Thursday, December 29, 2011

A brief update on the JNF campaign to evict a Palestinian family from Silwan in East Jerusalem

Thanks to our efforts and those of our partners at Rabbis for Human Rights in North America and in Israel, JNF-KKL and its Himnuta subsidiary have decided to freeze the eviction of the Sumarin family from their home of over 40 years in Silwan, East Jerusalem. We believe that JNF and Himnuta are now looking to sell the Sumarin family home.

In the past, when JNF has sold such homes in East Jerusalem to the Israeli government, the government has finished the job of evicting Palestinian families. This happened, for example, in the case of the Ghozlan family.

We’re watching closely, and holding JNF’s feet to the fire: we've told JNF that we will hold it accountable if it knowingly sells the Sumarin home to a party that is likely to continue efforts to evict the family.

And we’re ready to focus our and the American Jewish community's protests on the Netanyahu government if it tries to push more Palestinians out and bring more Jewish settlers in as part of a campaign to help the Elad settler organization "Judaize East Jerusalem."

Through a combination of external pressure and internal persuasion, we convinced JNF to stop the eviction of the Sumarin family.

Help us insure that whoever JNF sells the home to faces staunch opposition from American Jews if the new owner tries to renew the eviction process against this or other Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, inflaming Jewish-Arab tensions and undermining the prospects for peace.

Support the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel with a tax-deductible gift to Rabbis for Human Rights-North America earmarked for our Campaign.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

JNF Board Member Quits Over Evictions, by Seth Morrison, in The Forward

Some of my earliest Jewish memories involve dropping spare change in the Jewish National Fund’s iconic little blue boxes. I was proud that my money would help plant trees in Israel. The JNF, I knew, was making the desert bloom.

As an adult, I became a member of the organization’s Washington, D.C., board and moved from donating extra nickels to raising thousands of dollars for JNF.

Now, I regret to announce that this week I have resigned my board position and am severing all ties with the organization.

My commitment to building a safe and secure Israel has not changed. My admiration for much of JNF’s environmental work has not changed. What has changed is a sense of betrayal I have at learning that JNF is a force in preventing long-term peace.

This fall, a subsidiary of the Israeli branch of JNF launched eviction proceedings against the Sumarin family, who live in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Under Israel’s controversial “Absentee Property Law,” the state may reclaim homes whose owners were not present in 1967, when Israel took control of East Jerusalem. In the case of the Sumarin family, the children of the original owner, Musa Sumarin, were declared absentees after his death even though there were other family members living in the home at the time. In 1991, the Israeli government took the step of transferring the property to the JNF subsidiary.

I have learned that 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.

In my eyes, the expulsion of the Sumarin family is a violation of human rights. But it is also part of the systematic transfer of Palestinian property to ideological settlers who wish to put facts on the ground that hinder a lasting peace agreement.

A few days before the proposed eviction, Rabbis for Human Rights - North America, in partnership with its counterpart in Israel, asked American Jews to write to the CEO of JNF requesting that he stop the eviction. More than 1,300 people responded. I believe that, like me, these writers felt deeply betrayed that the organization many of us have supported since our childhood would act in such unjust ways.

JNF’s initial response was to deny any involvement in the eviction. When legal papers that name a subsidiary of JNF as the initiator of the proceedings became public, the organization decided to postpone the eviction.

I hope that JNF will decide to cancel this eviction for good, and to refrain from pursuing additional such evictions. But I felt I had to resign now because senior people at JNF made clear to me that they still plan to get the Sumarin family out and transfer the property to Elad.

I have always supported Israel through organizations like JNF because I believe that the Jewish people have the right to a secure, democratic and peaceful homeland in Israel. And I strongly believe that the Palestinian people have the right to a secure, democratic and peaceful homeland in a neighboring Palestinian state. By supporting right-wing settlers in “Judaizing” Palestinian neighborhoods, JNF makes this vision harder to achieve. I fear that such actions endanger Israel’s future as a secure and democratic state.

My commitment to Israel remains strong. But I will invest my time and financial resources in organizations committed to peace, democracy and coexistence between peoples.

Seth Morrison is Immediate Past Chair of the Friends of the Arava Institute and a member of the Washington D.C. Local Steering Committee for J Street.

