Tag Archives: jnf

Israeli democracy, or the lack thereof: a conversation with Alternet’s Joshua Holland

I recently spoke to Alternet’s Joshua Holland about law and politics in Israel. Our conversation focused on the image of Israel as a Western style democracy coping with legitimate security concerns versus the reality of Israel as an ethnocratic state managing its demographic peril through authoritarian measures approved by the Jewish majority. The discussion can be heard here. Below is a transcript via Alternet:

Joshua Holland: Max, I don’t want to talk about Iran today. I don’t want to talk about the Israeli lobby in the United States, and I don’t want to talk about the Occupation. I want to talk about something I don’t think gets enough attention in this country, which is the sharp rightward turn of the Israeli government.

One of the great non-sequiturs of our political discourse is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. And I say it’s a great non-sequitur because it’s usually used as a response to, for example, criticism of the Occupation. You say this Occupation is terrible, and people say it’s the only democracy in the Middle East.

Anyway, Tzipi Livni, the leader of the opposition Kadima Party, accused Benjamin Netanyahu recently of, “an attempt to transform Israel into a type of dictatorship.” Kadima lawmakers said that recent legislation passed by the Knesset represented, “the gravest challenge to democracy since the establishment of the state in 1948.” Tell me about the sharp rightward lurch. When did this happen, because I remember when I was a kid Israel was almost a socialist country.

Max Blumenthal: Well, by not wanting to talk about Iran you’re an anti-Semite and I condemn that.

JH: Max, I’m a self-loathing Jew — please get this straight.

MB: Part of Netanyahu’s goal in focusing on Iran is taking the Palestinian question off the table, and so it’s good that you’re talking about this. Israel has never been a democracy in the sense that we think about a democracy. It’s a settler, colonial state that privileges the Jewish majority, which it created through violent methods of demographic manipulation over the indigenous Palestinian outclass.

That’s true even inside Israel. So when you hear people like Tzipi Livni — who is for now the head of the Kadima Party but soon to be ousted, and actually came out of the Likud Party and was aide to Ariel Sharon – when you hear liberal Zionists, people on the Zionist left, warning that Israel is turning into a fascist state what they’re talking is the occupation laws creeping back over the green line, and that these right-wing elements are actually starting to crack down on the democratic rights that have been afforded to the Jewish majority inside Israel. So Jews who are left-wingers, who are dissidents and speak out against state policy are actually beginning to feel a slight scintilla of the kind of oppression that Palestinians have felt since the foundation of the state of Israel. That’s where this criticism is coming from.

I think we really need to get beyond the discourse of occupation and the discourse of fascism, and instead to talk about institutional discrimination and apartheid, which is what has been present since the foundation of the state of Israel.

JH: Now I want to talk about some of the specific measures that have been proposed, some of which have passed. There are some things that have been pulled back or tabled temporarily due to international pressure, and other have actually gotten through and become law. Tell be about the crackdown on NGOs.

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Confronting Memoricide and Minstrelsy at the JNF’s “Broadway Sensation” Fundraiser

Pro-Israel commentators are generally loath to engage in discussions of the history surrounding Israel’s creation. When they do, they generally resort to tired and discredited myths about the Palestinians running away at their leaders’ behest, or about the Nakba being “self-inflicted,” as Jeffrey Goldberg said recently. Nakba denial is an important feature of hasbara, not only because acknowledging the real history of Palestinian dispossession in 1947, ’48 and in the years afterwards erodes the foundation of the Zionist narrative, but because the Nakba continues on both sides of the Green Line to this day.

Besides the Israeli army, there is no single organization more intimately involved in the ongoing Nakba than the Jewish National Fund. Originally called the Jewish Colonial Trust, the JNF was in charge of buying land from absentee landlords, then evicting thousands of tenants and residents in Palestine, transforming an entire agricultural class into landless peasants. In the 1930′s, JNF director Yosef Weitz helped lead David Ben Gurion’s Transfer Committee, which planned the widespread campaign ethnic cleansing that would take place beginning in 1947, one year before the foundation of Israel. After the state confiscated millions of dollars of Palestinian land and property, it began leasing it out through the JNF, which declares in its charter that it only leases to Jews. The JNF also planted non-native forests on top of dozens of destroyed Palestinian villages so their residents would have nothing to return to — greenwashing in its ultimate form. (Everything I have referenced is described in greater detail here).

