The role of the JNF
Page last updated 28 Oct 2015
The official line, according to JNF UK
Our History and Heritage
In 1901, on the fourth day of the fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, the assembled delegates debated a proposal to set up a national fund to help build the Jewish state in the land of Israel, then under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
Theodor Herzl, whose vision for a Jewish state was such a driving force throughout the Jewish world, pleaded for the national fund: “After striving for so many years to set up the fund, we do not want to disperse again without having done anything.”
His speech turned the delegates around, the motion was passed, and the Congress resolved that a fund should be established called the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael in Hebrew) noting that “the fund shall be the property of the Jewish people as a whole.”
JNF UK was incorporated in July 1939 and since then has become an environmental and humanitarian trail-blazer: planting in excess of 240 million trees; building more than 210 reservoirs and dams; developing over 250,000 acres of land; creating more than 1,000 parks and providing crucial infrastructure and humanitarian support to over 1,000 communities.
In its earlier years, JNF focused on basic state-building projects such as buying land; draining malarial swamps and marshlands (achieved in great part through the planting of thousands of trees); building basic infrastructure; establishing farms and many other vital necessities for achieving and maintaining Jewish independence in Israel.
Since then, our focus has shifted towards the Negev, in southern Israel, which comprises 60% of the country’s landmass but contains only 8% of its total population.
Today, JNF UK is building new communities, developing existing ones and nurturing and sustaining the vulnerable front-line towns of southern Israel. We are building schools, parks, roads and community and medical centres. We are repairing reservoirs, planting forests and supporting the astonishing local agriculture helping make the desert more fertile. We are also working with the new generation of pioneers, young Israelis who are leaving behind comfortable lives elsewhere in the country to volunteer to help develop the Negev.
Every Jew of a certain age, as many of the articles below remark, remembers the little blue JNF collecting boxes in so many Jewish homes and into which any spare pennies were put – to plant trees, “to make the desert bloom” in “a land without people for people without land”…
The story, it turns out was somewhat different. As article after article below makes clear, before 1948 monies may have been used to buy land from absentee Palestinian landlords (from which many of those farming the land would then be displaced) and used then for Jewish settlement. It was a process described as “redeeming the land”, as though the land were unused and uncultivated before the Jewish settlers came. (On this see Diana Mason’s great Tell Me Again, Who Made The Desert Bloom?) Even so, only 7 percent of the land was owned by Jews by 1948, not all of it purchased by the JNF.
After the establishment of the state the JNF became a key actor in the project of “judaising” the land. Sure, trees were still planted but no longer on “redeemed” land, but rather on land stolen by conquest, as the land holdings of Arabs who had been driven out (“absentees”) or those merely displaced elsewhere in what became green-line Israel (“present absentees”) were taken over by the state and sold to the JNF at knock-down prices. Tree planting was now used extensively to cover over the destruction of Palestinian villages in the nakba and into the fifties. Arabs today, the Palestinian citizens of Israel making up around a fifth of the total population, own around 4 percent of the land. The JNF itself owns some 13 percent, mostly in high-demand areas in central Israel. Almost all the rest is nationally owned and it, together with JNF lands, are administered by the Israel Land Administration/Authority.
The key complaint against the JNF is its complicity in the great land robbery after 1948 and its active, ongoing role in keeping Palestinian citizens from enjoying equal access to land today. The JNF stipulates that only Jews can buy, mortgage or lease JNF land, an inherently discriminatory policy. It is a policy which operates effectively for almost all land in Israel, despite certain court challenges (see particularly the Ka’adan case, mentioned in the posting linked from item 10 below). Today, the JNF has a key role in the implementation of the Prawer Plan (see item 13 below) for the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Bedouin of the Naqab/Negev.
In addition, while the JNF claims not to operate in the occupied Palestinian territory, its subsidiary Himnuta has been shown to do so.
Recently (Jan 2015) it was announced that the JNF was breaking away from the Israel Land Administration which has been managing its land holdings since the early 1960s. The reasons are unclear: the JNF says the state often violates its agreement with the JNF; and the ILA chairman, Bentzi Lieberman, is under investigation on suspicion of fraud (which senior officials and politicians in Israel aren’t?). After the separation, the JNF will have exclusive responsibility for managing all the forest regions (of which it owns about a quarter).
Among the accusations against the JNF are that it has acted in ecologically irresponsible ways, including the planting of non-native, particularly conifer species which are vulnerable to fire. And after the draining of the lake and swamps in the Huleh valley in upper Galilee, a major JNF project in the 1950s, turned out to be an error, Hebrew poet Yehuda Amihai (cited in Dan Leon, see below) wrote:
When I was young I believed with all my heart the
Huleh swamp had to be drained.
Then all the bright-colored birds fled for their lives.
Now half a century later they were filling it with water again
Because it was all a mistake. Perhaps my entire life I’ve been living a mistake.’
1. On the need to “redeem” the land
Tell Me Again, Who Made The Desert Bloom?
Diana Mason, ‘Lawrence of Cyberia’ (blog), JfJfP 23 Mar 2010
In December 1945 and January 1946, the British Mandate authorities carried out an extensive survey of Palestine. Diana Mason draws on it extensively in her entertaining account of the productivity of Palestinian agriculture at the time.
