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Jewish National Fund “repents” for erasing Palestinian villages

Has a senior figure in the Jewish National Fund (JNF) repented for his part in the dispossession of Palestinians?

A website from a group calling itself the New Keren Kayemeth Leisrael — or the New JNF — indicates that such a radical conversion has taken place. It introduces us to Rafi Schtendel, a JNF chairperson who begins to understand that claims by his organization to care for the environment by planting trees are bogus. Schtendel came to this realization after reading Facing the Forests by the Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua.

Schtendel writes, “It is so sad that in the story, only after the Arab worker burns the JNF forest, it exposes what’s buried beneath it. Why must it be that way? Why not simply acknowledge what we’ve done, destroyed and covered up? Yehoshua has his worker’s tongue cut off, but ours is intact and we must use it to say out loud: Sixty-five years ago there was an entire culture here that we have destroyed to establish a Jewish State, whose ruins are covered by KKL forests.”

“Cover-up”

Schtendel confesses that he should have paid closer attention to comments made five years ago by Michal Katorzah, a JNF employee in charge of signposting. “Actually, a great part of our parks are on lands that were Arab villages, and the forests are a cover-up,” Katorzah said.

To underscore that he is a changed man, Schtendel has undertaken a personal mission of posting new signs to commemorate the Palestinian villages that used to stand where JNF parks are now located.

One New JNF sign recalls that the village of Ayn al-Zaytun in the Galilee region had 567 inhabitants living in 127 houses in 1931. By the mid 1940s, 820 Muslims lived in the village, which had a mosque, an elementary school and its lands covering an area of some 110 hectares.

The villagers cultivated olives, cereals and grapes. According to various testimonies, seventy local men were killed by fighters from the Palmach, a Zionist force, when the village was captured in early May 1948. They were shot in the head, after their hands and feet had been tied up. The Palmach unit burnt or blew up the village’s houses in a calculated move also designed to terrorize the inhabitants of the neighboring town, Safed, who watched in horror from the hills.

The comments published on the website are in general positive about the New JNF. One reader posted a video in which she expresses the feelings of a tree in a JNF forest. “Until today, I lived under the illusion that I had been planted to be a tree and grow like a tree, not in order to hide the ruins of Imwas and Yalu villages destroyed by the IDF [Israel Defense Force] in 1967,” rages the angry tree.

Too good to be true?

While reading about the New JNF, I felt this was too good to be true.

My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the below video report on the Real News Network about activists from the New JNF handing out leaflets in the center of Tel Aviv. “We are the new JNF,” says an activist wearing a t-shirt with the logo of the organization. “People have never known the names, they know the new, Zionist names of these forests, but not what is underneath them. So the New JNF is here to educate people about them.”

The report reveals that the New JNF blog is a parody and that Rafi Schtendel is a slight alteration of the name of JNF chairperson Efi Stenzler.

The activists will certainly appreciate the latest actions of the Stop the JNF Campaign-UK, which last week accused Britain’s Charity Commission of not applying its guidelines to the JNF. Stop the JNF pointed out that the JNF had been involved in the demolition of al-Araqib, a village where Palestinian Bedouins live in the Naqab (Negev).

In March, Stop the JNF requested that the Charity Commission remove the JNF from the register of charities. The campaign group argues that the JNF is not a charity but an Israeli institution which plays a key role in the administration of land and practices systematic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. The JNF’s “charities” registered in the UK provide funding for the maintenance of the this racially discriminatory system.

However, the Charity Commission has decided to allow the JNF to remain listed as a charity.