Read More:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Our Campaign in the News

Bedouins Facing Expulsion From Villages, by Nathan Jeffay, in The Forward, Dec. 2, 2011

JNF delays eviction of Palestinian family from East Jerusalem home, by Nir Hasson, Ha'aretz, Nov. 27, 2011

From Israel to Essex: Travelers Not Welcome, by James Brownsell, in Al Jazeera English, Nov. 14, 2011

Pro-Bedouin activists meet with White House officials, in JTA, Oct. 27, 2011

3 Israeli Palestinian, Bedouin & Jewish human rights activists on WBEZ Worldview/Chicago's NPR station: Israel plans to displace 30,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens, Oct. 26, 2011

Israel and the Polarization of American Jews, by Gidon D. Remba, in the Jerusalem Report, June 20, 2011

JNF Challenged on Discrimination, by Josh Nathan-Kazis, in The Forward, Apr. 29, 2011

Peter Beinart at J Street: Our task in solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians at Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Arakib, Bil'in is to resanctify the land, Mar. 7, 2011

In Israel, the revolution has already begun, by Bradley Burston, in Ha'aretz, Feb. 23, 2011

A JNF Drive to Make the Desert Bloom Means Destruction for a Bedouin Village, by Nathan Jeffay, in The Forward, Feb. 9, 2011

Open Letter to the Jewish National Fund - Just say no! by Rabbi Arik Ascherman (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 1, 2011)

Where are the Jewish Greens?, by Devorah Brous, Tikkun, Jan. 20, 2011

Seeing the Unseen: The Forgotten Palestinian-Israeli Problem, by Devorah Brous - Jerusalem Report, Jan. 3, 2011

Israeli and American Jewish Groups Condemn Israeli Government and JNF for 7th Demolition of Negev Bedouin Village of Al-Arakib, Nov. 23, 2010

Friday, December 9, 2011

Seeing the Forest and the Trees: The Untold Story of the Jewish National Fund, by Uri Blau, in Haaretz

"A Jew purchased an apartment in Carmiel, on Jewish National Fund ‏(JNF‏) land. No problem. Twenty years go by and Mohammed who lives in Dir al-Assad ... comes to buy an apartment.”

This may sound like the some sort of ethnic joke, but that’s how JNF world chairman, Effie Stenzler, a member of the Labor Party, chose to speak recently before the members of his board.

"The Jew sells him the apartment for a tidy sum,” Stenzler continues. “He goes to the Israel Lands Administration ‏(ILA‏) and says, ‘I’m Mohammed. I want you to register this apartment in the Tabu [Government Lands Registry Office] in my name.’ They say to him, ‘Wait a minute − you’re an Arab, we can’t do that because it’s written that JNF doesn’t sell to Arabs, doesn’t lease to Arabs.’ And then there was the trick that worked until 2004, and according to this trick the ILA, without telling anyone ... took land registered in the name of JNF, transferred it to another building and then registered that building in JNF’s name ... But then an Arab came to that building and then they had to do it again ...”

The tale of “Mohammed and the Apartment” is quoted from the minutes of the JNF board meeting in July. The organization claims that the quote “is part of a description of a very complicated bureaucratic problem created by the ILA in regard to the registration of apartments. After discussions with the attorney general and the court, the solution to the problem was found and JNF has been acting accordingly.”

Thus, JNF transfers to the ILA property on which there are buildings where Arabs have purchased apartments, and receive other land in return. Specifically, the records of that July meeting show that each year, three or four such property exchanges are carried out, and that some 25 have been made since the arrangement was formulated in 2008.
Lately, JNF has been busy dealing with numerous legal and personal disputes.

Founded 110 years ago following a decision by the fifth Zionist Congress, with the aim of acquiring lands for Jews in Palestine, the organization has in recent times been identified more with forests and forestation − to the point where many see it as a “green” organization.

Hundreds of pages of court records, a flood of correspondence between lawyers and arguments involving JNF board members have been devoted in the last two years to deciding who will control this body, which oversees 13 percent of state lands ‏(2.5 million dunams, or 625,000 acres‏) and is not subject to oversight by the state comptroller or the treasury.

Battling over ‘treasure’

Following a delay that was agreed upon last Thursday among all parties involved, the JNF General Assembly ‏(whose composition is identical to that of the Zionist General Council, with 192 members‏) will on January 4, 2012 elect 37 members of the organization’s board, from which the chairman will be selected. After that, perhaps, the legal sagas that have overshadowed JNF’s operations for the past year and a half will come to an end, and it will become clear whether chairman Stenzler ‏(who has served for the past five and a half years‏) will be reelected or if he will be replaced by former Laborite Prof. Shimon Sheetrit, now affiliated with Ehud Barak’s Atzmaut faction.

In an earlier legal round between the two in October, Stenzler earned a victory − on points, at least − when Judge Avraham Yaakov of the Petah Tikva District Court ruled that Sheetrit and other Atzmaut representatives, including Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, had to resign from their faction-related positions in the World Zionist Congress ‏(the body above JNF‏) because they had originally been appointed to these positions as representatives of Labor.

For his part, Sheetrit has been concerned that Stenzler’s reelection as JNF chair is assured, and that he, Sheetrit, will not be eligible to run at all.

