An interesting article by Uri Avnery, Israel’s longest flying dove and a man I greatly admire and respect.

Abolish the JNF

by Uri Avnery; Gush Shalom; 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, impossible.

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 Timbuktuto 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 innocently.

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 landof Israelwas 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 police.

In spit

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