On the occasion of Palestinian Land Day and the Global BDS Day of Action last 30th March, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) officially launched an international campaign to Stop the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
The call to revoke the JNF’s charitable status has had an overwhelming response from civil society groups and individuals around the world so far. Just about two weeks ago, British Prime Minister Cameron resigned as patron of the JNF. Joining the campaign helps to raise awareness on the little known issue about the JNF, its real nature of and role in the ongoing displacement of Palestinians from their lands.
Commemorating the Palestinian Land Day and the Global BDS Day of Action, the BNC in conjunction with the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN), the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other international partners, called upon people of conscience around the world to oppose the presence and activities of the JNF in their countries and take boycotts and legal action against the JNF wherever it operates.
The global initiative draws attention to the long-standing central role of the JNF in Israel’s system of occupation, exposing its crimes of colonization, ethnic cleansing and apartheid against the Palestinian people.
Re-branding itself as an environmentally-friendly charity, the JNF has been in reality key to the expulsion of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine since its establishment. Originally set up in 1901 with the main goal to purchase lands for establishing Jewish settlements, the JFN has been at the forefront of the Zionist colonial project to drive out indigenous Palestinians from their land and property and create a Jewish homeland n Palestine.
By the time of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, approximately two-thirds of the Palestinian population had been expelled from their homeland in order to ensure a Jewish majority in the newly funded state. Following the Nakba (Palestinian Catastrophe) the Israeli government transferred lands from 372 of the 522 depopulated Palestinian villages over to the JNF preventing the return of the dispossessed Palestinian owners.
The JNF has planted forests, parks and built recreational facilities on the ruins of hundreds of destroyed Palestinian villages. Through these forestation projects the JNF effectively green-washes the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and makes a return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes impossible. Current projects of the JNF include the development of illegal settlements in the West Bank, and the demolition of Bedouin villages in the Negev desert inside Israel as part of a forestation plan. Campaigners informed that there is increasing evidence of the JNF’s involvement in Israel’s plans to change the ethnic makeup of areas inside 1948 Israel, in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories.
Under the cover of an environmental organization, the JNF continues to support displacement of Palestinians from their lands today through exploitative land sales, forced removal or other institutionalised apartheid policies, while claiming land exclusively for Jews. The JNF’s constitution even states that land and property will never be rented, leased or sold to non-Jews. By erasing the traces of Palestinian homes and villages, the JNF in fact destroys the natural environment of the indigenous Palestinians who have lived there for thousands of years.
The ongoing crimes of expulsion of Palestinians, the expropriation of their property, the funding of projects in illegal colonies, and the destruction of the natural environment would not be sustainable without the financial and political support of an international network of institutions, particularly from the United States and Europe. The JNF is now a global ‘charity’ that enjoys charitable status in over 50 countries, and covers up its abuses in order to receive tax-exemption, raising over $50 million per year in the US only.
In May 2009, the first planning meeting to build the Stop the JNF campaign was held in Geneva during the World Conference Against Racism/Durban Review and the shadow Israel Review Conference. An initial international call to stop the JNF was made in spring 2010, under the initiative of the BDS National Committee and other organizations united against Israeli Apartheid. Since then, action to revoke the JNF’s charity status, cut ties with the JNF, and educate others about the JFN has been taken all over the world. Aside from running actions against the JNF in Palestine, the campaign is underway in the UK, Canada, France and the United States.
An Early Day Motion to mobilise against the JNF was voted in the UK Parliament on 31st March. The motion called to revoke the JNF’s charity status in the UK accusing the organization of racism and discrimination, and questioned the Prime Minister’s status as a patron of the charity. Last 28th May, Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES) voted unanimously, at its Annual General meeting, to support the campaign to Stop the JNF. FoES is the second environmental organisation to publicly distance itself from the JNF, after Friends of the Earth Palestine (‘PENGON’).
The decision of FoES followed the news that David Cameron stepped down as honorary patron of the JNF becoming the first British Prime Minister not to be patron of the organization in the 110 years of its existence. Pro-Palestine campaigners claimed political pressure had led Cameron to give up his patronage whilst Downing Street insisted the move was part of a wider review of the Prime Minister’s links with charities. Just twelve days before his withdrawal, activists the Stop the JNF Campaign addressed an open letter to Cameron asserting that the JNF had been complicit in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people during the Nakba, and demanding his resignation as sponsor.
The Stop the JNF Campaign and other activist groups hailed Cameron’s decision as another victory in the fight for justice and freedom for the Palestinians. The move of David Cameron comes amidst mounting pressure on the JNF in Britain. UK and international JNF fund-raising events increasingly face protests.
In the UK, the decline in support for the JNF at the highest political levels seems to indicate a shift in public opinion on Israel, and to show that the existence of the JNF may not be sustainable in the coming future. Momentum is building world-wide as more people and organizations are endorsing the call to stop the JNF.
It is hard to believe how an organisation like the JNF, given its significant collusion in the protracted colonisation of Palestine, can be allowed to exist anywhere. The Stop the JNF Campaign strives to expose and oppose the very colonial pillar of the Israeli apartheid system. Provided that the foundations sustaining this racist system are exposed and dismantled, it can be possible to end Israeli apartheid.
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The Stop the JNF Campaign is a coalition of campaign organizations around the world including Palestinian and Israeli groups. It aims to expose the JNF’s violations of Palestinian rights and international law, promote civil and legal challenges to the JNF across the world, terminate the JNF’s charitable and tax-exempt status, and to have JNF offices shut down everywhere.