In any event, to understand what sort of “treasure” this battle has revolved around, it is instructive to return to the July 2010 and February 2011 JNF board meetings, at which David Lazarus, director of the organization’s financial division, spoke of JNF’s general financial situation. In recent years, JNF has had an annual budget of NIS 650 million; half of that is designated to pay salaries, administrative expenses and so on, and the rest is for other activities. The data indicate that even though in 2009 there was a decrease in donations to JNF ‏(NIS 96 million, compared to NIS 112 million the previous year‏), its financial situation was excellent, since its income far exceeds its expenditures.

Thus, for instance, in 2009, JNF had income totaling NIS 1.133 billion, the vast majority from land holdings, compared to NIS 972 million in 2008 − meaning a surplus in the organization’s coffers of hundreds of millions of shekels per year. The total value of JNF lands is estimated at NIS 6.2 billion; the ILA administers more than half of these properties; its subsidiary, Himanuta, administers the rest.

“The income and moderate expenses have created what JNF calls a ‘budget reserve.’ The reserve should amount to something like NIS 2 billion,” said Avraham Duvdevani, then co-chairman and currently chairman of the WZO, said in September 2010. “This is a well-kept secret,” he told the members of the JNF board, “and it must be preserved with maximum secrecy, otherwise the government will covet this money and we have experience with this already from the past.” ‏(The secret leaked out shortly afterward nonetheless, and was reported upon by Shuki Sadeh in a January 2011 report in TheMarker‏).

Board member Moshe Yogev proposed at that meeting that JNF “take [the reserve], before it’s taken from us, to build the fence with Egypt.”

Among the organization’s fears were the ability to fulfill future financial commitments: In 2008, these commitments totaled NIS 1.971 billion, and a year later they had crossed the NIS 2-billion mark. Stenzler sought to reassure the board and promised to guard the coffers.

“The subject of the reserve is something that needs to be closely watched, that’s true,” he said, “but we also must remember that we promised employees their pension rights with what we called a ‘floating charge’ ‏(shi’abud tzaf‏). This ensures both the JNF’s future and the future of the workers’ pensions, because this is insured and secure money.”

Indeed, it appears that JNF has trouble parting with funds that have accumulated in its coffers, even if these are assets that belong to Holocaust victims and their descendants.

JNF foot-dragging’

“I am writing to request that you personally intervene immediately and put an end to JNF’s foot-dragging in regard to complying with the directives of the Law on Holocaust Victims’ Assets.”

These words were written by Yaron Jacobs, head of the Company for the Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets ‏(known by the Hebrew name Hashava‏), in January to Stenzler, whose organization holds tens of millions of shekels worth of such assets. Later in the letter, Jacobs’ language was more pointed: Since 2006, he wrote, “Hashava has systematically maintained contact with JNF on various matters with the aim of upholding the law and obtaining the Holocaust victims’ assets currently held by JNF ... Unfortunately, despite the pleasant atmosphere at most of the meetings ... satisfactory progress was not made in solving these problems and in returning all of the assets to the company.”

Jacobs stressed also that “JNF is holding a lot of funds that belong to victims, in a manner that runs counter to the law’s instructions. This situation is intolerable and requires an immediate solution.”

Unfortunately, he added, “JNF is not in any hurry. The restoration of the assets is occurring very slowly, with various obstacles being placed in the company’s way, in an appropriate manner.”

By contrast, he explained, for the victims’ descendants, time is racing by, as many of them are elderly themselves. Jacobs also explained that assets for which descendants are not found are supposed to be used to help Holocaust survivors, and “if we are unable to obtain the assets in the near future, there will no longer be anyone to help.”
Jacobs was complaining about the failure to transfer NIS 67 million, equivalent to the value of 57 plots of land belonging to victims, which JNF transferred to the ILA in the past. He noted that some in the JNF wanted to transfer the value of the lands according to their worth at the time of purchase − i.e., before the founding of the state − and not according to their present value, which is 10 times higher. He said the company finds itself receiving from the JNF “offers that are low and inexplicable.”

Jacobs also wrote that the JNF had a debt of NIS 12 million to the company, and that “on this subject too all kinds of unworthy ‘compromise’ or bargaining proposals have been made.”

His letter said that JNF had been seeking to charge handling fees for the transferred funds, and to receive from the company and victims’ descendants a commitment not to sue JNF for assets that it would be transferring.

Stenzler reported on the letter at the JNF board meeting in February, according to the minutes. “So far, JNF has transferred NIS 99 million to Hashava,” he said. “In addition, JNF has transferred another 141 plots of land to the company.”

Stenzler noted that Hashava had a new director general at that time, and that the latter had sent a letter “in which he says that JNF still has to transfer funds and so on, in a tone that I didn’t like very much, to put it mildly, because JNF, the members of the board − we were the first ones to say that the funds should be transferred. Moreover, all of the directors general who dealt with him always noted the fact that JNF was ready to go above and beyond the letter of the law with them ... Therefore I did not like the style of this letter.”