Nowadays, the JNF is leading a violent campaign to expel the Bedouin residents of Al Arakib, a village in the Negev Desert so it can build a forest on behalf of GOD TV, an anti-Semitic evangelical broadcasting network that says it is planting trees in Israel to prepare the land for Christ’s return. Talk about an unholy alliance. The residents of Al Arakib, who have been shot by rubber bullets, beaten, and jailed, have been ordered to move to a “development town” (read: Indian reservation) built by the Or Movement, a JNF subsidiary. For a comprehensive look at the JNF’s seamy agenda and long record of human rights violations, go to the link above and check out the four volume JNF e-book series (my writing and reporting is featured in two editions).

On May 16, a day after worldwide Nakba observances, me and a few friends confronted attendees of a JNF fundraising event in New York’s Lincoln Center called “Broadway Sensation.” We handed out small trees planted next to small cards featuring the names of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages. The prop allowed us to attempt to discuss the history of the Nakba and the JNF’s role in it with some of the JNF’s major donors. Their hostility to engaging with us was revealing. They knew nothing about the JNF’s involvement in ethnic cleansing and didn’t want to know. Before long we were asked to leave by security guards.

On our way out we noticed on a flier for the event that the JNF’s donors were being entertained by the Scottsboro Boys, a Broadway show about a group of African-Americans wrongly convicted of rape. While some have hailed the show as humorous and well-choreographed, the African-American theater and arts critic Valerie Gladstone called it “a callous production in…questionable taste.” It’s hard to blame her for being so harsh. After all, the musical is a literal minstrel show that is performed during parts by black actors wearing blackface.

Here is a taste of the entertainment the JNF selected for its donors:

On Land Day, the Jewish National Fund’s Racist Legacy is Exposed

“The complete evacuation of the country from its other inhabitants and handing it over to the Jewish people is the answer.”

–Jewish National Fund director Yosef Weitz, March 20, 1941

“The Jewish National Fund is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners – Jewish people everywhere.”

–Jewish National Fund mission statement

The first pogrom against Al Arakib, courtesy of the Jewish National Fund (photo by Active Stills)

The first of 21 pogroms against Al Arakib, courtesy of the Jewish National Fund (photo by Active Stills)

Today is the 35th anniversary of the Land Day massacre by Israeli soldiers of unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrating against the expropriation of their farmland in the Galilee and the expansion of Jews-only settlements around their villages. According to Hatim Khanaaneh, a renowned doctor and activist whose memoir, “A Doctor In Galilee” is the best first hand account I have read of official Israeli discrimination against its Palestinian citizens, soldiers from the Golani Brigade celebrated the massacre in a nearby Jewish moshav by dancing and singing “Am Yisrael Chai.” The Land Day massacre electrified the Palestinian national movement inside Israel and popularized Toufiq Ziad’s poem, “Ounadikom” (I call out to you), an enduring cry of anti-colonial resistance that was recited this January in Cairo’s Tahrir Square by Waseem Wagdi.

On this year’s Land Day, the Jewish National Fund distributed a series of hysterical fundraising appeals and press releases that highlighted the organization’s sense of desperation. The letters are full of schnorring and devoid of content, as the JNF has no response to the factual arguments of its critics or to the reports of its recent abuses in the Negev. Instead, the organization has called for a “Stop the Hatred Day” and concocted a new slogan: “They destroy, we build.” Of course, anyone who is familiar with Al Arakib knows that it is the JNF that destroys and the indigenous Bedouins who rebuild.

Since it was founded in 1901, the JNF has been at the forefront of ethnic cleansing in Palestine. And now the group’s machinations are being exposed and countered through an effective, non-violent campaign based on a simple appeal to human dignity, international law and basic rights. It is no wonder its leadership is so defensive and desperate.

