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Israel’s Jewish National Fund Is Uprooting Palestinians – Not Planting Trees
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The Jewish National Fund, established more than 100 years ago, is perhaps the most venerable of the international Zionist organisations. Its recent honorary patrons have included prime ministers, and it advises UN forums on forestry and conservation issues.

It is also recognised as a charity in dozens of western states. Generations of Jewish families, and others, have contributed to its fundraising programmes, learning as children to drop saved pennies into its trademark blue boxes to help plant a tree.

And yet its work over many decades has been driven by one main goal: to evict Palestinians from their homeland.

The JNF is a thriving relic of Europe’s colonial past, even if today it wears the garb of an environmental charity. As recent events show, ethnic cleansing is still what it excels at.

The organisation’s mission began before the state of Israel was even born. Under British protection, the JNF bought up tracts of fertile land in what was then historic Palestine. It typically used force to dispossess Palestinian sharecroppers whose families had worked the land for centuries.

But the JNF’s expulsion activities did not end in 1948, when Israel was established through a bloody war on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland – an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe.

Israel hurriedly demolished more than 500 cleansed Palestinian villages, and the JNF was entrusted with the job of preventing some 750,000 refugees from returning. It did so by planting forests over both the ruined homes, making it impossible to rebuild them, and village lands to stop them being farmed.

These plantations were how the JNF earned its international reputation. Its forestry operations were lauded for stopping soil erosion, reclaiming land and now tackling the climate crisis.

But even this expertise – gained through enforcing war crimes – was undeserved. Environmentalists say the dark canopies of trees it has planted in arid regions such as the Negev, in Israel’s south, absorb heat unlike the unforested, light-coloured soil. Short of water, the slow-growing trees capture little carbon. Native species of brush and animals, meanwhile, have been harmed.

These pine forests – the JNF has planted some 250 million trees – have also turned into a major fire hazard. Most years hundreds of fires break out after summer droughts exacerbated by climate change.

Early on, the vulnerability of the JNF’s saplings was used as a pretext to outlaw the herding of native black goats. Recently the goats, which clear undergrowth, had to be reintroduced to prevent the fires. But the goats’ slaughter had already served its purpose, forcing Bedouin Palestinians to abandon their pastoral way of life.

Despite surviving the Nakba, thousands of Bedouin in the Negev were covertly expelled to Egypt or the West Bank in Israel’s early years.

It would be wrong, however, to imagine that the JNF’s troubling role in these evictions was of only historical interest. The charity, Israel’s largest private land owner, is actively expelling Palestinians to this day.

In recent weeks, solidarity activists have been desperately trying to prevent the eviction of a Palestinian family, the Sumarins, from their home in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.

Last month the Sumarins lost a 30-year legal battle waged by the JNF, which was secretly sold their home in the late 1980s by the Israeli state.

The family’s property was seized – in violation of international law – under a draconian 1950 piece of legislation declaring Palestinian refugees of the Nakba “absent”, so that they could not reclaim their land inside the new state of Israel.

The Israeli courts have decreed that the Absentee Property Law can be applied outside Israel’s recognised territory too, in occupied Jerusalem. In the Sumarins’ case, it appears not to matter that the family was never actually “absent”. The JNF is permitted to evict the 18 family members next month. To add insult to injury, they will have to pay damages to the JNF.

A former US board member, Seth Morrison, resigned in protest in 2011 at the JNF’s role in such evictions, accusing it of working with extreme settler groups. Last year the JNF ousted a family in similar circumstances near Bethlehem. Days later settlers moved on to the land.

Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, warned that these cases create a dangerous legal precedent if Israel carries out its promise to annex West Bank territory. It could rapidly expand the number of Palestinians classified as “absentees”.

But the JNF never lost its love of the humble tree as the most effective – and veiled – tool of ethnic cleansing. And it is once again using forests as a weapon against the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian, survivors of the Nakba.

Earlier this year it unveiled its “Relocation Israel 2040” project. The plan is intended to “bring about an in-depth demographic change of an entire country” – what was once sinisterly called “Judaisation”. The aim is to attract 1.5 million Jews to Israel, especially to the Negev, over the next 20 years.

As in Israel’s first years, forests will be vital to success. The JNF is preparing to plant trees on an area of 40 sq km belonging to Bedouin communities that survived earlier expulsions. Under the cover of environmentalism, many thousands of Bedouin could be deemed “trespassers”.

The Bedouin have been in legal dispute with the Israeli state for decades over ownership of their lands. This month in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper, Daniel Atar, the JNF’s global head, urged Jews once again to drop money into its boxes. He warned that Jews could be dissuaded from coming to the Negev by its reputation for “agricultural crimes” – coded reference to Bedouin who have tried to hold on to their pastoral way of life.

Trees promise both to turn the semi-arid region greener and to clear “unsightly” Bedouin off their ancestral lands. Using the JNF’s original colonial language of “making the desert bloom”, Atar said his organisation would make “the wilderness flourish”.

The Bedouin understand the fate likely to befall them. In a protest last month they carried banners: “No expulsions, no displacement.”

After all, Palestinians have suffered forced displacement at the JNF’s hands for more than a century, while watching it win plaudits from around the world for its work in improving the “environment”.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.


Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Israel/Palestine, Zionism 
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  1. The family’s property was seized – in violation of international law – under a draconian 1950 piece of legislation declaring Palestinian refugees of the Nakba “absent”, so that they could not reclaim their land inside the new state of Israel.

    The Israeli courts have decreed that the Absentee Property Law can be applied outside Israel’s recognised territory too, in occupied Jerusalem.

    Ah, so that’s what zionists mean when they talk about “empty land.”

    Thanks for putting the lie to that bit of hasbara. Good to know.

