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JNF- KKL furthers massive takeover of land in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem

The Keren Hakayemet LeYisrael (The Jewish National Fund, KKL- JNF) plans to allocate 100 million NIS for registering lands in Israel, East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories. The proposal should be approved by the board of JNF KKL in the coming weeks, probably in September 2, 2021. In the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem the move is potentially shifting to substantial expansion of the settlements, and in East Jerusalem there is a danger of dispossessing hundreds and possibly thousands of Palestinians from their homes, similarly to the procedures taking place these days in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

Peace Now: The Jewish National Fund is becoming the Settlers’ National Fund. The registration procedures in the Occupied Territories and in East Jerusalem could bring to massive dispossession of Palestinians, like in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, and expansion of the settlements. The JNF- KKL is a national institution for the entire Jewish people which should not serve one side of the political map as it puts facts on the ground that endanger the state of Israel. We call upon all the organizations which are party to the JNF- KKL board, including Maccabi, Hadassah and Naamat and others: don’t be political organizations, don’t let your representatives vote for deepening the occupation and the settlements.

lt should be mentioned that on the agenda of the KKL-JNF board is also the proposal to allocate millions for the purchase of additional land in the Occupied Territories. The discussion of this proposal, which was supposed to take place before the Israeli election, was postponed until after the election, but a new date has not yet been set. The proposal to purchase land in the Territories came after members of the KKL-JNF board from right-wing parties managed to take millions of shekels from the KKL-JNF without the board’s knowledge for purchase transactions in the West Bank (for more see Hagar Shizaf’s investigation in Haaretz).

The project of land registration in KKL- JNF

On the agenda of the Board of Directors of KKL- JNF which gathered last Thursday (5/8/2021), a section of approving allocating 100 million NIS from KKL JNF’s budget over the next five years in land registration project appeared on the agenda. The project aims to seek in the JNF- KKL’s records, lands and deals which hadn’t been completed or registered in the deed office, and try and further their completion and registration. According to the KKL- JNF’s there are in the KKL_JNF’s registrations about 17,000 files of documents in which there might be documents that testify for deals and properties that can be implemented, if they go through an appropriate bureaucratic and legal procedure. Among those files which are to be examined and registered there are also approximately 530 files in the West Bank, and 2050 files in East Jerusalem. Eventually, the discussion didn’t take place because of disputes over other issues on the agenda—and the discussion was postponed to an unknown date (probably to September 2, 2021).

In the proposal for the decision it was written:

According to initial estimation, it seems that 88% of the files [of purchase records] didn’t get to be completed (a proposal, negotiations etc.), but, at the same time, the documents should be studied deeply in order to establish whether there was an intention for a deal from a legal perspective [which could be sufficient for registration …] In addition, on the basis of past experience in conduct in the courts, the vast majority of the cases ended by registering rights in JNF- KKL’s name and/or its subsidiaries. It will be noted, that up to the time of writing, hundreds of these cases ended in successful registration.

This means, that in some of the cases the documents only show intent to broker deals, and/or a negotiation that didn’t become a deal, and yet, legally, it could be argued that intent for a deal existed, and on this basis the land could be registered in JNF- KKL’s name. in addition, according to JNF- KKL, past experience shows that JNF- KKL succeeds in convincing the courts to register properties in its name and the chances to succeed in various files is great.

In the West Bank

The properties in the West Bank have mostly been purchased after 1967 by a JNF- KKL subsidiary called “Himanuta” which is registered in the Civil Administration, while a minority of the properties were purchased by JNF- KKL in the West Bank before 1948. According to JNF- KKL’s estimation, of all these files, about 170 can be registered and executed. The meaning is that if they can register these lands in JNF- KKL’s name, they can be used to expand settlements. An example for using JNF- KKL’s lands recently was in the a-Nahla area AKA “E2”. The Ministry of Housing is furthering planning on a territory bought by Himanuta, and thus bypasses the need to wait for legal proceedings which are taking place against the use of declared “state lands” in the area.

An example for land dating before 1948 which JNF- KKL managed to register is on an area of hundreds of dunams in the Bethlehem area. In 2012 Himanuta (owned by JNF- KKL) filed a lawsuit in the District Court demanding to be declared the owner of 522 dunams in the Bethlehem area, based on an acquisition deal dating before 1948. The Palestinian land owners claimed that they were the rightful owners and the two parties presented to the court Kushans (ownership documents which date from the British Mandate period) which show that they are the owners. The dispute centered on the size of the land and its exact location. Despite the fact that the kushan notes the land is 74 dunams, Himanuta succeeded in convincing the court that the real property it owns is 522 dunams, and the land was registered in its name. Settlers and politicians celebrated this victory and saw it “Gush Etzion land expansion“, and these lands are planned to be used for a massive expansion of settlements in the area.

For the registration project in the West Bank, a budget of 18,179,500 NIS is requested for 4.5 years.

In East Jerusalem

In East Jerusalem the properties in question are 2,050 properties of 2,500 dunams which were acquired or were in the process of acquisition by JNF- KKL before 1948. In the decades that had passed since, under the Jordanian government and then under Israeli control, hundreds and presumably thousands of Palestinians moved into these properties in a variety of circumstances. It can be assumed that the majority of these properties were vacant before 1948, rather than used as housing. Similarly to the eviction lawsuits in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, the JNF- KKL is seeking to base its claims on the discriminatory law legislated in 1970 (The Legal and Administrative Matters Law) which enables Jews to return to the properties they had lost in East Jerusalem in 1948, while the Palestinians do not have this right. JNF- KKL’s aim is to apply to the General Custodian, who is legally responsible for these properties in East Jerusalem, and receive property management rights from him. After that, they can file eviction lawsuits against Palestinians who live in these properties.

In the explanation of the project it seems that parties within the General Custodian are encouraging the move:

Lately, we have been approached by the head of the Economic Unit at the General Custodian, which is dealing with these properties today, and announced that they demand that JNF- KKL releases JNF- KKL’s properties, and the General Custodian forgoes the management fees of 5% as legally due […] it will be noted that some of the properties are expropriated, some are built, some are occupied by private personae, some are non-located  or have unclear physical status.

It should be noted that the General Custodian’s behavior in East Jerusalem (and especially the director of the Economic Unit) have been severely critiqued over the years for their part in assisting settlers and dispossessing Palestinians, from the findings of the Klugman Government Commission of Inquiry, and up to the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Batan al Hawa in Silwan.

For the registration project in East Jerusalem a budget of 6,230,000 NIS is requested over 4.5 years.

The composition of JNF- KKL board of directors.

The JNF- KKL board of directors is composed of 37 members of 3 groups: representatives of Israeli political parties: representatives of diaspora Jewish groups; and representatives of Zionist organizations.

25 members represent parties from Israel and the Jewish world which are established according to the Knesset election results in Israel and the results of the elections at the Zionist congress internationally. Among others there are representatives of these parties in the Board of Directors: Likkud, Shas, Meretz, the Labour Party, Tkuma, Yesh Atid and more, as well as representatives of the World Zionist Congress such as Arzenu, Mizrahi, Mercaz Olami and more. 11 Members of the board of directors are representatives of Zionist organizations such as Macaabi, Hadassah, Na’amat, Bnei Brith, Wizo and others.