The excellent Israeli documentary “The Diaries of Yosef Nachmani” used the memoirs of one of the JNF’s top officials to expose the organization’s role in forcing Palestinian farmers off their own land, often through trickery and manipulation. JNF director Yosef Weitz was instrumental in hatching Plan Dalet, the campaign to ethnically cleanse at least 400 Palestinian villages and expel their residents in 1947 and 1948. After the war of 1948, Weitz orchestrated the planting of hundreds of thousands of non-native trees west of Jerusalem to cover up the scores of villages that had just been ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias. Today those trees look as natural to the landscape of the Judean Hills as the hair plugs on Joe Biden’s scalp.

The Land Day protests were sparked by the Israeli government’s “Judaization” of the Galilee, a plan that led to mass expropriations by the Israel Land Authority (ILA). Through a 1960 law, ILA was required to allocate half of the seats in its council to the JNF. A law the following year clearly stated the JNF existed “for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties.” In other words, the JNF openly discriminated on the basis of ethnicity. Having acquired 70 percent of its land through confiscations from Palestinian refugees and present absentees through the Absentee Property Law of 1950, the JNF became a key mechanism for expropriation and ethnic cleansing under the guise of developing Israel for its Jewish citizens.

The 1995 Supreme Court Ka’adan ruling forbade the ILA from leasing land exclusively through the JNF. The court made its ruling on the grounds that the JNF openly discriminates against non-Jews. However, a Knesset vote in 2007 undermined the ruling, prompting the Israeli newspaper Haaretz to editorialize: “The Jewish National Fund’s land policy counters the interests of the state and cannot discriminate by law against the minority living in Israel.” (The title of the editorial was, “A Racist and Jewish State.”)

Today, though the ILA is able to sell some of its land to private developers, the JNF still controls 6 of 13 seats on the ILA’s council while maintaining numerous arrangements for land swaps with the state. With the ILA in possession of 93 percent of Israel’s land, the JNF remains in a prime position to dictate how the Galilee and Negev are “Judaized.” But as Alaa Mahajneh of the Palestinian-Israeli legal rights center Adalah points out, the increasingly complex arrangements make legislating equality from within the Israeli legal system even more difficult.

In recent years, the JNF has focused its efforts on an area in the Negev known as Al Arakib. It is the ancestral home of the Al Touri Bedouin tribe. In 1951, the Bedouins were removed from their land by the Israeli army, which told them they could return once it completed a series of training exercises. Years passed until the tribe came back, but by then they were considered “present absentees” thanks to the aforementioned Absentee Property Law. This meant that they were internal refugees with no rights to their own land, even if they had property deeds. Their land had been transfered into the hands of the Development Authority, the custodian for confiscated land at the time, and then handed over to the ILA, which eventually authorized the JNF to do what it does best: ethnic cleansing.

Nuri El Okbi, a veteran Bedouin rights activist from Al Arakib, attempted to move back to his family’s property, where the ruins of his father’s house lay. Not only did El Okbi have land deeds his parents had saved in a halvah box to prove their right to the land, he had aerial photos dating from 1947 that clearly showed his family’s home and fields. Each time he encamped there, however, Israeli police officers removed him by force. After the 40th attempt to return, El-Okbi received a restraining order forbidding him from setting foot on the land he spent his childhood. He can not return because he is not a Jew. In other countries during other times, this was considered apartheid.

Since the JNF has set its sights on Al Arakib, the village has been destroyed 21 times. Israeli police have used rubber bullets, percussion grenades, teargas, batons and bulldozers against women, children, and the elderly — all unarmed — in their effort to remove the Bedouin un-people from the area so the JNF can go to work. During the first destruction of Al Arakib, a squad of Israeli high school age students were hired to remove belongings from the homes of Al Arakib residents — the “Summer Camp of Destruction.” The students vandalized homes in the process and reportedly belted out the familiar “Am Yisrael Chai!” when the bulldozers moved in. ILA bulldozers accompanied by riot police have attempted to destroy and desecrate the Al Arakib cemetary, which contains graves more than a century old. And recently, the Israel State’s Attorney Office has announced plans to sue the residents of Al Arakib for $1 million shekels for the demolition of their own homes.

