National Committee of Arab Local Authorities, human rights organizations petition High Court of Justice to annul JNF representation on Israel Land Council

JNF, which openly discriminates against non-Jews and sees itself as serving only one population, is decisive partner in government body charged with managing public land resources.

The National Committee of Arab Local Authorities, Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Arab Center for Alternative Planning (ACAP), and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) on 18 August 2016 to demand the cancellation of a clause in the Israel Land Authority (ILA) Act that determines that six out of 14 members of the Israel Land Council (ILC) be representatives of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).


The organizations claim in the petition that JNF representation in the ILC is illegal and that the moment 43 percent of the ILC members are JNF representatives, “the JNF, which openly discriminates against non-Jews and sees itself as an entity that serves only one population, will become a complete and decisive partner in the decision-making process by a government body – which is charged with managing public land resources and determining national policies regarding the distribution and development of these lands.”


Attorneys Suhad Bishara from Adalah and Raghad Jaraisy from ACRI claimed in the petition that “the partnership being considered, with an institution whose clear mission is to serve the Jewish population exclusively, constitutes a violation of the right to equality and the right to dignity of the Israeli Arab population in Israel. This is particularly grave considering the status of the council as a public body with special importance and in light of the history of discrimination of the Arab population when it comes to the distribution of public resources in general, and land in particular. The violation of constitutional rights of Arab citizens of Israel is not for a ‘proper purpose’ since it infringes on the independence of the authorities and the principle of equality before the law, as well as being disproportionate.”


Regarding the JNF as a discriminatory body that is not dedicated to principles of equality, the petition stated: “The JNF sees itself as an entity charged with serving the interests solely of the Jewish people. As a result, the JNF adopts a position whereby its lands should be marketed to Jews alone.”


In the petition the organizations cite a quote from an affidavit once submitted by the JNF that states, “The JNF is not and cannot be loyal to the entire Israeli public. The JNF’s loyalty is reserved for the Jewish people alone - for whom it was established and for whom it acts.” As such, the petition argued, “in light of the aforementioned objectives and declarations, the JNF and its representatives cannot truly represent the interests of the entire Israeli public irrespective of nationality and/or religion, as the ILC should operate. The representation given to the JNF on the ILC will allow a body that explicitly practices discrimination and acts on behalf of the Jewish public alone, to take an active and decisive part in shaping significant and essential policies that affect the entire public and specifically the Arab public.”


Jewish National Fund land abutting the Arab city of Nazareth in northern Israel. (Mati Milstein/Adalah)


Attorneys Bishara and Jaraisy argued that this issue is especially important given the historical context and long-standing discriminatory policies of the ILA with respect to the allocation of land for development in Arab towns. The petition included points from the Or Commission, the Commission of Inquiry into the Clashes between Security Forces and Arab Citizens in October 2000, which addressed the housing crisis in Arab communities: “The Arab population grew sevenfold in the first 50 years of the State’s existence. At the same time, the territory allocated for residential building remained almost unchanged. As a result, Arab towns became significantly overcrowded. The shortage of lands for development has negatively impacted young couples looking for housing…new towns were not built (excluding Bedouin towns) and ILA lands were not released for construction in Arab towns.”


Attorneys Bishara and Jaraisy claim that “the historical discrimination suffered by the Arab population in the State of Israel regarding the distribution of public resources, and especially land, places a heavier burden of responsibility on the State authorities with respect to the management of the distribution of these resources.”


In addition, the petition argued that the law has no proper purpose, since the JNF’s operations in the ILC are tainted by a clear conflict of interest: “The partnership between the ILC and JNF in determining land policies is problematic due to the conflict of interest between the JNF’s mission and goals, as mentioned above, and the norms that are supposed to apply to land policy and to the ILA as the authority in this matter. The full cooperation between the State and the JNF in determining land policy, which aims to promote equality and therefore stands in contravention of JNF principles, opens the door to the consideration of external and irrelevant criteria by the ILC. These criteria are inconsistent with the need to uphold the administrative guidelines and maintain principles of equality and distributive justice in the allocation of land resources.”


In light of these points, the organizations requested in their petition that the HCJ annul the clause in the ILA statute that determines that six out of 14 members of the ILC be representatives of the JNF.


READ: Petition to High Court of Justice (Hebrew)