state.) Although they were given citizenship, they have suffered terrible discrimination – many ‘present absentee’ communities were built illegally and under threat of demolition order, as the state wouldn’t issue them with permits to rebuild the homes they had lost. In order to prevent them from returning to the land, JNF forests were planted. Today such planting is used as a means of land confiscation. If you visit Palestinian-Israeli farming communities, you will find people who have lost dunum after dunum of their agricultural land, because JNF inspectors declared it to be lying fallow and therefore the property of the state. The JNF is not just covering up historic theft; it is perpetrating new theft.
      “I’ve visited an official Bedouin “city” in the south. Why bother rebuilding the same “village” 33 times when there is place elsewhere? The only people that act likewise are the settlers who live in the outposts, rebuilding the same structures over and over again.”
      The settlers could live absolutely anywhere they want within the Green Line, and within any of the state-sanctioned settlements. They build outposts as a way of taking more land. Palestinian Bedouin cling to their land because it is the only land they have left. Arguing that they ought to be willing to be transferred to a new place at the state’s whim is like arguing that they ought to submit meekly to their own dispossession (perhaps by paying for their own house demolitions, as the government often requests?). I have friends in the Bedouin community of Umm al-Khair, who lived in the Negev originally. They were expelled in 1948. Their community fragmented, with some ending up in Jordan, and others ending up in the South Hebron hills – in what is now classed as West Bank Area C. Ever since the settlement of Karmel was built on their land about thirty years ago, they have lived under continual threat of home demolition, and more and more of their land has been taken. As part of a plan to forcibly transfer all Bedouin out of Area C (a population of about 25,000 people, if my memory serves me correctly) the residents of Umm al-Khair are due to be displaced for the second time in their community history. Are you really suggesting that they are comparable to the settlers in Hav’at Ma’on outpost if they don’t go along with this? To you their communities may look poor and ramshackle, and you may conclude that it doesn’t really matter where a person lives if their house consists of some tarpaulin and corrugated iron sheeting. But to them it is all they’ve got, which is why it is doubly shameful that the state is stealing it from them. The parable of the poor man’s lamb that Nathan told to King David comes to mind.

      Reply to Comment
    19. AYLA

      @Vicky–since you got into it (thank you… I didn’t have the strength), I’ll only add one thing (there is so, so much…): I wouldn’t say “it’s all they have”. I’d say that Bedouin, who did/do have rightful ownership of their land as recognized under the Ottoman Era, have always been a self-sustaining, generous people. What looks poor from the outside is rich from the inside. Much richer than the new, settled life. Of course, it isn’t simple. What is. Would Bedouin who now live with running water and electricity go back? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t happier before and that they aren’t well aware of that. Is Israel the only land settling her nomadic population right now? No. Are bedouin and/or nomadic populations in Africa and other Arab countries suffering similar problems as Israeli Bedouin? Yes. However. A) that doesn’t make it right/okay. and B) we have a different kind of responsibility on this land. We’re also going back on our initial word with Bedouin.
      I could go on. and on. and on. Luckily, I’m writing a novel.

      Reply to Comment
    20. AYLA

      What made Bedouin rich–inside and out–was livestock, and land on which to graze them. Take away the land, take away the livelihood, the traditional roles of men and women, the freedom, the lifestyle, the life.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Michael, your response to what I wrote is laden with racism. You’re dismissing the rights of the people who have lived on the land for centuries for those of settlers because they don’t live the same lifestyle as you.

      Furthermore, if the JNF plans to settle 600,000 Jews on this land over the next ten years, what place does the Bedouin lifestyle have on that land?

      Want to know what others think about it? From the Jerusalem Post back in September when the Prawer Report was approved (http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=237599:

      “Liberal NGOs were infuriated by the decision, with one group, Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, saying the plan demonstrates a “perpetuation of discriminatory treatment and continued neglect of this population.”

      The organization called the decision “puzzling,” particularly due to the fact that Prof. James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur Rights of Indigenous People, last week condemned Israel’s treatment of its Beduin population.

      “The Israeli government today declared war against the Negev Beduin,” agreed Thabet Abu Ras, director of the Negev Project at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

      “Approval of the report demonstrates that this government views the Beduin as a security issue and not as citizens with equal rights. This unfortunate decision damages relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel and only deepens the land dispute in the Negev, turning it into to something impossible to solve. The report was written without a Beduin representative and without consultation of the residents whose lives will be destroyed by its conclusions.”

