JNF Set to Approve Plan That Could Lead to Palestinians' Eviction

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A protestor in Jerusalem, on Monday
A protestor in Jerusalem, on MondayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

A new initiative by the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) on registration of properties beyond the Green Line could lead to the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

JNF's board of directors is set to meet on Thursday to approve the plan, which entails reviewing 17,000 property assets across Israel and the West Bank that have not been registered to date. The entire project is expected to cost about 100 million shekels ($31 million) and take five years to execute.

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The proposed project covers properties that were purchased by the JNF both before and after 1948. These properties are found only in the records of the JNF, or affiliated bodies, and were never registered with the government. In some cases, contracts and other agreements exist attesting to the purchases being finalized; in others, there are documentations of negotiations that were never completed. Furthermore, there are cases in which the JNF does not know exactly where the land is located because the documentation is obsolete.

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 claim ownership of them.

The JNF estimates that there its documentation applies to 360 West Bank properties, and that a contract proving ownership can be assigned to 170 of them. Most of the land was bought after 1967 by the JNF subsidiary Himnota, formed after the Six-Day War. A minority were acquired before 1948 by a nonprofit established during the British Mandate.

Other properties are located in parts of Jerusalem east of the Green Line. They make up about 2,050 plots covering approximately 2,500 dunams (625 acres). These properties have been administered since 1967 by the Israeli government’s General Custodian, which took them over from the Jordanian government’s unit dealing with abandoned enemy properties.

The JNF assumes that some properties are inhabited by Palestinians it deems “squatters.” In cases where the JNF registers properties found to be inhabited by said "squatters", it will be up to the Israel Land Authority, which is the actual authority over these plots, to order evictions.

These properties are similar in status to those located in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah and Beit Hanina neighborhoods, where Palestinian residents are currently waging a legal battle against evictions from houses owned by settler organizations.

In the past, the JNF demanded the expulsion of Palestinians from land belonging to the organization. In 2019, a Palestinian family living near Bethlehem were evicted from their home and café, and an outpost was built on the land a short while after. 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.   

Last month, Haaretz reported that the Defense Ministry had asked the JNF to buy hundreds of dunams of privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank that had been worked by settlers while access was denied to its Palestinian owners.

The investigation also revealed the existence of secret transactions conducted by Himnota to purchase West Bank land without the knowledge of the JNF board.

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