Exchange of Letters: JNF CEO and Journalist Aaron Klein
In response the Arutz Sheva article on Arabs building on land purchased for Jews by the Jewish National Fund, the following two letters were submitted to the editor.
To the Editor:
We appreciate your concern about giving away land to Arabs; in fact we share it (April 2, “Palestinians Illegally Building on Jewish Owned Lands.”) Rest assured JNF does not give away land to Arabs. In fact, today JNF owns about 17% of the land of Israel, far more than was actually purchased by the organization before the founding of the State.
Israel is a democratic nation; its leaders are elected by its citizens and governed by its laws. JNF is a Zionistic organization, albeit an apolitical one, and works alongside and with respect for this government and its laws.
Security fences are built to ensure the safety of the country’s citizens, surely of paramount importance to all Zionists. These fences are built by these democratically elected governments. Please tell me who I should debate on the security of the citizens of Israel.
JNF’s focus is not on political issues but in transforming the land and bettering the lives of the people who live in it. We have stayed true to this mandate. In 105 years we have cared for the land, planted forests, built parks and playgrounds, safeguarded historical sites, built water reservoirs, constructed security roads, educated Diaspora Jewry about Israel and her environment, built communities, and brought a sense of hope and renewal to those devastated by war. JNF partners with other organizations interested in bringing economic opportunities to the Negev, and JNF cleans up rivers, preserves open spaces, and is working to push back the desert but in an ecologically sound and safe way. Is this the organization Aryeh King criticizes?
JNF has provided the infrastructure for three new communities for the evacuees from Gaza, built seven new communities thus far for young families who have chosen to stay and develop the desert with a pioneering spirit, and at the bleakest time in modern history, as 6 million of our brethren were being killed, we created life in our land. Is this the organization Aryeh King criticizes?
Not all that we do is beyond reproach and we have been attacked by the Palestinian Solidarity Fund, and the Movement Against Israel, Apartheid and Palestine, among others, on the internet, in the media and even at the UN where we are an NGO, for our work. We don’t spend time defending ourselves to them; we keep focused on our good work for there is much to be done. Ours is not an organization of words but of action.
Since 1901, JNF has been leading the way into the future of the Jewish People ? for you, for your children, and for Jews all over the worldd. Join us.
Russell F. Robinson
Chief Executive Officer
Jewish National Fund
To the Editor:
Two weeks ago, I correctly reported hundreds of acres of lands in Jerusalem owned by the Jewish National Fund and purchased using Jewish donor funds for the stated purpose of Jewish settlement have been used for the illegal construction of dozens of Arab apartment buildings and a United Nations school for Arabs.
The JNF has seemingly done little to boot the UN and Arab squatters from its land, while the Israeli government, which manages the areas, did not halt the illegal Arab construction. The Jewish-owned lands recently were blocked off from Jewish sections of Jerusalem and isolated to Arab neighborhoods by Israel's security fence.
Mr. Robinson states above we can "rest assured" JNF doesn't give away land to Arabs. Certainly the JNF hasn't legally forfeited its right to the lands, so it is accurate, albeit misleading, to state it didn't technically give the land away. In practice, the JNF has done just that. The JNF's inaction during years of illegal construction on its properties has ensured the Jerusalem areas in question will likely remain Arab. There are now entire developed Arab communities and U.N. facilities for Arabs built upon the JNF-owned lands in Jerusalem purchased by Jews, for Jews.
Robinson discusses the security fence as if Israel arbitrarily blockaded the JNF-lands to Arab sections of Jerusalem. The fence was built in 2003 and 2004. I documented the illegal Arab construction occurred the past twenty years, long before the security fence was even a proposed idea. Some of the Arab building occurred the past five years, with at least one project still under construction. It was because the Arabs were not stopped from establishing de facto towns on JNF-owned land that the security fence route blocked off the Jewish-owned lands to Arab sections. I doubt the Israeli government's fence would have isolated the land had the JNF used the properties for its intended purpose -- Jewish settlement.
Robinson states the JNF is apolitical. Mr. Robinson, allowing Arabs to illegally construct communities on lands in Israel's eternal capital purchased with donor funds for the stated purpose of Jewish settlement is about the most political statement your organization can possibly make. The trend is not limited to Jerusalem. Arabs are reportedly building without permits on JNF-owned property in the Galilee and in areas outside Bethlehem.
Robinson then goes off into a distracting tangent outlining all the good JNF has done over the years. And it certainly has done plenty of good. But Mr. Robinson, I challenge you to actually address the issue at hand: Why have Arabs been allowed to illegally construct on JNF-owned property purchased with Jewish donors funds and what is the JNF doing about it?
Jerusalem Bureau Chief