      Reply to Comment
    22. Most of the Bedouin who are being forcibly transferred have already settled. In some cases, as with Umm al-Khair, they’ve lived in one place for decades. It’s not just about wanting to confine them to one spot.
      It also needs to be noted that the reason why many Bedouin communities don’t build better houses for themselves is usually demolition order. In Umm al-Khair there was an attempt to install bathrooms for the community, but construction work had to be abandoned when the settlers of Karmel reported these outhouses to the IDF and Civil Administration. Such communities won’t try and get money to build nice amenities for themselves if there is a risk that everything is going to get torn down again. At least the prefab houses are fairly easy to rebuild.
      Most Bedouin I know are quite content with how they are and aren’t pining for luxury or anything like that. But I think it’s important not to romanticise their poverty, as it does cause problems for them – life expectancy is not great, they have a high maternal mortality rate, etc.

      Reply to Comment
    23. AYLA

      you’re talking specifically about unrecognized villages (from which many are being forcibly moved), right, Vicky? does it sound like i’m romanticizing poverty? i don’t think anyone felt poor when they were actually nomadic, but I do realize that those days are gone for most pastoralists worldwide, which is a shame for a number of reasons, including environmental. However, Palestinian Bedouin who went to Jordan are doing much better, socio-economically, as many were able to keep their livestock.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Michael W.

      To many of the people above, when I was comparing the Bedouins who refused to move with the outpost settlers, I meant that they are both losing money with their efforts. Why rebuild the same structure dozens of times when they can live elsewhere not so far away? I’m not saying that it is right, but I am looking at it from an economic perspective. It has nothing to do with race or stereotypes.
      Ayla, I’m currently in school on the East Coast, USA. I’m a Sabra from Beit Sha’an Valley. When I said my sympathy will only go so far, I meant that I won’t adopt the Palestinian national cause like some people here have.

      Reply to Comment
    25. AYLA

      ahhh, Michael W., I appreciate the transparency. Sigh. Okay–I’m happy you’re learning what you’re learning by reading, here. As an american in Israel (with Israeli citizenship)–I learn so much every day that changes my views. Sometimes it makes me dizzy. I’m generally someone who doesn’t feel that being for one side means being against another; I get to be for Israel and Palestinians. Why not. So when I say my mind changes constantly, I don’t mean that I’m for one side one day and the other the next; I mean that I keep learning about what’s broken, which is the only way to begin repairing. I do encourage you to keep learning. For example, your understanding of Bedouin… even if we were to think of their situation in your terms, you’re thinking about economics from a different model than theirs. See my comments above about livestock. Hope the East Coast is treating you well.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Michael W.

      Ayla, I used to be a unilateralist. I don’t think you can be for Israel and the Palestinians, as far as national causes are concerned. That’s why I limit my sympathy to individuals.

      When my dad was a NCO ba’miluim, his favorite soldier was a northern Bedouin. I remember him saying that there was an issue of him building a house on state land before he got married. That’s a story for another day.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Michael W.

      While I still have the spotlight, I’d like to say that I’m disappointed Ben Israel has been banned. I don’t know what he said to bring it about, but I liked his presence as devil’s advocate.

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    28. aristeides

      Ben I has been banned? I thought Dana just deleted his posts in one thread.

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    29. Michael W.

      I haven’t seen him comment since. He did say “goodbye” to Ben I. I’ve read that between the lines as saying ‘you are banned’.

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    30. AYLA

      Michael W–BenIsrael is alive and well and living on the Anti-Normalization thread; Joseph Dana simply seemed to be enjoying some personal freedom. But now he’ll know that people would have said nice things at his 972 comment thread funeral.
      I, too, experience people as individuals, and find that the true stories are in the personal interactions, which occur every day on this land, much much more than meets the news. At the same time, the system is broken, and it is a system of oppression. My own personal role in breaking through that is much like your father’s; person by person. Because of my personal interactions on this land, I have a much deeper understanding of this place than people who read about it–even here on 972–possibly can, and I also have a grounded sense of hope.
      But Michael–the whole system must change. If you want to talk about it on a practical level, it’s not sustainable.
      to try to bring this back to the primary post, though I’m repeating myself, I really do believe that the case of the JNF and Bedouin / Silwan is an important opportunity for opening the eyes of many Israel-supporting Jews, not to turn them against Israel, but to turn us all toward reparation.

      Reply to Comment
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