The Jewish National Fund (JNF), known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, is extremely wealthy. It owns 13% of all the land in Israel and brings in some $3 billion a year, most of it from land sales.
The Israeli government traditionally feels entitled to the JNF’s money, which according to its mission statement is “held in trust for the Jewish people.” While JNF is not state run, the government appoints many of its officials, and a public agency, the Israel Land Authority, manages and sells its land. In the past, the government has often drawn on JNF funds to meet its needs, and is currently considering once again using this source as a means to fund its two-year budget.
MK Dov Khenin (Joint List – Hadash) is among those who criticize the JNF for selling land exclusively to Jews and demands the nationalization of the body and the payment of full dismissal compensation to its current workers.
What has enabled the state to squeeze the Zionist JNF is the fact that, over many years, the JNF has essentially been the state’s long arm for the occupation in the Palestinian territories and acts as a source of political appointments. Although purportedly an “independent entity with defined purposes relating to land and settling the land on behalf of the Jewish people,” its activities are coordinated with the government. In practice, the organization administers and sells land exclusively to Jews; something the state would have difficulty doing itself. Because of this highly discriminatory policy, while the government enjoys being able to appropriate most of JNF revenues, it prefers not to nationalize all its assets or void its status as an entity dealing only with Jews. According to MK Khenin “It is time to end all this by nationalizing this anachronistic Zionist organization and dismantling it.”
Recently the Jewish National Fund (JNF) published a tender for the position of a “Judea and Samaria Transactions Coordinator.” Among other things, the coordinator will be in charge of “examining land transactions of the ‘Himanuta’ company in Judea and Samaria,” and “identifying properties and contacting their owners.”
This tender is part of the JNF’s intention to renew its land purchases from Palestinians, a practice carried out by Himanuta, its subsidiary, but one that was halted in recent years, at least according to the JNF. Himanuta was established by the JNF before the founding of the state of Israel for the purpose of purchasing lands, and has been doing so, including in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, ever since. The JNF has decided to return to the highly fraudulent business of West Bank land purchases, which stains all of its other activities. Through purchasing lands in the occupied territories, JNF serves the settlers, hurts the possibility of reaching a two state solution, and jeopardizes the future of Israel as a democratic state.
JNF’s Involvement in the Settlement Enterprise
According to “Peace Now,” the role and involvement of JNF in establishing and expanding settlements in the West Bank remains far from the public eye. JNF makes an effort to downplay its activities in the West Bank out of the fear that this will negatively affect its positioning and its fundraising capabilities throughout Jewish communities around the world. Yet JNF has played a major role in the development of settlements and, until today, it is active in their expansion. The majority of JNF’s activities in settlements today include infrastructure development, tourism, education and roads. A document published by journalist Raviv Druker several years ago, revealed that between the years 2002 and 2013 the JNF invested close to 50 million shekels in different projects in the settlements.
Land Purchases in the West Bank – Fishy Business
Land purchases in the West Bank are often highly fraudulent. Due to the long-standing national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, over the years the selling of lands by Arabs to Jews has been considered an act of treason. For Palestinians, until today, selling West Bank land to Israelis is forbidden by law. Therefore, all land sales between Palestinians and Israelis are done quietly, through middle men and straw companies, and often involve forgery and fraud.
Past purchases by Himanuta have been proven to be based on forgery, fraud and extortion. For example, for land it bought in the area of Jericho, Himanuta paid millions of shekels, but the sale was based on forged documents. Those involved in the deal are currently being investigated towards possible indictment for fraud. Yet since the majority of Himanuta’s purchases were made during the 1970s and 1980s, these have never been investigated and there is no readily accessible information regarding their legitimacy. As a result, today Himanuta ostensibly owns tens of thousands of dunams in the West Bank, on which the settlements of Itamar, Alfei Menashe, Enav, Kdumim, Givat Ze’ev, Metzadot Yehuda, Otniel and others were established.
Investment in the Construction and Expansion of Settlements
Unlike with other JNF activities in West Bank settlements, the body’s land purchases are irrefutably intended to take over areas for the development of new settlements; clearly JNF cannot argue that it is acting in such cases to provide services and development for residents of already existing settlements. These lands were privately owned by Palestinians, and with the help of JNF are becoming lands for the purpose of settlements. Thus, by purchasing lands JNF contributes greatly to the expansion of the settlement enterprise, the deepening of the occupation and the distancing of Palestinians and Israelis from the possibility of arriving at a negotiated agreement.
Take for example Givat Eitam (A-Nahla), an area located south of Bethlehem and east of the route of the separation barrier. Since the end of the 1990s, settler leaders have been trying to promote a new settlement of thousands of housing units in Givat Eitam. In 2014 the state declared approximately 1,300 dunams in Givat Eitam as “state lands” to allow the promotion of the plan for a settlement in the area. The declaration of state lands was based on the argument that the lands in Givat Eitam were not cultivated for several years and thus, using an 1858 law from the Ottoman period, they should be transferred to the ownership of the sovereign. However, Palestinian landowners began fighting this declaration through the courts, and the plan was subsequently delayed for many years. As a result, the state began to plan another 800 housing units on a plot own by JNF (Himanuta) in the same area.
The JNF, whether directly or through its subsidiary Himanuta, has also assisted and is currently assisting settlers in Silwan in East Jerusalem to take over homes of Palestinians and to evict Palestinian families.