Above photo: From Spring Magazine.
The JNF (Jewish National Fund) once again is in the news, this time for collaborating with the State of Israel in dispossessing Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. According to a 2010 UN report, this is not the first time Sheikh Jarrah’s residents have been dispossessed and, while illegal under international law, it is not illegal according to Israeli law. It is one more act of brutality, brought to you on a regular basis by Israel and the JNF since 1948.
On the evening of January 18, 2022, in Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli police attacked the home of the Salahiya family—a family that was originally displaced by Israel in 1948. The destruction of homes and land in such attacks is executed by the JNF. In the January attack, police arrested Mahmoud Salahiya and his sons and violently removed the rest of the family from their home. Broken bones and unimaginable trauma ensued. Enter JNF bulldozers. With their home destroyed, eighteen people, including elders and children, were left homeless in the winter, during a pandemic.
Interestingly, the role of the JNF is often omitted from reports of Israeli land grabs, home demolitions and property destruction. This has certainly been the case with much of the reporting on Sheikh Jarrah.
With the goal of making the destructive role of the JNF more visible, in 2018, on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the 1948 Nakba (‘catastrophe’, in Arabic), Jews Say No! , a NYC-based organization, published Ongoing Nakba online. It was a compilation of articles from 2005 to 2018, many by Palestinian writers, on the role of the JNF in dispossessing Palestinians from their homes and their land, destroying both in the process. In addition to reports of specific incidents, the publication included historical analyses of the JNF, videos, and much more.
As editors of the Ongoing Nakba we thought that, given recent events in Sheikh Jarrah, others might benefit from its republication which, sadly, is just as timely four years later. As an Introduction to its contents, check out our editorial below:
Unearthing Truths: Israel, the Nakba, and the Jewish National Fund
May 1, 2018
By The Editors
We present this special issue to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the Arabic word for ‘catastrophe.’ The Nakba refers to the expulsion and dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland during Israel’s creation (1947-1949).
In this issue, we lay out the historical record of those years to show that the Nakba was the result of a deliberate policy of mass expulsion, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing—a strategy designed to ensure that the Palestinians who had lived on the land for generations would be barred from ever returning. We also zero in on the fundamental role played by the 117-year-old international organization, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), in facilitating that dispossession.
Our goal is that there be a serious moral reckoning with this history, and it begins with that icon of innocence, the JNF’s small blue metal box that many of our readers will remember from their childhood, boxes that beckoned us to drop in coins that would help “make the desert bloom” and build the land of Israel. It was a mission that was legitimized by the governing principle of the Zionist cause: “A land without a people for a people without a land.” As seductive as that slogan was, it was willfully false, as amply documented in personal testimonies of Palestinians and Israelis, historical records, and scholarly research. How, after all, could 750,000 Palestinians flee “a land without a people”?
From its founding, the JNF was encouraged by the Zionist movement to acquire land in Palestine for the purpose of settling Jews on that land. After 1948, aided and abetted by Israeli land law, the JNF continued to acquire land and also contributed to Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians from their land. This was accomplished by buying swathes of land from absentee landlords and then leasing it exclusively to Jews, by confiscating refugees’ land, and by forcibly—often violently—removing Palestinians from their land, a practice which persists today. By continuing to plant forests that conceal the ruins of Palestinian villages, the JNF seeks to erase history and memory, while hoping to whitewash its political motives and enhance its recent branding as an environmental organization. Ironically, however, it has earned widespread international condemnation for the degradation it has inflicted on the natural ecosystem.
While this year marks the 70th anniversary of the catastrophic events of 1948, we also know that the policies that informed Israel’s and the JNF’s actions back then continue to the present. With this issue we hope to expose the relationship between the Nakba and the Jewish National Fund; to encourage deeper conversation about the experiences and realities of Palestinians before, during and since Israel’s creation; and to facilitate among US Jewish communities—and more broadly—honest reflection, analysis, and action toward truth-telling and justice.
Please note that the articles in this special issue were originally published between 2005 and 2018 and that text written in the present tense refers to events that occurred at the time of publication.