The fact that only about half of JNF’s annual budget is designated for its activities did not deter board member Nissan Chilik from cynically remarking, “We have to understand [Hashava]: They need the money because they waste four times as much in administration than they actually return.”

However, not everyone present liked this attitude. Board member Reuven Shalom proposed “making a distinction between what we need to give, and their [Hashava’s conduct. We need to give what the Holocaust survivors deserve, and they need to behave properly.”

Chilik: “But they should have used more delicate language.”

Shalom: “We are not a commercial body or something like that. We are a body of the Jewish people ... the approach has to be a ‘public’ one.”

Avraham Roth, a founder of Hashava and its chairman until 2008, says JNF was among the first to cooperate with the company, and he describes the transfer of funds and assets on its part since then as “reasonable.” When asked if its conduct went beyond the letter of the law, as Stenzler said, he says: “No, in accordance with it.”

Still, Roth adds, “The fact that things still aren’t settled with the JNF six years after the law was passed is quite unbelievable. It’s inconceivable that the JNF is still holding property of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The survivors are dying, the heirs are getting to the end of their lives, and they have all the time in the world.”

A source that is knowledgeable about the issue says Jacobs’ letter in January appears to have “done the job,” because in recent months the parties have returned to negotiations and “significant progress toward a solution” has begun.

JNF says in response that, “As soon as the matter [concerning Hashava] reached the desk of the JNF chairman, Effie Stenzler personally got involved in handling it, in full cooperation with the company and with the company director general, Yaron Jacobs. JNF was a leader in this realm, and deserves a medal for the way it acted with the company ... when, for example, it transferred close to NIS 100 million in funds and property for survivors and over 100 assets worth a lot of money. This massive process is now nearing its end.”

On transparency

Stenzler declared firmly at the September 2010 meeting: “It is incumbent upon us for the organization to be completely transparent,”

However, it seems that when it comes to internal organizational affairs as well, this transparency is not always total. For example, at the February meeting, board member Yigal Yasinov, who is considered Stenzler’s rival, said: “I do not regularly receive emails ... [or regular] mail. I didn’t even receive an invitation to the last board meeting, I didn’t get the agenda for today’s meeting and I know there are other letters that didn’t go out ... I want to get all the material from the past four months, because I did not receive it. I did not receive protocols, or any other mail at all. Invitations to ceremonies I do receive ... I get only mail which is unimportant, all the junk mail.”

It seems that Stenzler himself is not always keen on media transparency − as regards, for example, one of the more sensitive JNF activities: planting trees on lands in the south, whose ownership is a matter of dispute with the Bedouin population. This mostly concerns land in the area of Al-Arakib, a village north of Be’er Sheva that has been destroyed numerous times in clashes with police and property inspectors, because its inhabitants refuse to be evicted and claim ownership of the land.

In May, after telling the board about the extensive media coverage of the affair abroad and the number of emails he receives as a result, Stenzler added: “I must thank the spokespeople, our media people, our public relations people, who are doing everything to see that this matter doesn’t develop in the local media ... In the media in Israel it hasn’t [yet] made any waves, thank goodness.”

About the matter itself, he said: “This is an area that we are taking so that others, neither Jews nor non-Jews, will take it − not Bedouin or anyone else.”

In August last year, according to minutes of a meeting, he explained: “We have learned from our experience in recent years that wherever there is a tree planted it is almost impossible to seize control of the land ... Not for nothing did the ILA agree to increase the budget, because it understands that JNF helps to keep property.”

At the same meeting, board member Yitzhak Krichevsky offered another idea for how to deal with the problem: “Go to Sinai and see how Egypt took over the Bedouin,” he suggested. “There is no democracy there. We’re playing in the courts, with democracy. Go to Sinai. You won’t see a single Bedouin around there.”

But there are other voices making themselves heard in JNF as well. At the meeting in May, board member Alon Tal said that the affair is “a very serious public relations failure by the JNF ... The pictures of JNF foresters and other pictures that were publicized of tractors demolishing buildings are what stick with people, and the JNF appears to be a partner to a crime. Our representatives abroad didn’t know how to answer these charges and lost the battle over our reputation in Australia, the United States and other places.”

Another member, Or Karsin, spoke in even stronger terms: “I will say what I think, even if it might sound like Don Quixote,” she said, explaining that she didn’t feel right that “people are being put up against trees ... Placing trees in a position of war versus an Israeli population, citizens of the State of Israel, is a very serious thing, and it is very difficult to see these pictures and hear these voices.”

JNF said in response that this article has been based on “a collection of partial documents and partial truths that present a distorted and false picture. In regard to Al-Arakib, JNF is acting solely in accordance with the court decisions, and what the chairman meant by his remarks is that it is good that the media in Israel is not influenced by the world campaign that is fed by lies against Israel and against JNF, and that the media in Israel is behaving responsibly, and sees and knows that not a single tree was planted in the area in question.”