    • Agree: Ann Nonny Mouse
    • LOL: A123
    • Replies: @anon
  2. artichoke says:

    When you win a war you keep the land. That’s the point.

    Under British protection, the JNF bought up tracts of fertile land in what was then historic Palestine. It typically used force to dispossess Palestinian sharecroppers whose families had worked the land for centuries.

    So they BOUGHT the land from the previous owners, then the sharecroppers who had worked with the previous owners refused to leave without being pushed out. So, they were pushed out. One does not acquire property rights by renting, and a new owner doesn’t have to write himself into the old rental contracts or sharecropping agreements.

    The Bedouin have been in legal dispute with the Israeli state for decades over ownership of their lands.

    So do these nomadic Bedouin seriously claim ownership in the western legal sense of every bit of ground in the areas where they roam? If so let them fight a war and win it. The only reasonable way to marry the Bedouin lifestyle with western property law is that they can be invited to roam on public land or on any private land whose owners invite them. The population density has exceeded the level in which they can have sole “roaming rights” over vast areas of the earth.

    • Disagree: Tommy Thompson
    • Troll: Kali
    • Replies: @Tommy Thompson
    , @Meena
  3. @artichoke

    might does not make right, people on a land since time immemorial have inalienable rights beyond that the guns, money and propaganda of the modern day barbarians who run our world cannot erase.

    The Zio bandits and gangsters just don’t get it. Despite massive and aggressive psyco-propagandist efforts, the world still tries to have a latent sense of morality and legality and ethical standards on this issue.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  4. anon[276] • Disclaimer says:

    First float the idea that Israel is a country based on democracy and is accountable to judiciary . The claims are based on the presence of a few political parties who vie in elections and the presence of courts police and lawyers . That’s all to it. Sanitization of nazi behavior is not difficult . Saddam should have tried this or possibly he had same system packed with his henchmen . Israel has it also packed with Zionist henchmen .

    India is demolishing mosques, annulling legitimate marriage, incarcerating protesters ,jailing muslim Corona victims ,segregating school and hospitals ,preventing muslims to access hospitals and pharmacy ,preventing traveling , continuing the detention of the millions in the “concentration’ . Indian Hindu mob has planted Hindu flags on cemeteries mosques on the muslim houses and have cleaned the ares inhabited by Muslim

    . India has been importing not only technologies but the words sentences and the paragraph from Israeli Hasbara book. India is the first country to hail and incorporate these behaviors from Israel . Both employ arguments of rules laws and judiciary but allow mob violence. Judiciary pitch in with media to make the violence kosher or “pure –non- mlechha ” . Here in Hollywood does its part In India Bollywood does its part by suggesting that these behaviors are not mainstream but just part of inventory of uncommon reactions to what happened to Hindus 400 yrs ago . Israel will say ” Arabs did it yesterday and refused to come to table ” about whose land and whose trees these are lived and maintained by Arab for centuries .

    • Replies: @artichoke
  5. Meena says:

    You can win by war and keep it. You can force by other means as well including terrorism . Terrorism is as valid as is the war . You can do it even by not fighting war by by preventing potential of resistance by rounding up and sending to gas chamber . You can reintroduce in future inquisition . One just has to brand the rounding g up as preventive and as war measure or simply war .

    There are many ways to achieve the loot without firing a shot ,like by adding the Kosher logic –” they are roaming they are nomad” or “land has been bought ” without mentioning the intricacies and illegalities or the way finance was arranged to buy .

    In future the entire Israel might be considered as land for seizure because nomad Israelis have been roaming from 1948 without permit, without any concern for the civilization ,and because often coming out to cause disturbance of peace in the neighborhood .

    • Replies: @artichoke
  6. Talha says:

    Hey, be quiet! Stop bullying Israel!


  7. artichoke says:

    Muslims and Hindus (and Muslims and anyone else) don’t get along. So they gave the Muslims a whole country out of old India and it’s called Pakistan. In Pakistan they’re unapologetic about treating you worse if you’re not Muslim, because it is a place for Muslims.

    Why don’t the Indian Muslims go to Pakistan?

    • Replies: @anon
  8. artichoke says:

    Are you suggesting Israel should round up the Palestinians and send them to a gas chamber?

  9. artichoke says:
    @Tommy Thompson

    Time memorial came before time immemorial. That former time is memorialized in the Old Testament. It’s incredible that anyone could claim to adopt that as one of the books of their religion — as Islam does — and yet claim the land of Israel does not belong to the Jews. It implies a reading comprehension problem.

  10. anon[220] • Disclaimer says:

    Because India didn’t give muslim the share of land of India the Muslim deserved . Not only that they killed 50,000 in Hyderabad to occupy and in corporate the Nizam’s kingdom into India and expelled Muslim from Jammu turning it into Hindu majority in 1 weeks of state orchestrated violence in 1947 October . India then took kingdom of Junagadh by force and militarily occupied Kashmir.

    Now 2 nation theory was started by Hindus not Muslim

    late Lala Hardayal in 1925 published in the form of a statement which appeared in the Pratap of Lahore. In this statement, which he called his political testament, Lala Hardayal said:—
    “I declare that the future of the Hindu race, of Hindustan and of the Punjab, rests on these four pillars: (1) Hindu Sangathan, (2) Hindu Raj, (3) Shuddhi of Moslems, and (4) Conquest and Shuddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontiers. So long as the Hindu nation does not accomplish these four things, the safely of our children and great-grandchildren will be ever in danger, and the safety of the Hindu race will be impossible. ” In 1936 Savrkar and in 1930 Golwakar of RSS would affirm same future plan for India with additional demand for Indian muslim getting converted to Hindu or accepting status of a 2nd class citizen .

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