By Pete Jones
JNF eBook (Volume II, May 2010): Preparing for Legal Action – Focus: Canada Park. Editor: Uri Davis. Forward: Salman Abu Sitta. (To view the book, click here)
The project to de-mask the sinister origins and workings of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organisation that, perversely, enjoys worldwide charitable status, has continued with the release of a second volume that, like the first, is to be published online as an e-book.
The first volume provided a broad overview of the birth of the JNF and its functional role as the colonialising arm of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO). The second volume does not skimp on explanatory background but, simultaneously, takes up a more direct challenge to the JNF’s legitimacy, analysing its work through the prism of the organisation’s status in Canada. This is largely undertaken in the context of the construction of the controversial Canada Park in the occupied West Bank atop the ruins of three Palestinian villages; a park that depended on contributions from JNF Canada (JNFC) for its construction.
Around this more specific discussion, the reader is consistently reminded of the broad illegitimacy of the JNF’s operations and charitable status and how, in fact, its work makes it directly complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine from 1948 and the construction of an insidious apartheid legal structure in Israel. A brief and grossly reductive summary might proceed as follows: the JNF was established to protect lands in Israel for eternity and was to lease these lands only to Jews. Following the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 the nascent Israeli state, fearing UN reprisals should this Palestinian land come under the aegis of a state organ, used the JNF to secure these territories while, eventually, giving the fund an integral and decisive role in the state administration of land in Israel. On the surface the JNF thus appears to control just 13% of the land in Israel, but in actuality its powerful influence in the Israeli Land Authority (ILA) means that it has a deciding say in the distribution and utilisation of over 90% of the state’s land.
The impact of the JNF’s private charter on Israeli state policy, thanks to the fund’s control over the ILA, means that, effectively, Arabs cannot lease land from this organisation because of the stipulation that the JNF lease to Jews only. Despite various challenges to this discriminatory policy (challenges that have even come from the Israeli High Court) the JNF has been allowed to continue its work and an accumulation and distribution of land that reinforces the apartheid legal system in Israel and makes a resolution of the question of Palestinian refugees increasingly complex and distant.
So it is with the JNF’s illegitimacy and culpability in mind that that the second volume of the e-book seeks to shift opposition to the JNF from the more traditional political and educational realms towards an effective legal challenge to its past and its present behaviour. The objection, in Canada, is that the JNF’s charity status means it was able to use tax-deductible Canadian dollars and Canada’s name in conjunction with the building of Canada Park on the ruins of three Palestinian villages – Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba – which were destroyed and whose 12,000 inhabitants were displaced in the course of the war crimes committed by the Zionist forces in 1948. The use of these tax-deductible dollars, collected from Canadian tax-payers, is being challenged by activists in Canada in the hope that this will lead, as editor and contributor Professor Uri Davis says, ‘to the removal of the JNF from the Canadian Registrar of Charities; to the nullification of the JNF tax exempt status in Canada; and to the classification of the JNF, together with all such bodies that are formally affiliated to the WZO and JA [the Jewish Agency for the Land of Israel] as illegal organizations in Canada.’
Professor Davis explains that the first hand eye witness reports in this volume are all admissible as evidence in a court of law as part of a legal challenge to the JNF. His own contribution, a powerful human rights-based defence of the opposition to the JNF, features an extraordinary eye witness account from a reserve soldier in the IDF at the time of the destruction of the three villages, and displacement of the resident population, that would pave the way for Canada Park. A re-wording cannot do justice to the soldier’s powerful, deeply human portrayal of the suffering of the villagers at the hands of the Zionist forces. It becomes clear that the young Israeli soldiers were unprepared for such a shocking and inhuman duty, and perhaps one can see the birth of today’s slick Israeli propaganda machine in the way in which the growing state was compelled to justify its actions to its own soldiers in the wake of the devastation wrought in 1967.
The twists and turns and shockingly cynical moves (striking even to those readers well acquainted with Israel’s capacity for contemptuously Machiavellian behaviour) in the history and growth of the JNF are drawn out in each contribution in different ways. One anecdote that is worth mentioning comes in Dr Ismail Zayid’s chapter where he explains that, following his public campaigning against the JNF Canada and Canada Park, he was sent a certificate from the JNFC explaining that they had planted a tree in the park in tribute to his name. That Dr Zayid’s campaign, on a platform of opposition to war crimes and abuse of human rights, should be responded to in such a derisory and insulting manner says much for the inhumanity of those at the head of the JNF.
It is to be hoped, then, that this book can help in the on-going struggle against not only the JNF, but all organs of the Israeli state that serve to perpetuate the racist apartheid state and maintain the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of their occupiers. Professor Davis’ hope that a substantial challenge can be made through the courts is to be admired and supported. He finishes his preface with the words:
“Justices, relative to politicians, are less prone to intimidation. Their primary reference is the constitution and the law – not campaign funding and the ballot box. Since political-Zionist apartheid values patently run counter to the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that inform liberal democratic constitutions, in the courtroom, and definitely in the constitutional courtroom, the JNF is almost sure to lose.”
If he is proved right, it will be a great day not only for opponents of the JNF and supporters of Palestine, but for advocates of justice and human rights worldwide.
– Pete Jones is a former journalist. He is involved with projects to raise awareness of the human rights abuses taking place under the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, and works closely within the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign here in London. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.