Jewish National Fund: Zionism, ethnic cleansing and environmental racism
by Eurig Scandrett
At its Annual General Meeting in May, Friends of the Earth Scotland members unanimously voted to endorse a campaign against the Jewish National Fund (JNF). It was the first environmental organisation outside of Palestine to do so. This is a major step with significant international implications. The JNF is an international ‘environmental’ organisation little known outwith the Jewish community (and little understood within it), but which has very important influence on world politics through its role in the Zionist colonisation of Palestine – and therefore the creation of the so called Israeli-Arab conflict.
The JNF claims to be an ‘ecological agency’, the ‘environmental arm of the Jewish people’ which engages in activities to ‘turn Israel green’. A little look behind these claims however demonstrates that it is a racist organisation which implements apartheid policies and is complicit in ethnic cleansing.
The JNF was established in 1901 by the World Zionist Organisation as an agency for obtaining land in Palestine for the purposes of furthering the Zionist project of establishing a Jewish Nation. Its constitution requires it to lease land ‘in perpetuity’ only to ‘persons of Jewish religion, race or origin’. Initially registered in the UK, Zionists subsequently established JNF groups amongst Jewish communities throughout the world, where they raised funds for land acquisition and Zionist propaganda.
Prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, this was largely an incremental process of buying out local landowners, terminating Arab tenancies and establishing Kibbutzim with Jewish labour. This was an early version of ‘facts on the ground’ whilst Zionist leaders collaborated with first the Ottoman and then the British imperial powers and at the same time established armed militias to conduct terrorist attacks.
With the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the war between Zionist militias and Arab states, the JNF played a crucial role. Plan dalet (plan ‘D’ in Hebrew) was a secret project to drive Arabs out from the land in order to create a pure Jewish state. In preparing for this military ethnic cleansing, detailed information about the Arab population was gathered by a unit of the JNF. These ‘village files’ included data on village geography, demographics, economy and political affiliation, which were used to evict populations by trickery or force, and to massacre suspected militants. In a few cases the buildings were left and occupied by Jewish immigrants, the villages given Hebrew names by the JNF’s ‘naming committee’. Most villages were bulldozed or dynamited. The Palestinian population was forced into refugee camps where they remain. The village land, emptied of its Palestinian population, was passed into the custody of the JNF, which planted trees and created forested parks to prevent the return of refugees.
Tree planting became a major activity of the JNF, not just to cover for ethnic cleansing but also to ‘reclaim’ land from sand dunes and swamps, to ‘Europeanise’ the landscape and in an attempt at commercial forestry. As Jewish migration to Israel led to high unemployment, JNF tree planting absorbed excess labour. The military-forestry ethnic cleansing was continued in the 1967 war that expanded the territory of Israel through annexing East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank and Gaza, and occupied Sinai and Syria’s Golan Heights. The West Bank villages of Yalu, Beit Nuba and Imwas (Emmaus) were illegally annexed, forcibly depopulated, destroyed, afforested and, with JNF funds raised in Canada, converted to the popular Israeli recreation attraction Canada Park (until Canadian Jews complained and it was partially renamed Ayalon Park).
The 1967 war was not the last wave of ethnic cleansing. One of the JNF’s major current projects is the ‘Blueprint Negev campaign’ which, according to its 2010 Annual Report is “a far- reaching and visionary plan to transform the Negev Desert—which represents 60% of Israel’s land mass but houses only 8% of its population—into an attractive place for a new generation of Israelis to call home”. This includes a complex of settlements, recreational areas, reservoirs and forests to ‘turn the desert green’. The Negev (Naqab in Arabic) is, however, home to 150,000 Bedouin whose transhumant pastoralism and seasonal cultivation has been in balance with this fragile arid ecosystem for generations. The JNF’s plan is to rehouse these Bedouin in ‘recognised’ urban townships adjacent to industrial centres, as a source of low paid labour. ‘Unrecognised’ towns and villages are in the process of being destroyed. In 2010, the village of Al Araqib was reduced to piles of rubble mixed with children’s toys and kitchen utensils, in front of the villagers and their Israeli supporters. The village site was already surrounded by the saplings of the JNF’s forest.
The favoured species used for JNF’s tree planting are the water guzzling Eucalyptus and the Aleppo pine. The latter (renamed the ‘Jerusalem pine’) is native to the Levant in low density on thin, hill soils but was planted by the JNF in dense plantations with consequent poor growth, disease and environmental damage . Land reclamation has also damaged a number of fragile habitats. The Hula swamp, according to a recent report published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, “was once the largest wetland habitat in the Levant until it was drained [by the JNF] in 1965. Significant wetland habitat was destroyed and five wetland plant species became extinct” .
Under criticism by environmentalists within Israel, the JNF started to improve its ecological performance and discovered a new green ideological mask for its activities. Alon Tal, Zionist environmentalist and one of the JNF’s critics is now a member of its Board. Its rebranding as an environmental NGO has given it ‘consultative’ status at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and sent delegates to several of the Conferences of Parties on the Framework Convention on Climate Change. However, its green credentials and real purpose have been thoroughly exposed as environmental racism in a recent report published by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network Greenwashing Apartheid: The Jewish National Fund’s Environmental Cover Up .
However much the JNF improves its environmental performance it remains first and foremost an agent of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. It continues to prevent Palestinians from leasing, not only the 13% of the land of Israel which it owns, but also the 80% of land owned by the Israeli state through its control of the Israel Land Authority. The JNF also operates in the West Bank, builds reservoirs and owns shares in Israel’s National Water Company, which controls the aquifers which supply Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It polices its land in Israel through the notoriously brutal Green Patrol, whose powers to destroy villages, beat up Arabs, confiscate livestock and spray toxic chemicals on crops are vigorously used.
The JNF is an extremely powerful organisation, operating by statute as a quasi-state institution with its own paramilitary Green Patrol in Israel, yet enjoying charitable and tax exempt status in Britain and many other countries throughout the world and as an environmental NGO by the UN. With substantial income from land rents, the funds raised internationally are put into its powerful Zionist ideological propaganda. It has always been at the forefront of Zionist colonial occupation of Palestine, implementing ethnic cleansing and apartheid policies through the guise of tree planting.
But its cover has been blown and this year the campaign against the JNF has turned its tide. Under pressure, PM David Cameron has withdrawn his honorary patronage, the first British Prime Minister to do so in its 110 years of existence, and Ed Miliband declined to support it. Increasing numbers of environmental, trade union, faith groups, student groups and others are publicly endorsing the campaign’s call to stop the JNF. An Early Day Motion (No 1677) by Jeremy Corbyn and Gerald Kaufman is attracting signatures across the political spectrum including from GPEW MP Caroline Lucas (see http://www.stopthejnf.org). The Zionist press is getting increasingly hysterical.
The JNF goes to the heart of the Zionist project: the state of Israel cannot exist as ‘Jewish democratic’ state without the annihilation of its Palestinian residents. Segregating land in for Jews requires an apartheid policy of denying the human rights of non-Jews. A multi-cultural land of Palestine cannot be owned in perpetuity by one religion, ‘race’ or ethnicity. Zionism is the last European colonial project. The resolution of this mess has proved to be beyond the capabilities of political brains far more competent than mine. But focusing on the ‘ecological agency’ of the JNF exposes more clearly the nature of the problem the world is facing.