The JNF and Settlements

Halamish settlement is seen behind a clound of tear gas shot by the Israeli army during a protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, The demonstration was held in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi, in protest against her administrative detention in Israeli prison 02/03/12. Photo by Tess Scheflan activestills.org

The Halamish settlement is seen behind a cloud of tear gas shot by the Israeli army during a protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. The demonstration was held in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi, in protest against her administrative detention in Israeli prison. March 2, 2012. Photo by Tess Scheflan activestills.org

The JNF is involved in funding the construction, infrastructure development and land expropriation of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Two controversial examples of this include  the JNF’s role in the Jordan Valley (West Bank) and Silwan (East Jerusalem).

JNF in the  Jordan Valley

The Jordan Valley covers 30% of the West Bank along its eastern border. It is almost entirely designated as Area C, meaning it is under both Israeli civil and military control – the Palestinian Authority has virtually no role in these areas.

As of 2009, 65,000 Palestinians live in the Jordan Valley. They face restricted access to drinking and agricultural water, an inability to obtain permits from Israeli authorities to build homes, and consequent housing demolitions carried out by the Israeli military. Palestinian villages and farmland are increasingly declared as Closed Military Zones, for the use of the Israeli military in training and exercises, also resulting in home demolitions. 1

Key Israeli Ministers and parliamentarians have explicitly stated their intention to permanently annex the Jordan Valley into Israel, expressing unequivocal support for the settlements in the area. Current Interior Minister, Gideon Sa’ar, has said that, “there is no separation between settlement and security, and the Jordan Valley is a consensus among Israeli citizens … There’s nothing wrong with everyone knowing that the Jordan Valley will remain Israeli in any final status agreement”. 2

At present, approximately 10,000 Israeli settlers living in 37 settlements control 50% of the Jordan Valley. 3 These settlements alone use one quarter of the annual water consumption of the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, some 2.5 million people. Over-extraction of water by the settlers and the discriminatory allocation of water (including banning Palestinian access to Israeli settlement water infrastructure and charging Israeli settlers far less than Palestinian residents for water use) together with the continued appropriation of land for settlement expansion,  threatens the livelihoods of local farmers and limits access to water for domestic purposes. 4

The JNF has several functions in the Jordan Valley. Firstly, it provides funds for Jewish-only settlement expansion in the region.  The JNF is involved in a range of settlement activities, from funding construction of new buildings to providing electricity, water and road infrastructure for the new settlement areas. 5 The JNF also builds recreational reserves and parks in the Jordan Valley for the use of settlers. 6

An example is the Tirza Reservoir. Built by the JNF between 1997 and 2003, it is used almost exclusively by settlers. The reservoir collects the flood waters of the largest stream in the West Bank, Wadi al-Far’a, before they reach the Jordan River. The water from the reservoir is used by settlements in the area for the irrigation of crops and for raising fish. 7

The JNF also played a major role in the construction of the Allon Road as part of the Allon plan to annex the Jordan Valley. The Allon road connects settlements only; it does not service Palestinian villages, which are often hard to access from the main road. The Allon Road was completed in 1980 and was intended to demarcate the area for annexation to Israel. 8

Today, the JNF continues to pave roads and build infrastructure for settlers. 9

JNF in East Jerusalem

Silwan is a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, sitting just outside of the Old City. Israeli authorities, working together with the settler organisation Elad want to turn the area into a National Park and a tourist centre. 10 Their plan necessitates the demolition of hundreds of Palestinian homes. Such demolitions are illegal under international law. 11

A small number of extremist Israeli settlers have already moved into houses in Silwan, forcing Palestinian families to vacate. Settler violence and harassment are a daily part of life for Palestinians in Silwan. Israeli authorities regularly conduct night raids in the neighbourhood and impose random army checkpoints. 12

The JNF funds and supports the settlement activity in Silwan through its fully-owned subsidiary  organisation Himnuta. The JNF uses this name to escape the stigma associated with connection to extremist settler activities among the wider Jewish community both in Israel and abroad.  13

Through various legal proceedings, tens of dunams of land and homes which housed dozens of Palestinians in Silwan have been evicted by the JNF (via Himnuta) and transferred to settlers.