To complete its project in and around Al Arakib, the JNF has accepted millions of dollars in funding from a racist and anti-Semitic evangelical broadcasting network, GOD TV, that openly propagates End Times theology demanding that all Jews to convert to Christianity or suffer in an “everlasting lake of fire.” With the JNF’s help, GOD TV’s huckstering CEO Rory Alec will be able to fulfill his mission of “redeeming the land for Christ” by building “GOD TV Forest” on the ruins of Al Arakib. Meanwhile, Alec has lavished money on Givot Bar, a Jewish town in the area that is likely to benefit from the newly approved Communities Acceptance Law allowing small communities to openly discriminate against applicants on the basis of ethnicity and sexual orientation (and it is unlikely that blue collar Mizrahi Jews will be able to afford the 5000 Shekel application fee Givot Bar requires).

Recently, the Australian television news show Dateline produced an excellent report on Al Arakib. Dateline told the story of El Okbi, comparing him to the Australian aboriginal rights advocate Eddie Mabo, who won a landmark court case eliminating the white colonists’ legal fiction of Terra Nullius, a concept that still forms the basis of Israeli land confiscations.

Dateline then interviewed Shlomo Szizar, an official from the JNF’s bureaucratic parent, the ILA. In three lines, Siza summarized the logic of the JNF and the Zionist movement that brought it into being: “Every year, [the Bedouins] invade and we remove them. They invade and we remove them. We’re not going to let this land be invaded.”

Having turned the indigenous people of Palestine into “invaders” in their own land, the JNF’s leadership insists that their intentions are good. “I can tell you one simple thing,” JNF CEO Russell Robinson wrote in a March 28 email newsletter. “No other organization is doing anywhere near as much as JNF is to help enhance the quality of life for this [Bedouin] population.”

Go here and here to take action to stop the JNF.

Pete Seeger supports BDS, denounces the Jewish National Fund pogromists

Those of you who are active in exposing and fighting the Jewish National Fund’s efforts to ethnically cleanse the Negev — you are making a difference. The JNF has released an absurd statement attempting to deflect responsibility for the pogroms against Al Arakib (which I will take apart later). And Pete Seeger has informed the JNF: This land is not your land!

I just received this from Adalah NYC:

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The Jewish National Fund and GOD TV’s Pogrom Against Al Arakib Continues

Above is a shocking video depicting the 17th(!) pogrom against the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib by the criminal syndicate known as the Jewish National Fund and the End Timers at GOD TV. Apparently Israeli riot police fired bean bag rounds and tear gas to disperse the villagers, wounding children while violently arresting their parents.

I encourage everyone reading this to repost this and Richard Silverstein’s latest at the Facebook pages of the Jewish National Fund and GOD TV. In the coming weeks and months, I will be promoting new efforts to hold the pogromists at the JNF accountable for what they are doing in the Negev.

For now, here is a report from Yaaela Raanan of the Negev Bedouin support group (cross posted from Richard’s blog)

It seemed that there were “red lines” even for the police brutality against the Bedouins of the Israeli Negev – while destroying homes that had no possibility for acquiring building permits, arresting people on their village lands in order to make room for JNF trees, beating activists who dared request to see the official papers allowing the brutality – all seemed to be “ok”. but until today – even for the police – the cemetery and the people waiting in the cemetery for the police to leave – were off limits. no more.

After destroying the tents of the village – yet again, the JNF (yes!) bulldozer approached the gate of the cemetery attempting to run it down and destroy it. this was too much for the village people, who are sitting in their community’s cemetery, watching as their village is once more destroyed. As the bulldozer approached the gate, the people went to stop it with their bare hands. Several are injured, including children. They are being evacuated at this moment by ambulances.

The bulldozer has backed away from the gate, and the police and bulldozers are now a few yards away from the cemetery, re-thinking their next move.
Do all you can to stop this horrible escalation of the treatment of the Arab citizens of Israel!!!

To understand how cozy GOD TV’s relationship with the government of Israel is, watch this video.

