Nothing illustrates the modus operandi of the settlement project better than the session to be held Thursday by the board of directors of the Jewish National Fund of Israel (known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael).
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The board is due to vote on a 61-million-shekel allocation for the purchase of Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley. This is part of a deal the Defense Ministry is pressing to complete (as Hagar Shezaf reported). Why should the Defense Ministry be involved in JNF real estate transactions? Why is the ministry charged with safeguarding national security pressuring a national institution to purchase land in the West Bank? And why is the JNF involved in “redeeming” lands in the occupied territories as if the State of Israel were never founded?
The land in question is private Palestinian land which Israel closed off by military injunction in 1969 and was then given to settlers to cultivate in the 1980s, under the bad old system. Since then, it has been used for growing dates for export. In 2018, some of its Palestinian owners petitioned the High Court of Justice, requesting that the military injunction be annulled and the settlers removed. Which is how the Defense Ministry found itself in a legal entanglement.
“I didn’t know,” the state claimed in its defense in the hearings on the petition. It just didn’t know how settlers began to work the private Palestinian land, or how the state or the settlement department allocated it. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut rightly wondered: “Given the fact that you are unable to explain how the land was given to whom it was given, does that give them the right to remain there forever?” The Defense Ministry thinks so, apparently. Rather than cancel the military injunction and remove the settlers, the ministry decided to get the JNF to purchase the land from the Palestinians. And in fact, the JNF, via its subsidiary Himnuta, signed a contract to purchase a thousand dunams, in stages.
But after the purchase of 411 dunams was completed, the deal was halted due to criticism, since the purchase of West Bank land is a controversial matter in the JNF, whose board of directors includes left-wing representatives. According to JNF sources, the Defense Ministry recently contacted the organization again, requesting that it complete the deal. What the board will vote on Thursday is also connected to a mysterious compromise that cannot be reported on due to a gag order. Thus, the various arms of the settlement movement and the land acquisition deals in the territories continue under cover of darkness.
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If Israel wants to live and thrive, basic change is needed, including the dismantling of national institutions like the JNF. Meanwhile, one can only hope the board does not have a majority in favor of this deal, which would whitewash the theft. We also hope that the court will order the ministry to revoke the order, remove the settlers from the land and return it to its Palestinian owners.