Read More:

Right to Life, by Esther Zandberg, in Haaretz

The final thesis submitted last year by Noa Tal as part of her major in landscape architecture at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology was supposed to be about landscape planning in the Yatir Forest, in the southern Hebron hills. When she first paid a visit to the area, however, she saw a multitude of Bedouin settlements scattered about there and decided to switch thesis subjects. The paper she eventually submitted dealt with the settlements of the so-called Bedouin diaspora, and included a proposal for what she called "definition and reorganization of the Yatir region, and the creation of a settlement alternative for the Bedouin living there."

Tal is a former Jewish Agency emissary in Capetown, South Africa, who worked as a volunteer in a black township. In the course of her visits to the unrecognized Bedouin settlements in the Yatir area, she says she was astounded to see "that the same situation exists here, as well."

Tal arrived in the Bedouin community without any prior knowledge or conceptions. In a preliminary study, she was astonished to learn that the unrecognized settlements do not appear anywhere in official plans, and on regional maps are defined as empty territory - whereas "In fact, it is full of life," she asserts. Scattered throughout the area are homemade road signs resembling those posted by the Jewish Agency, Tal says, adding that they are also graced with a logo of a bulldozer demolishing buildings, a hint of black humor.

Tal's thesis puts the unrecognized Bedouin settlements on the map, not as the target for demolition and uprooting, but as communities indeed deserving of "a full life." The thrust of her thesis is that a "softer" approach to the region must be taken: namely, one of "defining and reorganizing," not of "planning."

While it is true that Tal's final project does not offer a miraculous solution to generations of discriminatory planning policies, it seems to be saying that things could move in a different direction.

Tal's project was recently presented at the ninth annual conference of the Association of Landscape Architects in Israel, which took place in Herzliya. Evidently, it is the first project presented before this distinguished professional forum to touch on social and political issues. Conferences of the association, like its members, usually suffer from a lack of awareness of the greater contexts of its work, even while dealing directly with the manner in which land resources are distributed and created. Tal's thesis refutes with data and photographs the national phobia whereby Bedouin settlement in the Negev is seen as an existential, environmental and aesthetic threat. The ecological footprint of Bedouin settlement is a mere fraction of that of Jewish settlement, no matter what form or variety the latter takes. The area in which the Bedouin reside is only 3 percent of the Negev, whereas they constitute about one-third of its population. As for aesthetics, ugliness is in the eye of the beholder.

Coerced urbanism

The site Tal selected for her project is an area along Route 316 that leads to Hebron, which includes four unrecognized settlements. A pressing reason for choosing this site was the recent approval of a government plan to establish the Jewish communal settlements of Yatir and Hiran there, in total disregard for the existing Bedouin settlements. The unrecognized settlements are adjacent to the recognized town of Hura, one of the seven towns in the Negev established by the state for Bedouin. They are, in large part, evidence of a tremendous planning failure and the total incompatibility of these communities to the population for which they were meant. In comparison to the plethora of residential options available to the general (Jewish) population in Israel - city, village, suburb, one-family dwellings - urbanization is the sole form of settlement available to Bedouin citizens of Israel, the majority of whom earn their living from agriculture. In the face of this coerced urbanization, the product of a government policy to restrict the subsistence zones of the Bedouin population and force it to relinquish its traditional lifestyle, culture and economy; in the face of the intention to uproot tens of thousands of residents of this diaspora (according to the Goldberg Committee report ); in the face of the bulldozers that sow destruction and have become part of the landscape - Noa Tal's theoretical project takes a strong stand. It relates seriously to social structure, construction in existing settlements and the need to strengthen their rural character through the allocation of land for agriculture. Among the settlements in the region, Tal selected Abu al-Qian , where her dialogue with residents was most productive, as a test case. While this and other unrecognized Bedouin settlements seem to be a haphazard collection of structures thrown into the desert, in actuality, they precisely reflect the population's social structure and its conditions of subsistence. The road system may be "informal," but it outlines boundaries between family, clan and tribe, and underscores inter-tribal relations. The location of the settlements within this expanse is consistent with the geographical lay of the land and its network of streambeds.

It is thus not coincidental that Tal suggests that the main public structure of her project - the local educational center - should be located at a point that connects the roads and belongs to all of the clans in the tribe. The basic assumption is that investment in education in this sector would be a decisive factor in determining the future of the society, and that the location of the center would be a significant element in its functionality.

Female space

A key focus of the project involves "creation of a physical place for the woman in a society that is undergoing processes of modernization." Paradoxically, those processes have, in fact, stymied woman's advancement in Bedouin society, notes Tal. In the era of nomadic life, women herded the sheep and could freely move about in the space outside the tent. With the transition to permanent settlements, the area in which they are allowed to move about without an escort was reduced to their immediate home environment. The project proposes to redefine the so-called female space to include vegetable and other gardens, and playgrounds. The public buildings of the settlement, Tal suggests, could offer a partition between this realm and the male realm.

