29 July 2007
Land Controlled by Jewish National Fund for Jews Only
On 18 July 2007, a racist bill entitled the “Jewish National Fund Law”, submitted by MK Uri Ariel (National Unity/National Religious Party), passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum. The bill stipulates that land in the possession of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is to be allocated exclusively to Jewish people. The majority of the land under the control of the JNF (13% of the land in Israel) was transferred to it by state and was originally in the ownership of Arab refugees or internally displaced persons. The bill was passed by a large majority of 64-16 MKs, with one abstention.
In accordance with the bill, a new provision will be added to the Israel Land Administration Law, 1960, entitled “Management of the Jewish National Fund's Lands.” Under the additional provision, “Despite whatever is stated in any law, leasing of Jewish National Fund's lands for the purpose of the settlement of Jews on these lands will not be seen as improper discrimination.” Further, “For the purpose of every law, the association documents of the Jewish National Fund will be interpreted according to the judgment of the Jewish National Fund's founders and from a nationalist-Zionist standpoint”.
In Adalah's view, the setting in law of the discriminatory land policies of the JNF, will result in the continued exclusion of Arab citizens from land in Israel and contribute to the further institutionalization of racially-segregated towns and villages throughout the state. The Knesset's attempt to bypass the decision in the Qa'dan case from 2000, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the state is prohibited from allocating “state land” on the basis of national belonging or using “national institutions” to discriminate on its behalf, is blatantly racist and discriminatory. In the event that this legislation is passed into law, Adalah will challenge it before the Supreme Court of Israel to seek its cancellation, and will continue to bring attention to the racist land policies of the JNF before the international community.
The contents of the bill also contradict statements made by the Attorney General's (AG) Office in response to a petitions filed to the Supreme Court of Israel demanding the cancellation of the Israel Land Administration's (ILA) policy of marketing the land it manages and administers on behalf of the JNF only to Jewish people (H.C. 9205/04, Adalah, et. al. v. The Israel Land Administration, et. al.). The AG decided that the ILA cannot discriminate against Arab citizens of the state in the marketing and allocation of lands that it manages, even those belonging to the JNF.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) in its concluding observations on Israel from March 2007 urged Israel to ensure that the JNF, the World Zionist Organization, and the Jewish Agency are “bound by the principle of non-discrimination in the exercise of their functions.”
As the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) recognized in its concluding observations in Israel from 1998, despite its discriminatory charter, the JNF executes governmental functions. Moreover, the policies and practices of the ILA and the JNF, “Constitute an institutionalized form of discrimination because these agencies by definition would deny the use of these properties to non-Jews. Thus, these practices constitute a breach of Israel's obligations under the Covenant”. Meanwhile the JNF operates as a tax-exempt charity within the jurisdiction of many of the Committee's member states.
On 18 May 2007, the United Nations' Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) rejected the application of the Jewish National Fund (JNF)-USA for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) by a vote of eight to seven with three abstentions. Adalah and its partner organizations, the Habitat International Coalition and Badil Resource Center, closely monitored the course of the JNF's application before the Committee on NGOs.
Since 1948, Israeli laws have led to the systematic confiscation and transfer of Palestinian-owned land to the state and Zionist institutions, including the World Zionist Organization and the JNF, for the exclusive use by Jews, be they citizens of Israel or not. Under Israeli law, this land cannot be sold to any individuals; rather, the ILA, a governmental agency, administers leases of JNF lands exclusively to Jews. State land, or “Israel lands”, amounts to 93% of all land in Israel, including land controlled by the JNF, and is managed by the ILA.
The JNF currently owns a total of just over 2.5 million dunams of land in Israel, equating to 13% of state land, the majority of which was obtained from Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons. The JNF claims to have used donations from Jews around the world to purchase 1.25 million dunams of land from the state immediately after its establishment. However, the JNF acquired around 78% of its land from the state in 1949 and 1953, when the latter transferred to it approximately two million dunams of state land. State land, however, cannot be transferred to an entity like the JNF that does not respect the fundamental human rights of citizens and international law.
The JNF's Special Status
The JNF enjoys a special status under a series of Israeli laws and agreements with the state of Israel and is granted the privileges of a public authority. The 1961 Memorandum and Articles of Association of the JNF state that the ILA will administer all JNF-owned lands and that the objectives of the JNF are to acquire property in Israel “for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties." The JNF interprets the Memorandum as prohibiting the allocation of its lands to “non-Jews.” Furthermore, the ILA Law (1960) allocates 50% of seats in the ILA Council to the JNF, thereby granting it a substantial role in formulating Israel's land policies over 93% of state. While “Israel Lands” cannot be sold, the Israel Lands Law (1960) allows their transfer between the state and JNF. Additionally, Israeli law grants the JNF the same status as a public authority for the purpose of confiscating land. The JNF's Memorandum and policies are discriminatory in their nature and effect, and contribute to the ongoing conflict.
Legal Challenges to Discriminatory Land Policies of the ILA and JNF
On 13 October 2004, Adalah petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court, demanding the cancellation of the aforementioned policy and a regulation promulgated by the Ministry of Finance, which permit the ILA's allocation of JNF lands through bids open only to Jews (H.C. 9205/04, Adalah, et. al. v. The Israel Land Administration, et. al. See also petitions filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning – H.C. 9010/04, The Arab Center for Alternative Planning, et. al. v. The Israel Land Administration, et. al. – and the Tel Aviv University Human Rights Clinic – H.C. 7452/04, Fuad Abu Raya, et al. Adalah v. The Israel Lands Administration, et. al. – challenging the ILA's discriminatory policy).
In a letter to Adalah dated 15 August 2004, the ILA acknowledged that JNF land tenders are only open to Jews. The ILA supported this policy, stating that it is bound to respect the objectives of the JNF as detailed in the Covenant signed by the State of Israel and the JNF. The JNF's written response to the petition of December 2004, Israel stated that:
The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel... The JNF, in relation to being an owner of land, is not a public body that works for the benefit of all citizens of the state. The loyalty of the JNF is given to the Jewish people and only to them is the JNF obligated. The JNF, as the owner of the JNF land, does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state.
As mentioned above, in its response to the petition, the Attorney General's Office stated that the ILA cannot discriminate against Arab citizens of the state in the marketing and allocation of lands that it manages, even those belonging to the JNF. The case remains pending before the Supreme Court.