A prominent example of this occurred when Himnuta attempted to evict the Palestinian Sumarin family from their home, claiming it owned the house. The house was acquired by the Custodian of Absentee Properties in 1991; owner Musa Sumarin had passed away in 1983 and at the time of the acquisition his three sons lived overseas. This occurred even though there were other family members living in the home at the time. At Himnuta’s request the Jerusalem Magistrate’s court eventually ordered the eviction of the Sumarin family from their home in November, 2011 . The case was appealed and Himnuta’s activities were stalled. 14

According to former JNF board member Seth Morrison:

“The action on the Sumarin home is not an isolated case. JNF has gained ownership of other Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and, in many instances, then transferred these properties through its subsidiaries to Elad, a settler organization whose purpose is to “Judaize” East Jerusalem.” 15

Himnuta continues pursuing legal claims against Palestinian residents in order to transfer their homes to settlers.

A partial list of projects in the settlements funded by the JNF is available here 

The JNF promotes itself as a green charity, fundrasing in Jewish communities around the world to support tree planting, and other environmental initiatives in Israel. But what is the JNF really doing with your money?

JNF and ongoing Dispossession JNF and Bedouin Communities JNF and the Environment The JNF in Australia

Notes:

  1. Human Rights Watch 2010, Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, p. 66.
  2. Harkov, L et al. 2013, ‘Palestinians attack symbolic ministerial vote to annex Jordan Valley’, Jerusalem Post, 29 December, accessed 15/08/2014, http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Ministers-vote-to-annex-Jordan-Valley-336466
  3. Beyond the area controlled by the settlements, closed military zones (mostly claimed by the Israeli army as ‘firing’ or ‘training zones’ zones) and nature preserves comprise an additional 44% of the Jordan Valley, meaning that Palestinian communities have access to less than 10% of the area. Human Rights Watch 2010, Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, p. 65.
  4. Tarabut 2013, JNF in the Jordan Valley: Colonization Now,  Tarabut – Hithabrut, 8 January, accessed 12/08/2013, http://www.tarabut.info/en/articles/article/JNF-in-the-Jordan-Valley/
  5. Jordan Valley Solidarity 2012, ‘Land near Al Jiftlik cleared for settlement expansion‘, Jordan Valley Solidarity, 7 October, accessed 15/09/14, http://www.jordanvalleysolidarity.org/index.php/news-2/news2012/579-land-near-al-jiftlike-cleared-for-settlement-expansion
  6. Tarabut 2013, JNF in the Jordan Valley: Colonization Now,  Tarabut – Hithabrut, 8 January, accessed 12/08/2013, http://www.tarabut.info/en/articles/article/JNF-in-the-Jordan-Valley/
  7.  Tarabut 2013, JNF in the Jordan Valley: Colonization Now,  Tarabut – Hithabrut, 8 January, accessed 12/08/2013, http://www.tarabut.info/en/articles/article/JNF-in-the-Jordan-Valley/
  8. Saleh,H. 1990 ‘Jewish Settlement and Its Economic Impact on the West Bank, 1967-1987’, GeoJournal, Vol.21(4)  
  9. Sheizaf, N. 2014, ‘The Jewish National Fund’s list of projects in the settlements’, +972, 4 May, accessed 12/09/2014,  http://972mag.com/the-jewish-national-funds-list-of-projects-in-the-settlements/90512/ 
  10. 2014, ‘Silwan’ published on the T’ruah: Rabbinic Call for Human Rights website available at http://www.truah.org/issuescampaigns/supportpeace/insideneighborhoods/silwan.html accessed 05/08/2014
  11.  International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 1977, Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention), ICRC, 12 August, accessed 10/08/14, http://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Treaty.xsp?documentId=AE2D398352C5B028C12563CD002D6B5C&action=openDocument
  12. War on Want, Save Silwan, War on Want website, accessed 15/08/2014,   http://www.waronwant.org/campaigns/justice-for-palestine/save-silwan
  13. Rabbis for Human Rights, 2011, The JNF/Himnuta to Expel Palestinian Family in Silwan, Rabbis for Human Rights, 22 November, accessed 10/08/2014, http://rhr.org.il/eng/2011/11/jnf-will-expel-pal-family-in-silwan-urgent-call-to-action/
  14. Rabbis for Human Rights, 2011, The JNF/Himnuta to Expel Palestinian Family in Silwan, Rabbis for Human Rights, 22 November, accessed 10/08/2014, http://rhr.org.il/eng/2011/11/jnf-will-expel-pal-family-in-silwan-urgent-call-to-action/
  15. Morrison, S 2011, ‘JNF board member quits over evictions’, The Jewish Daily Forward, 13 December, accessed 12/08/2014, http://forward.com/articles/147766/jnf-board-member-quits-over-evictions/

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