"My personal hope," concludes Tal, "is that one day there will not be a need for partition, and the [women's] territories will be the open territories of the settlement at large." If this hope is realized, and given the rapid departure of Jewish women from the public expanse in Israel, the day might come when the Bedouin settlement will be the only place in Israel in which a woman will be able to appear in public undisturbed .

In the meantime, at the conference at which Tal's thesis was presented, where "the changing functions of landscape architecture" were discussed - not a single woman or man from the Bedouin sector, to which the project relates, was present. Similarly, there weren't any professionals from the Arab sector present, even though the injustices related to landscape planning and the division of land resources are more relevant to them than to their Jewish counterparts. On second thought, perhaps members of these sectors were in fact invited to the conference and meant to attend, but were not allowed to come because they did not properly meet the loyalty tests, or they were confused by the words of the national anthem, or they answered incorrectly the questions about the Zionist heritage and its division of land and other resources.


Read More -

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In Legal Precedent, Israel Court Stops Demolition of Unrecognized Bedouin Village, by Jack Khoury, in Haaretz

In an unusual and precedent-setting ruling, the Kirayt Gat magistrate's court cancelled a demolition order for an unrecognized Bedouin settlement in Israel's south on Tuesday.

The ruling effectively calls off the demolition of 51 structures in the unrecognized settlement of Al-Sura, which would have left its 400 residents homeless. The ruling was reached following a petition by Adala - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

Al-Sura's 70 families have been residing in the village southeast of Be'er Sheva for the last seven decades, and were recognized by the British Mandate as legal owners of their land. Already in the 1970s, the families have petitioned Israeli authorities to be recognized as official owners, but their request has yet to receive a response.

Throughout the years they have been deemed squatters on government land, but claimed the state has yet to offer then an alternative, rejecting their offers at a solution.

In 2006, al-Sura residents began receiving orders to demolish their homes, at which time they appealed the relevant judicial authorities, with the court freezing those orders in 2007. A final ruling, however, was not given until Tuesday.

In his ruling, judge Israel Axelrod said that it was clear that the petitioners had been in breach of the law and that the state could act against the illegal structures.

However, Axelrod added that the houses have existed at their current location for dozens of years, saying that the state presented no evidence that the evacuation was meant to promote any public cause, and adding that enforcement would leave the families homeless.

"And as is custom in the Supreme Court, when the court is asked to rule in petitions such as these, it must balance, as it sees fit, between general and specific public interests that have to do with the case and the personal interest of those whose houses the state wishes to demolish," Axelrod wrote.

Adala legal representative Suhad Bishara called the ruling a precedent for the many unrecognized Bedouin settlements in the Negev.

The ruling's significance is that the state cannot continue a unilateral policy toward the unrecognized villages, while disregarding the basic legal rights of their residents.

In his closing notes, Axelrod quoted Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel, who wrote that "the difficult reality with which Israel's Bedouin population faces necessitates – and better sooner than later – a general systematic solution."

"That is the essential message which the ruling in this case sends," Axelrod continued, saying that it "should be taken into account in any future attempt to deal with the issue."

Axelrod urged the Israeli government to "open an honest dialogue with the residents of the unrecognized settlements and recognize their legal rights to their lands and to the use of those lands."

It should be noted that the decision was made during a public campaign against a plan to regulate Bedouin settlement in the Negev, known as the Prawer Plan.

Several protests and rallies have taken place in recent weeks to protest the plan, backed by High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel. Human rights groups have also joined the struggle, with lawyers declaring their willingness to represent the Bedouin residents in their fight against the plan and the legislation that will follow it.

Read More:

Monday, December 5, 2011

'JNF Judaizing Negev at Beduin Expense,' by Sharon Udasin, in Jerusalem Post

Following the Jewish National Fund’s announcement at last week’s Sderot Conference that it would be investing NIS 1 billion toward further Negev development, Beduin rights advocates have expressed concern that the investment will deepen already profound rifts between the Jewish and Beduin Negev residents.

JNF chairman Efi Stenzler unveiled plans to invest NIS 1b. in the next few years toward the construction of thousands of new housing units and related infrastructural development, in the hope of strengthening the Negev region and fulfilling a “Zionist vision” by attracting young people to move there. While the Negev has an area of 1.2 million hectares, or 60 percent, of Israel’s territory, it is home to only 600,000 people, or 8% of the country’s population, according to the JNF.

Although the difference in average real estate in the Center and the Negev was only about 10% in the 1970s, in now stands at 400%.

The organization will be working to develop the region in conjunction with architect Shamai Assif, various government ministries, the Israel Lands Authority, mayors and heads of local councils, regional councils and settlement movements, the JNF reported.

