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Uri Avnery on the Jewish National Fund--4/21/07

*Abolish the JNF *
**
*http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=12642&sectionID=107
<http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=12642&sectionID=107>*
*     or tinyURL:  *http://tinyurl.com/36pm9b*
*
*by Uri Avnery; Gush Shalom; April 21, 2007

What would we say if an American institution, holding a seventh of all
the land in the United States, adopted statutes that allowed it to sell
or rent land only to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants?

We would not believe it. And it is, indeed, impossible.

But that's the way things are in Israel. This us now the subject of a
stormy public debate.

These are the facts: The Jewish National Fund (in Hebrew Keren Kayemet
le-Israel - KKL) holds 13% of all the land in Israel. Its statutes
explicitly prohibit the sale or rental of land to non-Jews. This means
that every Jew in the world, living anywhere from Timbuktu to Kamchatka,
can get land from the KKL, without even coming to Israel, while an Arab
citizen of Israel, whose forefathers have lived here for hundreds - or
even thousands - of years, cannot acquire a house or an apartment on its
land.

The debate arose after a recent ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court
which proscribed discrimination between citizens in the distribution of
land. On the strength of this, the KKL has been sued. Now the Attorney
General has decided that the Government cannot discriminate against Arab
citizens, even while distributing land belonging to the KKL.

This is all very nice, but there is a "but". The best legal brains
looked for a way out: How to keep the discrimination alive in spite of
the court's decision? No Problem. The Attorney General simply proposes
that for every dunam (1000 square meters, a Turkish measure still
applied in Israel) that the KKL will have to distribute - God forbid -
to Arabs, the government will compensate it with another dunam somewhere
else. The alternative land will be in the "peripheral" areas, the Negev
and the Galilee, where it is much more profitable. And for good measure,
the government will guarantee that the annual revenues of the KKL will
reach half a billion Shekels. Thus the cake will be divided but remain
whole.

The KKL, by the way, appoints almost half the directors of the "Israel
Land Authority", the government body that is in charge of all
state-owned land in Israel.

In this situation, 20% of the citizens of Israel are denied the right to
buy a home in large parts of the country, while this right is enjoyed by
Jews living in Brooklyn and Odessa.

How did this state of affairs come about?

Like many other bad things here, it started quite innocently.

More than a hundred years ago, when the Zionist movement was created,
the need arose to buy land for Jewish immigrants in Palestine. The KKL
was set up for this purpose. In every Zionist home around the world a
blue collection box was hung up. In every classroom in Jewish schools,
children were urged to drop their coins into the box. In Jewish schools
in this country, KKL-trustees were appointed, whose job was to encourage
donations, for example by organizing fund-raising competitions between
classes and between schools. The blue box became a symbol of the Zionist
movement, perhaps the most prominent. I, too, put my coins into the box
that was passed along the benches every Friday in my classroom in the
Ahad-Ha'am elementary school in Tel-Aviv.

With the money thus collected, a lot of land was acquired, on which
Kibbutzim and Moshavim were set up. That was the height of Zionist
idealism. The "Redemption of the Land" and "Hebrew Labor" were the
cornerstones of the Zionist dream.

And, indeed, what could be more beautiful? Children all over the world
dropped their pennies into the blue box. The land of Israel was bought
with good money. On this land the pioneers, sons of merchants and
usurers, tilled the field in the sweat of their brows.

All over the world, Jewish children were singing: "I shall tell you,
girl, / And you too, boy, / How in the land of Israel / The land is
redeemed. // A dunam here, a dunam there, / Clod after clod, / The land
of the people is being bought, / From the North to the Negev. // On the
wall there hangs a box, / A blue box, / Every penny in the box / Redeems
land..."

However, this beautiful story had a dark side, which was not registered
in Zionist consciousness.

The land was indeed bought, often at exorbitant prices, but from rich
absentee owners, who did not live on it or cultivate it. When the late
Ottoman Empire was bankrupt and in dire need of money, it sold huge
tracts to rich Arab merchants in Jaffa, Beirut and other cities, who
bought them as an investment. The Arab Felaheen (farmers), who had
tilled the land for many generations, were mere tenants. When the KKL
bought the land, the Felaheen were driven out, often with the help of
the Turkish, and later the British police.

In spite of all this effort, when the United Nations resolved in
November 1947 to partition the country between a Jewish and an Arab
State, less than 7% of the land belonged to Jews. Only a part of this
area belonged to the KKL, the rest to private Jewish owners in the towns
and the agricultural "colonies".

Logic would have dictated that with the founding of the State of Israel,
the KKL transfer its lands to the State. After all, that was the idea of
collecting the money.

But this did not happen. In fact, the very opposite took place: the new
state transferred to the KKL millions of dunams of land expropriated
from Arabs - the refugees who were not allowed to return ("absentees" in
legal language), those who had remained in the country but were absent
on a given day from their villages ("present absentees"), as well as
Arabs who became citizens of Israel.

It is important to keep this in mind, since it disproves the big lie
that hovers over the whole debate: that the KKL land was bought with the
money of the Jewish people. The greater part of the present KKL land was
not bought at all, but conquered in war and transferred to the KKL.

Why transferred? Why did the sovereign state transfer lands gratis to a
non-state body? Only one reason comes to mind: so as to continue with
the discrimination against the Arab citizens.

In an official brief, the KKL argues that it does not owe loyalty to the
principles of the State of Israel, as put down in the 1948 Declaration
of Independence (equality between all citizens, regardless of religion
and race), but to "The Jewish People". This means that "The Jewish
People", which is not a political body, is being presented as an
independent entity superior to the State of Israel.

The KKL does not act, of course, for "the Jewish People". It is an
instrument of the Israeli Jewish community against the Israeli Arab
community. It has become an instrument for institutionalized
discrimination. The Attorney General's sleight of hand, designed to
satisfy the demand of the Israeli Supreme Court for equality between all
citizens, while still allowing a body based on discrimination to keep
hold of 13% of the land in the state, does not change the situation in
principle. The KKL is not unique. Discrimination reigns in many fields.
In the last few days alone, the following facts happened to come to light:

* The chiefs of the Treasury Ministry are pondering how to pay
allowances to big Jewish families, without paying them to big Arab
families. (There are two communities in Israel with a soaring
birth-rate: the Jewish orthodox and the Muslim Arab, especially Bedouin.)

* The Ministry of the Interior is pushing a law that allows all
foreigners who marry Israelis to acquire Israeli citizenship, even if
they are not Jewish - but explicitly excludes Arabs. This denies
thousands of young Arabs, citizens of Israel, the right to set up a
family in Israel, if the bride or bridegroom is a resident of the
Palestinian territories, even if he or she is a relative.

* The Ministry of Education confirmed what until now has been an open
secret: that the appointment of every teacher and principal in an Arab
school in Israel is subject to the approval of the General Security
Service (Shin-Bet). But the ministry is progressing with the times:
Until now, the Shin-Bet representative was automatically the
vice-chairman of the appointments committee. From now on, he will only
be a simple committee member.

It would be nice if we could say that these phenomena, and the many
others of the sort, are inspired by the right-wing. But the truth is
that most of them came into being when the Zionist left was in control,
and continue now with the support of the left-wing whose representatives
serve in the Sharon government.

This is not the state that we promised ourselves in the Declaration of
Independence. We have a tough struggle ahead of us, until Israel becomes
a democratic, liberal, secular, pluralist and egalitarian state.

A step in this direction would be the abolition of the KKL and the
transfer of its lands to the state.





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