On Thursday, the board of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) approved the start of a project to register properties in the West Bank and Jerusalem, a process that could lead to Palestinians being evicted from their homes.
As part of the plan, 530 files pertaining to deals at various stages for the purchase of properties in the West Bank, and another 2,050 in the Jerusalem area, will be reviewed. The plan encompasses 17,000 real estate files throughout the country. Its cost is estimated at 100 million shekels ($31 million), and it is expected to take five years.
In the past weeks, following the reports of the JNF’s intention to approve the project, the decision faced criticism both inside and outside the organization. At the board meeting, one Reform representative voted against and three Conservative representatives abstained.
Representative of left-wing organizations within the JNF demanded close observation of the board after each step of the project, and specifically after the properties are mapped. This demand was not accepted, but it was decided at the meeting that the registration project would be monitored by Himnuta chairman Ze’ev Neuman, as Yisrael Beitenu’s representative, and Land Committee chairman Yair Lutstein, as Reform Jewry’s representative.
The deals to be reviewed are ones in which the JNF purchased the land both before and after the state’s founding. These property deals are found only in the records of the JNF, or affiliated bodies, and were never registered with the government. In some cases, there are contracts and documents indicating that the deal was completed; in others, there were negotiations over deals that were not completed, and in others, due to the nature of the documentation, the JNF does not know the exact location of the property.
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In the past, the JNF had purchased property throughout the West Bank, probably also in Areas A and B, which are under Palestinian civil jurisdiction. This would mean that Israel would not have authority, in terms of construction plans, in these places and the JNF would not be able to register ownership of them.
The JNF estimates that its documentation applies to 360 West Bank properties, and that a contract proving ownership can be assigned to 170 of them. Most of the lands in the West Bank were purchased after 1967 by the JNF subsidiary Himnuta Judea & Samaria (now known as Himnuta Jerusalem), which was established after the conquest of the West Bank; a minority of the properties were acquired by the JNF prior to 1948, by a nonprofit established during the British Mandate.
In the past, the JNF demanded the expulsion of Palestinians from land belonging to the organization. In 2019, a Palestinian family near Bethlehem was evicted from their home and café, and an outpost was built on the land a short while later. Similarly, in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, a Palestinian family has been waging a legal battle for the past 20 years because their house was transferred to the JNF after it was declared an absentee asset.