Monday, January 30, 2012

Jerusalem Protest at JNF Calls to Halt Bedouin Displacement, by Max Schindler, +972

Some 100 demonstrators gathered at the Jewish National Fund headquarters in Jerusalem on Sunday to protest afforestation plans in the Negev region of Southern Israel, which could result in the displacement of Bedouin families residing there.

Rallying in front of the JNF’s sprawling offices in downtown Jerusalem, the crowd included activists from Rabbis for Human Rights and regional Bedouin leaders. Holding posters declaring their opposition to the forcible transfer of the Bedouin population, the protesters received thumbs-up from passersby and honks from speeding drivers.

One demonstrator, a resident of the al-Araqib village—located seven kilometers north of Beersheba (see here for a detailed map)—described how the Israeli authorities confiscated his cropland:

“The JNF took my land,” said a man who introduced himself as Hussein and who was born in al-Araqib. “They’ve taken everything, all types of crops—watermelon, wheat—and they planted trees all over it… Now we’re all living in the al-Araqib cemetery, all 25 of us [extended family members].”

The Israeli authorities have been trying to evict the residents of al-Araqib since 1999, who were then estimated to number some 500. In July 2010, the Israel Land Administration razed the al-Araqib village in order to plant a forest there. Most of village’s structures were subsequently rebuilt.

Since then, the authorities have demolished the village at least 32 times, according to Haia Noach, executive director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.

Every few months, the cat-and-mouse game resumes, with the Israeli authorities demolishing and the villagers rebuilding.

Virtually none of the structures have proper building permits, according to village residents. The Israel Land Administration—the authority carrying out the demolitions— argues that the area was pronounced state property for “security purposes” in 1954.

Al-Araqib is by no means the only unrecognized village affected by JNF development.

According to a 2011 report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, approximately half the Bedouin population in the Negev—or 90,000 people—live in quasi-recognized or unrecognized villages similar to al-Araqib.

Many of their villages, all lacking basic infrastructure, face the same predicament as al-Araqib. In 2007, in order to supposedly find a solution to the unrecognized villages, Israel established the Goldberg Commission, which concluded that the Bedouin villages should be recognized and their buildings rights retroactively legalized.

However, the Prawer Commission, established to implement Goldberg’s recommendations, calls to transfer some 30,000 Bedouin from their Negev villages to existing Bedouin townships. Its conclusions were approved by the government last September.

As Noam Sheizaf of +972 reported in November of last year, the JNF now controls 13 percent of the land in Israel. As a policy, the fund – a non-profit which is run by the Israeli government – markets its land only to Jews.

Regarding the JNF’s plans for the Negev, Gadi Elgazi of Tarabut-Hithabrut, an Arab-Jewish movement for social and political change, said, “It’s the largest campaign of dispossession in Israel, against the weakest and poorest population in Israel by any socio-economic standard.”

It doesn’t help that among Jewish communities abroad, the JNF conjures images of blue donation boxes and a pioneering ethos. “From the [United States], many people contribute to the JNF believing that it does nice things for everyone. They don’t know what’s going on in the Negev, the daily demolitions,” Elgazi continued.

The al-Araqib village has scrambled to organize against the eviction efforts, creating a local committee. But the head of these efforts, Awad Abu Freih, a professor of chemistry and resident of al-Araqib, said the prospect of forestalling the JNF’s plans was weak.

“In the end, they will take our land,” Abu Freih said. “We haven’t had any successes but there have been some delays.”

In response to the protests, the Israeli government has offered compensation for the al-Araqib village. “The government wants us to move and they’re offering 1,000-2,000 shekels for one dunam,” or about $270-530 for a quarter of an acre, Abu Freih said.

A number of Israelis and international organizations have responded to the eviction efforts by petitioning and pressuring the JNF.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, has lobbied the JNF on the behalf of al-Arakib and says that the organization is feeling the heat.

“There are people on the directorate both here and in the States that who would like to see this changed,” Ascherman said, without divulging individual board members’ names.

In December, JNF board member Seth Morrison resigned from the organization in response to news of similar evictions and demolitions in East Jerusalem.

“I think it reflects that many people who believe in the JNF and support and love many of things they do, as I do, and put their coins in those little boxes over the year or sent more significant checks; they expect something different of the JNF,” Ascherman said.

The JNF was not available for comment at time of publication. Stay tuned for updates.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Trees n' Settlements: First the JNF, Now the Israel Nature and Parks Authority -- What's Next?, by Moriel Rothman, in Huffington Post

The new trend: seemingly innocuous, nature-oriented bodies in Jerusalem shedding their bark, so to speak, and revealing their true identities as expert-action-arms for the agenda of the settler movement.

First, we have the JNF-KKL, which, apart from its leadership in the campaign to demolish Bedouin villages in the Negev, has recently been exposed as seeking to evict Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem.

Following an international outcry, including the resignation of one of the JNF's Board members in the U.S. in protest of his former organization's actions the JNF's actions in East Jerusalem are frozen, for now. There is little doubt that they'll be back in action soon, though, dear justice-oriented reader, so keep your eyes peeled around Tu B'shvat, a festival of trees (which I really like, when its not being used to perpetrate political injustices) that falls in early February this year, wherein the JNF will certainly seek out some Bedouin village on which to plant more trees. In fact, just yesterday the JNF-KKL reestablished up a "work station" brimming with bulldozers next to Al-Arakib, a Bedouin village in the Negev that has been demolished 30-some times already.