2. The real story of the JNF
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 28 Jan 2004
“The JNF advertises itself as ‘the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners-Jewish people everywhere’. As such, it provides one of the main mechanisms through which Israel’s system of ethnic segregation and discrmination is enforced, because land that the JNF purports to ‘own’, especially land that was forcibly taken from Palestinians, can by JNF statutes only be leased or sold to those Israel recognizes to be Jews.”
3. The Jewish National Fund: How the Land Was ‘Redeemed’
Dan Leon, Palestine Israel Journal, 2005-06
A wide-ranging historical overview of the JNF and its chequered role. Whatever your view of the JNF in its early days, writes Leon, ” in our day and age, the JNF’s historical concept of exclusively Jewish land is wholly anachronistic and should surely be considered incompatible with the vision of a democratic society founded on equality between all its citizens”.
4. The JNF-KKL and the politics of planting – What’s behind the Jewish National Fund?
Ruth Edmonds, Australian Jewish Democratic Society, Dec 2013
A contribution to the Australian Jewish campaign against the JNF
5. News and background paper on the JNF
JNews, JfJfP 14 Jun 2010
Actions by the Jewish National Fund-UK have raised questions about its links with Prime Minister David Cameron and other leading political figures. JNews reports and provides background information on the JNF…
6. The JNF: Planting Trees or Uprooting Families?
Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Huffington Post, 23 Nov 2011
7. E-books on the JNF ebooks
STOP THE JNF CAMPAIGN, Jan 2010-
These ebooks are collections of articles by half-a-dozen or more authors, covering a wide range of relevant topics. Produced as educational materials by the anti-Zionist Stop the JNF campaign.
(a) Volume 1, January 2010 (Second Edition Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
(b) Volume 2, May 2010 (Human Rights Legal Aid Fund)
(c) Volume 3, Jan 2011, (focuses on the Naqb/Negev; AL-BEIT: Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Israel)
(d) Volume 4, May 2011 (International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. Focuses on environmental issues)
8. Green Zionism: uproot native trees and people, re-plant with Europe’s trees and Jews
Ben Lorber, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, JfJfP 8 Aug 2012
Once upon a time, generous American Jews gave unstintingly to the Jewish National Fund who would use their money to make Palestine – an imagined barren, unpopulated desert – bloom. Now it is clear that the clearance of people, flora and fauna and over-use and abuse of fresh water, has created massive degradation of land and water as well as Arab displacement. Ben Lorber provides a shocking account.
9. Attack on JNF’s theft of names and land
Ismail Coovadiaf, Mail and Guardian, SA, JfJfP 15 Jun 2013
Here’s a peculiar thing about the JNF (Jewish National Fund). It always claims to be acting in the interests of the environment, or in honour of various Others, from Herzl to countries to individual ambassadors. Having gained its funds from thousands of humble Jewish homes it can thus bestow on its grandiose schemes and land seizures the simple idealistic hopes of many ordinary people. Two articles of protest.
10. Board member leaves JNF over its ‘evict and Judaize’ programme
Seth Morrison, Jewish Forward, JfJfP 14 Dec 2011
A young Seth Morrison was so impressed by the, to him, heroic role of the Jewish National Fund that he raised money for it and later joined its board in Washington. When he realised it had a policy of evicting Palestinians from their Jerusalem homes and handing them to settlers for ‘Judaisation’, he severed all links with the JNF.
11. JNF to be given lands in Galilee and Negev – more exclusion of Arab citizens of Israel
Adalah, JfJfP 31 Jul 2009
Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, together with ACRI (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel), sent an open letter to Attorney General Mazuz, reproduced in this posting, calling on him to “cancel the land swap agreement between the Israel Land Administration and the Jewish National Fund as it violates the rules of public law and the right to equality”.
As the JNF puts it: “The fidelity of the JNF is not given, and cannot be given, to the entire Israeli public. The JNF’s fidelity is reserved for the Jewish people only – on whose behalf it was founded and on whose behalf it operates.”
12. Digging in
Sue Beardon, JfJfP signatories’ blog, 11 Mar 2015
Sue Beardon describes her work at the Tent of Nations farm and orchard, planting olive saplings. Despite the long history of Palestinian cultivation of the land – wheat, melons, orange and lemon groves as well as olives – the Zionist narrative was built on the lie that the land was arid and empty of people.
13. The Prawer Plan and the JNF
See articles and links on the Palestinian citizens of Israel page
To mark the 37th anniversary of Land Day, the Baladna Association for Arab Youth has released an infographic poster about the racist Prawer Plan which aims at the confiscation of the lands and the displacement of the Arab Bedouins in unrecognised (by the government) Naqab villages .
Poster created and designed by Nayif Shaqur
14. It’s over: Jewish National Fund and Israel finally agree to part ways
Yael Darel, YNet News, 02 Jan 2015
15. JNF Challenged on Discrimination
Josh Nathan-Kazis, Jewish Forward, 20 Apr 2011
On the attempt to challenge the charitable status of the JNF in the States.
16. Making Amends for the South African forest
Stop the JNF South Africa, May 2015
A report on a visit by a delegation of South African Jews “to deliver our messages of support… to the descendants of Lubya… and to the forest that we had helped to plant, and to the people whose memories the trees attempt to erase”.
Contents of this section
c) Can you have a Jewish and democratic state?
d) What is Zionism today?
e) The nature of the nakba
f) One state or two?
g) Is Hamas to blame? Is Gaza still occupied?
h) Right of return and law of return
i) The role of the JNF