An afternoon in the Jerusalem studio of GOD TV, the Christian Zionist ethnic cleansing network (updated/corrected)

I chat with Klaas, a GOD TV producer, inside the network's Jerusalem studio

I chat with Klaas, a GOD TV producer, inside the network's Jerusalem studio

Update/correction: A miscommunication with Jill Kestler-D’Amours, who interviewed Samia Al-Touri in Arabic with me present, resulted in my misquoting Al-Touri. Because I thought Kestler-D’Amours was summarizing Al-Touri’s comments, I attributed them to him. In fact, she was speaking for herself in reference to his comments. So I have corrected the post and updated with Al-Touri’s remarks.

I spent a part of this afternoon in the green room of a Russian news bureau in Jerusalem. While waiting for my friend Joseph Dana to appear on Russia TV to discuss the Palestine Papers, I looked out the window at a panoramic view of Jerusalem. In the foreground was the Mamilla cemetery, once the home to the graves of prominent Palestinian families like the Khalidis, and now the desecrated future site of the Simon Wiesenthal Foudation’s ironically named “Center for Human Dignity,” which was approved by the Jerusalem municipality.

Now Joseph was on. “What the papers provide us with is the ultimate confirmation that Israel is not a viable partner for peace and does not support an equitable two state solution,” he said. “Israel is content with the status quo, which means a permanent state of war and the deadly reality of occupation it established in 1967.”

On our way out, I noticed that the studio of GOD TV, the evangelical End Times network, were right next door. GOD TV is the key funder of the Jewish National Fund’s plan to plant a million trees directly over the site of the Bedouin village Al-Arakib, a scheme that has resulted in ten demolitions of the village and untold damage to its residents. I knocked on the door of GOD TV’s studio and a tall, lanky producer appeared. He told me he was from the Netherlands and introduced himself as Klaas. I asked if his network was funding the JNF’s plan to plant a forest that would permanently displace Al-Arakib, forcing its residents’ transfer to the Indian reservation style development town of Rahat.

He told me that while they are planting a million trees to beautify the land for the Second Coming of Christ, he knew nothing about Al-Arakib. “The JNF hasn’t told us anything about that and we certainly wouldn’t be a part of anything that would do what you described,” he said. Then he demanded I support my claims with evidence.

Klaas allowed me to go online on one of GOD TV’s computers to show him my video of the demolition of Al-Arakib. Unfortunately, Google and YouTube were blocked by a search filter on all of the network’s computers. Either a wave of porn watching and chronic masturbation has swept through GOD TV a la AIPAC in the Steve Rosen era, or they are restricted from accessing outside information like North Koreans. Or both. I left Klaas with an article by Neve Gordon about his network’s collaboration with the JNF.

As I was leaving, Klaas suddenly grew argumentative. “An Israeli friend who lives in the Negev told me the Bedouins have to be removed because they steal everything,” he said. “That’s their way of life — theft.”

I asked if he ever spoken to a Bedouin or gone to the Negev to see the situation for himself. He said he hadn’t. I then asked if he had ever met a Palestinian Christian. While our conversation took place, GOD TV was broadcasting a “report” on the Hebron massacre of 1929 which featured black and white footage of Arab men jumping around with swords in a frenzied manner interspersed with interviews with settlers.

“I noticed in Holland a lot of people said they were Christian but they didn’t even go to church, so I realized that they were not really Christians. I mean, what kind of Christians are these Palestinians?” Klaas said. He seemed to be suggesting that anyone who was not born-again was not an authentic Christian.

I told him that most of the Palestinian Christians are Orthodox, and that some are direct descendants of the Apostles. I explained that the Christians of Bethlehem have been physically assaulted by Israeli troops for attempting to celebrate Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, that Christians in Gaza are blocked by Israel from celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem, and that the mayor of Nazareth Illit banned the public display of Christmas trees this year because he considered them “provocative.” “You can freely walk where Jesus walked because you’re an international,” I told Klaas, “but what if you were a Palestinian?”