Meanwhile, I am displeased to introduce the latest Trees n' Settlements organization -- the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, as in "the governmental body charged with the protection of nature, landscape and heritage in Israel?"

Unfortunately, yes.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has a new plan, called the "Slopes of Mount Scopus National Park," which, if carried out, will result in the confiscation of private Palestinian land and a territorial connection formed between the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement area of E1, near Ma'ale Adumim.

For more background on this case, see this blog post on +972 magazine by Solidarity's Zvi Beninga, and this more detailed background prepared by Bimkom, an Israeli planning rights organization, and the following letter prepared by the Solidarity Movement. For a report on how this process of political manipulation of archaeology is not a unique to this case but rather is quite systematic in Jerusalem, see Emek Shaveh's report, "Where Are the Antiquities?"

This park is not only unfair to the residents of A-Tur and Issawiya whose only wrongdoing was being born Palestinian in Jerusalem, but it also has potentially dramatic political ramifications:

The "Slopes of Mount Scopus" park is strategically located such that it will create Israeli territorial continuity between the Old City and the area known as E1, around the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.

Construction in E1 has been opposed by the U.S. government -- both under Obama and Bush: In October 2005, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated: "We have told the Israelis in no uncertain terms that [settlement in the E1 area] would contravene American policy." Building a "national park" that connects to E1 is the Israeli government's ill-disguised attempt to circumvent clear-cut American opposition to settlement in E1. It is apparent, however, that the goals of this park are political and not ecological.

The residents of Issawiya and A-Tur are not sitting by idly, though. Last Friday, almost 100 residents of Isswayia and Israeli activists organized by the Solidarity Movement took matters into their own hands, literally, and began to break down, with shovels and open palms, the mound of dirt and rubble that the INPA created last week, after it destroyed a road in Issawiya, to block residents from driving where the road once was (video of this nonviolent act of civil disobedience here).

Meanwhile, a broad coalition of Israeli organizations, including the Solidarity Movement, Bimkom, Emek Shaveh, Ir Amim, Rabbis for Human Rights, Combatants for Peace and more have been working with Palestinian partners and activists in Issawiya and A-Tur in order to seek to prevent this "national park."

The campaigns to stop the JNF from evicting families and destroying villages, and to cancel the INPA's planned park in the middle of East Jerusalem are ongoing, and the more international attention they get, the better the chances for success. E1 still remains largely empty because of American governmental pressure, and the Sumarin family in Silwan still remains in their home largely because of grassroots efforts.

Next time on Trees n' Settlements: the Israel Center for Watching Extremely Rare Birds lays out its plans a new bird sanctuary in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

(Kidding, kidding. Hopefully.)

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Twitter reveals JNF’s approach toward Palestinian Bedouin, by Noam Sheizaf in +972

In a tweet that was later deleted, the Jewish National Fund says Bedouins in unrecognized villages are “living on someone’s land illegally.” The JNF has been taking part in evacuations of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and in foresting actions aimed at preventing the Bedouin from accessing their lands; last month, a JNF board member resigned, citing “violation of human rights” by the organization.

In recent months, we have reported here on the Jewish National Fund’s role in attempts to take over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and in the evacuations of Palestinian Bedouins from their homes in the Negev desert.

The Fund – originally established to buy lands in the early days of Zionism – is today a quasi-government agency that controls 13 percent of the land in Israel. Since the fund only sells lands to Jews, the government occasionally transfers real estate in disputed areas to the fund, so it can carry out discriminatory policies that the government is forbidden from exercising directly. Such are the cases in East Jerusalem.

In the south, the fund does foresting work on the lands of unrecognized Palestinian villages, aimed at preventing Bedouins from rebuilding their homes. Last week, the Abu al-Qian Bedouin clan protested plans to evacute them from their homes in the Yatir area in order to make room for another JNF forest.

Last Thursday, there was an interesting tweet from the JNF USA office, essentially admitting that the Fund sees the Bedouin citizens of Israel as illegal invaders in their own land:

After several followers re-tweeted this message, the tweet was deleted. A new tweet directed readers to a public statement by the fund, claiming that the Bedouin issue “is too complicated to debate in 140 [characters].”

“The issue” is in fact not that complicated. When Israel was established, it chose not to recognize Bedouin ownership of lands that they cultivated or lived on, making them illegal residents in their own home – even in cases where those settlements predated the state itself. More than 60 years after, the state still tries to evacuate the Bedouin, while refusing to connect them to infrastructure such as electricity and water. Yet in the world of the Jewish National Fund, its not even a disputed territory: All lands belongs to Jews by default, and people – Israeli citizens! – living there are doing so “illegally.”

The Jewish National Fund is knowingly and willingly taking an active role in taking over the lands of indigenous population in different parts of Israel and the occupied territories. Lately, JNF board member Seth Morrison resigned from the organization, calling its evacuations of Palestinians in East Jerusalem a “violation of human rights.”

Rabbis for Human Rights have launched a campaign against the Jewish National Fund’s attempts to take over Palestinian homes and evacuate Bedouins from their lands. You can read more about it here.

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