“The JNF will continue to help reinforce communities in the Negev,” the statement said, noting that the group intends to employ the already vibrant Negev population centers as “anchors” for future development.

Some of the specific plans for the area include upgrading the number of plots in Karmit from 250 to 700, creating 120 land plots in both Neveh Netzarim and Bnei Netzarim, expanding the Shlomit temporary camp from about 30 families to 500, and preparing another 32 lots in Kadesh Barnea – a community established by the JNF. In addition, on Amatzya, a moshav near Lachish, the JNF is preparing to create 200 housing units for people evacuated from Gush Katif in 2005, and the organization will be erecting a new community for about 100 evacuee families near Nir Akiva, according to the organization. The JNF and its partners will also help develop tourist facilities in Tzukim, and will prepare the communities of Idan, Paran and Ein Yahav for further agricultural development.

“This is a plan that is expected to help change the face of the Negev, encouraging families to move from the center to the Negev, together with shaping the existing communities, which will lead to a transformation in the residential experience,” Stenzler said. “All this in cooperation with heads of councils who are doing a great job and who together are transforming the region into a center of attraction, and there is hope in [first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion’s vision of making the desert bloom.”

The organization stressed that it is continuing to advance agricultural infrastructure in the Central Arava region, and said it will be preparing 5,000 hectares of land for citrus cultivation, in addition to the 1,500 already prepared for that purpose.

As far as the Beduin portions of the Negev Desert go, the JNF emphasized that it is currently working on many projects involving this sector, such as the recently completed first stage of Nahal Gerar Park in Rahat, which amounted to a NIS 1 million investment.

Meanwhile, the organization is also in the process of establishing recreational infrastructure for Beduin communities, such as the Lahav Forest for residents of Beersheba, Lehavim, Lakiya and Rahat, as well as the Yatir Forest for residents of the southern Hebron hills, Hura and Kuseifa, according to the statement.

But advocates for the Beduin community fear that the JNF’s development efforts will only further destroy “entire villages,” as occurred with al- Arakib village in 2010, during a JNF forestation project.

“There is minimal investment in Beduin communities relative to the size of the population,” said Haia Noach, executive director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.

“The JNF’s plan reveals that it is continuing to not only ignore the reality of the Negev’s diverse population but inflame the relationship between the Jewish and Beduin communities,” Noach said. “It is clear that the mission of the JNF is to Judaize the Negev at the expense of Israel’s Beduin citizens.”

Read More:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Myth of United Jerusalem, by Daniel Seidemann, in The Atlantic

The Jewish attachment to Jerusalem is incontestable. For millennia, Jerusalem has been central to Jewish identity in the Diaspora; since the birth of the state of Israel, the importance of contemporary Jerusalem as Israel's capital has become part of the ethos shared by Israelis and Jews around the world. Jewish attachments to Jerusalem are embodied both in the religious and historic sites in and around the Old City and in the modern Israeli city that has been built beyond its ramparts in the past century.

But this genuine attachment to Jerusalem has given rise to policies that are increasingly unsustainable: settlement policies that aspire to place Jerusalem beyond the realm of political compromise and which embody an exclusionary vision of Jewish Jerusalem, ignoring the complexity of the city and its universal importance. Forty-four years after Israel took control over the entirety of Jerusalem, these policies are both a failure and at odds with Israel's own interests.

Since 1967, when Israel gained control of East Jerusalem and "united" it with West Jerusalem to create its self-proclaimed capital, Israel has tried to control the city's demography. It has accelerated Israeli development while implementing a planning and zoning regime that limits Palestinian construction to a bare minimum. It has also enacted policies that effectively bar Palestinian "immigration" into East Jerusalem while reducing the number of Palestinians counted as residents in the city. But these efforts to cap the Palestinian population in Jerusalem have failed. In 1967, Palestinians represented 25.5 percent of the city's population. Today they are 38 percent, and within decades they will be the majority.

Neither the Palestinians of East Jerusalem nor Israel have ever viewed Palestinian residents of the city as Israeli. Despite the attempts of problematic polls that purport to prove otherwise, Israelis and Palestinians have demonstrated by their actions over the past 43 years that neither endeavors nor aspires to share a political community. While Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have been formally given the right to seek Israeli citizenship (in contrast to the Palestinians that found themselves living inside Israel following Israel's 1948 War of Independence, who automatically became citizens of Israel), less than 5 percent of the population of close to 300,000 have availed themselves of this right. Thus, today almost 40 percent of the population of "united" Jerusalem does not vote in national or municipal elections. In truth, "united" Jerusalem remains a bi-national city.