He seemed disturbed by what I had just told him. “They really banned Christmas trees in Nazareth?” he asked. “Yeah, it was widely reported,” I replied. He paused, then came back at me: “Well, I’m not going to just stand here and believe what you say. If you approach the situation in one way, then you can fit everything into your point of view.”

I responded that that was exactly what GOD TV was doing with its broadcasts. He said, “Yeah, well you have to remember that we are a pro-Zionist network.” Then he added, “I’m happy to talk to you, but you’re not going to convince me.”

A Day In Kangaroo Court

Youth from Al-Arakib and Rahat demonstrate outside the Beersheva courthouse

Youth from Al-Arakib and Rahat demonstrate outside the Beersheva courthouse

Yesterday, I took a bus to Beersheva with a group of Israeli activists and the Bedouin residents of Al-Arakib and Rahat. The city’s courthouse was our destination. Inside, lawyers for Al-Arakib were contesting the JNF’s plan to plant a forest on their land. Deeds of ownership were presented proving the rights of the residents to remain in Al-Arakib. “This is our land and our grandfather’s land,” a 24-year-old resident of Rahat named Mohammed Abu Hamid, told me. “They have already taken so much from us. If they take everything, where else can we be?”

Gadi Algazi, a professor and activist who was arrested during the 10th demolition of the village, an episode in which Israeli police fired rubber bullets, told me that the plaintiffs are expected to lose. “We have a supposedly independent judge but the court system is completely stacked against the Bedouins,” Algazi said. “They almost always lose these cases. But this is one of the last chances to stop the JNF so they invested heavily in the case.”

Were it not for the wave of sustained activism against the JNF’s plans, the people of Al Arakib would have already been swept away like dust — like so many of the Bedouin tribes who were expelled to Gaza in ’48 and after. The court cases and demonstrations have at least postponed their cruel fate. But the demolitions and attendant violence have taken their toll.

Samia Al-Touri, a resident of Al-Arakib who has served as a key link to international and Jewish Israeli activists, said that six young members of the village were injured by rubber bullets during the last demolition. Jill Kestler-D’Amours, an activist and reporter who has spent extensive time in Al-Arakib, told me that many children from the village are suffering from bedwetting, nightmares and general trauma. Some fear returning to Al-Arakib so much they have already been resettled in Rahat — a quiet transfer.

Today I learned that Al-Arakib has lost its case in the Beersheva court. The JNF and GOD TV’s plans will move ahead. In a few minutes, Al Jazeera will air a special report on Palestine Papers detailing Israeli proposals to transfer large numbers of Palestinian Israelis into the West Bank, showing how the state uses its own non-Jewish citizens as bargaining chips. To anyone who has visited an unrecognized village like Al-Arakib, this revelation would not come as a surprise.

Below is a translated portion of Al-Touri’s interview conducted by Kestler-D’Amours and witnessed by me:

A week ago in the early morning, Israelis came from the Jewish National Fund. They didn’t give us time to wake our children up or take things out of the house. They demolished the houses and destroyed the water inside the house. This was the 10th demolition in al-Araqib and after this they began to plow everything. What they demolished they plowed. Big cars, about 40 cars or more. Then they wanted to plant trees in the land, and when the tractors came in they were confronted by the people of al-Araqib who tried to stop them.

They shot rubber bullets at us, and injured the youth and we had six injured the first days, many were prevented to go to hospitals. Also about five were arrested. After that, they came again to plant trees and then the lawyer stopped them from doing this by a court order.

That day there was demolitions, 7 people were injured, women were shot at. A child of 13-years-old was injured. People were arrested. 5 were arrested who were from al-Araqib, and 4 Israeli Jews were arrested from those in solidarity with us and who protect our cause. This is what happened in the past few days.

This is a decisive court [hearing], and we want to tell them to leave. We lost trust in these courts and this is why many of us are here today. This is a decisive court session and we want them to return our rights. We have all the necessary documents that prove that this land is ours and that we inherited it from our ancestors. For this, we came to tell this state stop demolitions, stop destroying, stop damaging our land in al-Araqib. We don’t want you to plant trees in our land, we want to build it again for us and our children, like any other citizens of the country.