The Jewish National Fund Bought Land in the Land of Israel, Heaven Forbid

Israel Harel
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A JNF donations box.
Israel Harel

Ever since the state was established, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund has been gradually abandoning its purpose – redeeming land. To justify its enormous bureaucracy, in the best case it has engaged in forestation and land preservation, while also preparing natural attractions for visitors and so on, all of which are secondary activities. It thereby justified employing thousands of people, with the salaries among the highest in the public sector.

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Thanks to a long-standing arrangement under which its institutions are chosen by the political parties, the politicians – opposition and coalition alike – have a built-in interest in the agency’s existence, just as they do in that of the World Zionist Organization and other (nonfunctioning) organizations. That’s why KKL-JNF has never really been called to account for either its corruption or failures at the only goal for which it exists.

The organization’s weakness reached its peak after the Six-Day War of 1967. Instead of embracing the opportunity to return to its original purpose – buying land – and thus enabling massive settlement in the heart of the Land of Israel, it continued partying with the large amount of money it obtained by leasing (effectively, selling) land within the Green Line.

But because it abandoned its vision, KKL-JNF degenerated. Even though it always had a surplus of funds, it continued to send people around the world to solicit donations while paying them excessive salaries and benefits.

In the settlement movements, there were people who wondered what right the organization had to continue existing when it wasn’t buying any land despite its full coffers. To neutralize these questions, KKL-JNF gave benefits, sometimes bordering on bribes, to politicians across the political spectrum and other people and groups that could influence public opinion.

In the absence of any real oversight by regulatory agencies, the media was the only body that occasionally delved into the improprieties going on at KKL-JNF. But because of their leftist political beliefs, journalists never criticized it for abandoning its original purpose. And if they did look into this issue, as has happened recently, they opted to attack it for daring, heaven forbid, to buy land for Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.

Here’s a clear example: “The Defense Ministry recruited KKL-JNF to buy hundreds of dunams of privately owned land in the West Bank,” a recent headline in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition screamed. The Hebrew version of the article by Hagar Shezaf on Monday later quoted a former deputy state prosecutor as writing, “Had this activity been conducted transparently, presumably these purchases ... wouldn’t have taken place.”

Buying land from Arabs has always been done discreetly because the sentence for any Arab who sells land to Jews, certainly in Judea and Samaria, is death. Dozens, if not hundreds, of Arabs who sold land have been murdered for this reason, both before and after the establishment of the state.

KKL-JNF was founded in 1901. Since then, the vast majority of its deals with Arabs have been carried out in secrecy for fear of the sellers’ lives. And this concern is all the more valid today when the bureaucrats at land registration offices in Judea and Samaria are Palestinians.

Criticism – usually inaccurate – is often voiced about Jews settling on land that isn’t theirs. But now (according to Shezaf’s article), the Defense Ministry is trying to correct that problem by buying land. For that it deserves praise, not condemnation.

Moreover, Zionist media outlets that criticize KKL-JNF for its failure to buy land in Judea and Samara have to ask, why only a few hundred dunams? Why not tens or even hundreds of thousands? There’s no shortage of sellers. One hundred and twenty years of Zionism have proved that.

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