Today, 44 years after Jerusalem's "unification," Israel still does not provide most normal services or even build sufficient classrooms in much of East Jerusalem. Legal proceedings are currently pending before the Israeli Supreme Court to compel Israel's Postal Authorities to deliver mail in East Jerusalem. This dysfunctional reality is not typically rooted in malice, but rather in the political cultures of Israelis and Palestinians: Israel displays little, if any, interest in genuinely incorporating the Palestinians into Israeli Jerusalem, while the Palestinians determinedly reject the legitimacy of Israeli governance over their lives. In short, Israeli rule in East Jerusalem is a fiction.

Israel's efforts to physically unify the city, mainly through building large Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, have likewise failed. (These neighborhoods, by virtue of being located east of the 1967 lines, are viewed by the international community as settlements whose construction should cease and whose future will have to be determined by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.) In Jerusalem, a border based on demography already largely exists today. The municipal boundary of Jerusalem, expanded by Israel in 1967 to extend far beyond those areas in which there are Jewish historical and religious attachments, include tens of Palestinian neighborhoods that most Israelis have never heard of. Few Israelis ever venture into areas in East Jerusalem beyond its Old City and Palestinians rarely visit the West. The two peoples lead separate lives, working and shopping in different areas and going to separate schools in which different curricula are taught.

This anomalous situation comes at a price - evident throughout East Jerusalem and increasingly in West Jerusalem, where fictitious rule and real-life neglect have created an impoverished, disgruntled, crime- and strife-ridden city. That cost is also evident in the fact that 44 years after Jerusalem's "unification," not a single country recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital or has its embassy there. No country, not even among Israel's staunchest allies, recognizes the legitimacy of Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem. Doggedly clinging to the mantra of "undivided Jerusalem" has not altered this reality; if anything, it has driven Israel into ever-increasing isolation.

Alongside these troubling realities is something even more worrisome: Israeli policies in Jerusalem are threatening the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli settlement activities in East Jerusalem will soon render the geography and demography of the city so balkanized that it will no longer be possible to create a viable Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. This means the end of the two-state solution, since Palestinians will never agree to a solution that does not include a capital in East Jerusalem.

In addition, Israel is today permitting extremist settlers to seize properties in the heart of East Jerusalem based on the argument that these properties belonged to Jews before 1948. In effect, Israel is supporting a Jewish "right of return" to East Jerusalem. In doing so, Israel is not only laying the seeds for permanent and escalating conflict in these areas; it is also re-opening 1948-era grievances, fanning the flames of Palestinian demands for their own right of return to properties inside Israel, thereby further undermining the two-state solution.

Cumulatively, Israeli policies in East Jerusalem today threaten to transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a bitter national conflict that can be resolved by means of territorial compromise, into the potential for a bloody, unsolvable religious war. This threat derives from Israel's dogged pursuit of the settlers' vision of an exclusionary Jewish Jerusalem -- displacing Palestinians in targeted areas, politicizing archeology, handing over of the most sensitive cultural, historical, and religious sites to extreme settler organizations, and promoting a narrative that East Jerusalem is exclusively or predominantly Jewish, while marginalizing the other national and religious equities in the city. In the process, Israel is alienating even its staunchest allies and thus undermining its own claims in the city. It is also putting itself on a collision course with the forces of moderation in the Muslim and Christian worlds, who sense, with reason, that their equities are being marginalized in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is fast becoming the arena where religious fundamentalists -- Jewish, Christian, and Muslim; domestic and international -- play out their apocalyptic fantasies.

The genuine Israeli and Jewish interests reside not in an exclusive Israeli hegemony over the city, but in universal recognition of Israeli Jerusalem as Israel's capital and of the deep Jewish attachments to the city. Likewise, arriving at an end-of-claims agreement with the Palestinians, something that cannot be done without a compromise on Jerusalem, is an existential Israeli imperative. And all of these can only be achieved by means of a political division of the city, a position that has been embraced by all those who have engaged seriously in permanent status negotiations, including two Israeli prime ministers.

The contours of such an agreement are clear: Jewish Jerusalem becomes the capital of Israel, Palestinian Jerusalem becomes the capital of Palestine, virtually all the Israeli settlement neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are incorporated into Israel as part of a land swap, and special arrangements are put in place in and around the Old City, guaranteeing access to and protection of its religious and holy sites. (For more on the possible contours of Jerusalem in a final-status agreement, see the Jerusalem chapter of "Is Peace Possible?" on The Atlantic.) Israel would gain far more than it would stand to lose in such an agreement.

Today, Israel must choose between two visions of Jerusalem. On the one hand, it can continue pursuing an exclusive, largely fictitious rule over an already divided, bi-national city -- exposing Israel to virtually universal censure and imperiling the two-state solution. On the other hand, it can pursue policies that can make Israeli Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, a thriving national capital, recognized by all, existing side-by-side with but politically divided from the Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, al Quds. To those who cherish Israel and understand what is truly at stake, the choice is clear.

Read More:

This article is part of "Is Peace Possible?", a special report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by The Atlantic and The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.