Recently the Jewish National Fund (JNF) published a tender for the position of a “Judea and Samaria Transactions Coordinator.” Among other things, the coordinator will be in charge of “examining land transactions of the ‘Himanuta’ company in Judea and Samaria,” and “identifying properties and contacting their owners.” The meaning of this is that JNF intends to renew its land purchases from Palestinians, a practice of its subsidiary, Himanuta, that was stopped in recent years according to JNF. Himanuta had been established by JNF before the establishment of the state of Israel for the purpose of purchasing lands, and has been doing so, including in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, ever since.
It is unfortunate that JNF decided to return to the highly fraudulent business of West Bank land purchases, which stains all of its other activities. Through purchasing lands in the occupied territories, JNF serves the settlers, hurts the possibility to arrive at a two state solution, and jeopardies the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
JNF’s Involvement in the Settlement Enterprise
The role and involvement of JNF in establishing and expanding settlements in the West Bank remains far from the public eye. JNF makes an effort to downplay its activities in the West Bank out of the fear that this will negatively affect its positioning and its fundraising capabilities throughout the Jewish world. Yet JNF has played a major role in the development of settlements and until today, it is active in their expansion. The majority of JNF’s activities in settlements today include infrastructure development, tourism, education and roads. A document published by journalist Raviv Druker several years ago, revealed that between the years 2002 and 2013 JNF invested close to 50 million shekels in different projects in the settlements.
Land Purchases in the West Bank – Fishy Business
Land purchases in the West Bank are often highly fraudulent. Due to the long-standing national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, including on land issues, throughout the years the selling of lands between Israelis and Palestinians has been considered an act of treason. For Palestinians, selling West Bank land to Jews is forbidden by law until today. Therefore, all land purchases between Israelis and Palestinians are done quietly, through middle men and straw men, and they often include forgery and fraud.
Past purchases of Himanuta were proven to have been based on forgery, fraud and extortion. For instance, in the following purchases in the Jericho area, Himanuta paid millions of Shekels for purchases which were based on forgeries:
· On December 5th 2000 ~267 dunams bought for $717,335
· On June 4th 2001 ~530 dunams bought for $1,270,000
· On February 18th 2003 208 dunams were bought for $457,774
These transactions were exposed as part of an indictment process against the people involved in the fraud. Yet since the majority of Himanuta’s purchases were made during the 1970s and 1980s, these were not investigated and we do not have information regarding their legitimacy.
Nonetheless, today Himanuta owns tens of thousands of dunams in the West Bank, on which the settlements of Itamar, Alfei Menashe, Enav, Kdumim, Givat Ze’ev, Metzadot Yehuda, Otniel and others were established.
Investment in the Construction and Expansion of Settlements
Unlike with other JNF activities in West Bank settlements, land purchases by JNF are made necessarily for the future development of new settlements. Land purchases are made in order to overtake new areas, and JNF cannot argue that it acts there in order to provide services and development for settlers residing there. These are lands that were owned by Palestinians, and with the help of JNF are becoming lands for the purpose of settlements. Thus, by purchasing lands JNF contributes greatly to the expansion of the settlement enterprise, the deepening of the occupation and the distancing of Palestinians and Israelis from the possibility of arriving at a negotiated agreement.
To illustrate this, take as an example Givat Eitam (A-Nahla), an area located south of Bethlehem and east of the route of the separation barrier. Since the end of the 1990s, settler leaders have been trying to promote a new settlement of thousands of housing units in Givat Eitam. In 2014 the state declared approximately 1,300 dunams in Givat Eitam as “state lands” to allow the promotion of the plan for a settlement in the area. The declaration of state lands was based on the argument that the lands in Givat Eitam were not cultivated for several years and thus, using a law from the Ottoman period (1858), they should move to the ownership of the sovereign. However, Palestinian landowners began fighting this declaration through the courts, and the plan was therefore delayed for many years. As a result, the state began to plan another 800 housing units on a plot own by JNF (Himanuta) in the same area.
JNF, whether directly or through its subsidiary Himanuta, has also assisted and is currently assisting settlers in Silwan in East Jerusalem to take over homes of Palestinians and to evict Palestinian families.
A well known case as such, one that led to a public struggle against JNF, is that of the Sumarin family in Silwan, which JNF sought to evict in the service of the ElAd settler organization. Eventually, due to an international campaign, JNF backed out and decided not to pursue the eviction.