Jewish National Fund a Disgrace
- Abolish the JNF
by Uri Avnery
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,
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
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
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
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
* 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
* 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
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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