Palestinian boycott activists are calling on the Netherlands’ Prince Willem-Alexander to reconsider his decision to lend his name to a water project undertaken by the Jewish National Fund Netherlands in the Naqab/Negev desert in the south of present-day Israel. The project is in honor of the prince’s inauguration as king later this month.
Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and a founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, told The Electronic Intifada: “The [JNF] has played a key role in the dispossession of the Palestinians and in colonizing their lands. Today, [the JNF] continues its explicitly racist practices against Palestinians and rejects any notion of equal rights for all. Palestinian civil society appreciates the prominence that equality and non-discrimination have in the Dutch constitution and based on this, appeal to Prince Willem-Alexander to reconsider his decision to lend his name to a project of the JNF.”
Jamal Juma’, director of the Stop the Wall campaign, commented in an email to The Electronic Intifada: “For Palestinians, the JNF is not only one of the key material agents that implement Israeli policies of discrimination and dispossession on either side of the Green Line. The JNF is one of the most striding symbols of apartheid and the Israeli ideology of racial supremacy. The King of the Netherlands accepting as a gift a ‘civilizing’ project by a colonial agency in a country that is not his brings us back to the darkest days of colonialism when the white people where convinced they could dispose of territories and the people living there at their whim and pleasure. I urge the Netherlands to instead valorize the tradition of tolerance, equality and respect for human rights they are known for today and to ensure this gift will be rejected.”
The Service and Research Center Palestine (docP), an organization which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the Netherlands, wrote to The Electronic Intifada that it supports the call on the prince to not lend his name to the water project.
A press release from the Jewish National Fund-Netherlands falsely claims that the JNF-NL’s core business is the development of the land of Israel and making it habitable for the benefit of all its inhabitants. In reality, the organization’s work contributes to the dispossession of the Palestinian people and the entrenchment of Israel’s apartheid system. The JNF-NL charter mentions the Jewish people as the beneficiary of its aim and activities, explicitly excluding the indigenous Palestinian population, which makes up 20 percent of the total population in present-day Israel.
In 1992, the JNF-NL adopted a new charter which shows it operates as a branch of JNF Israel, also known as Keren Kavemeth LeIsrael (KKL). The Electronic Intifada obtained a copy of this charter, which is written in Dutch. It is still valid because no changes were registered by the Chamber of Commerce while foundations have the duty to report changes in their governance to this body.
The aim of the JNF-NL is to “bring the land into Israel inalienable property of the Jewish people and enabling the development and afforestation of land in Israel in the interests of the Jewish people” (Article 2).
The charter shows that KKL actually controls the governance of the JNF-NL. KKL headquarters needs to approve the nomination of the members of the Dutch board of directors and will appoint new members when the board has no members. Furthermore, the JNF-NL board has to consult with KKL on the appointment, dismissal and salary of the director, and the JNF-NL board needs the approval of KKL if it wants to change its charter. All revenues of the JNF-NL will be transferred to KKL, unless otherwise has been expressly stipulated.
The Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 with the primary objective to “purchase, take on lease, or in exchange, or receive on lease or otherwise lands” in Palestine and the surrounding areas for the purpose of “settling Jews on such lands.”
Following war and the establishment of Israel in 1948, the JNF took control of most of the land which had been confiscated from Palestinian refugees. In the 1950s, the JNF became a quasi state organization when Israel formally linked the private fund to the state under the World Zionist Organization – Jewish Agency (Status) Law and the Keren Keyemeth LeIsrael Law. With these laws, the Israeli government decided that the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency and their affiliates, including the JNF, were to be treated as part of the State of Israel, and as institutions empowered to carry out public functions. Subsequently, the JNF joined the Israel Lands Administration (later renamed Israel Lands Authority), which is the public authority managing approximately 93 percent of all land in Israel.
According to Ilan Pappé, the JNF directly owns 13 percent of the land, and through its influential position in the Israel Lands Authority has a stronghold over 93 percent of all land in Israel.
According to the JNF charter and the “Basic Law: Israel Lands,” the JNF may exchange and lease land only to Jewish legal persons, to the state and the government-controlled Development Authority, writes Palestinian refugee rights organization Badil.
The funds collected by the JNF-NL are transferred to and spent by the Israeli para-state organization JNF-KKL.
In 2004, the rights group Adalah in Haifa challenged at the Israeli high court the Israel Lands Authority’s policy to open tenders for JNF lands only to Jews. Adalah demanded that the ILA, as a public agency, respect the principles of equality, just distribution and fairness, and cease acting as a sub-contractor for discrimination on the basis of nationality. In its response to the high court, the JNF underscored its special role “as the owner of an eternal possession of the Jewish people.” It argued that the allocation of JNF lands to non-Jews will be “extreme damaging, retroactively, to the rights of the JNF and of the Jewish people.” JNF writes:
Israel’s Knesset and Israeli society have expressed their view that the distinction between Jews and non-Jews that is the basis for the Zionist vision is a distinction that is permitted and is not discriminatory, at least in regard to resources held by the Zionist movement. [Emphasis added in original letter]
The JNF’s response reveals a determination to continue its discriminatory marketing of land, stating the “JNF is not a public body which acts on behalf of all the citizens of the state. Its loyalty is to the Jewish people and its responsibility is to it alone.”
The JNF’s discriminatory practices against 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel were addressed by several UN bodies. In 2007, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Israel to ensure that the JNF is bound by the principle of non-discrimination in the exercise of its functions.
In 1998, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted with grave concern that the JNF is “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively” and called on Israel to remedy the problem.
In 2007, the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) rejected the JNF-USA’s application for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. The JNF-KKL’s violations of the principles of the UN Charter, which emphasize respect for human rights and equality, was one of the main reasons for the rejection, according to Adalah. Furthermore, the committee was unable to distinguish between the activities of the JNF-USA and JNF-KKL, contrary to the JNF-USA’s claim it was an independent non-governmental organization.
JNF present no crown jewel
Citizens expect their king to show respect for the core values as laid down in the kingdom’s constitution. The principle of non-discrimination is crucial in Dutch values as it is the very first article of the Constitution of the Netherlands. However, JNF-NL operates as a branch of the JNF-KKL, an Israeli para-state organization that carries out essential government functions and discriminates on the basis of religion and ethnicity at the expense of the rights of the indigenous Palestinian population.
After publication of this blog, Netherlands lawmaker Harry van Bommel pressed Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans to clarify Prince Willem-Alexander’s decision to lend his name to the JNF-NL water project in the Negev/Naqab. (In the Netherlands, the government is responsible for the statements and the behavior of the prince.)
Van Bommel writes on his blog (in Dutch) that reports indicate that the JNF is involved in the expropriation of Palestinian land and that it discriminates against the non-Jewish population of Israel, and that the JNF would also be active in the illegal settlements. In addition, it seems possible that water for the prince’s water project might be (partly) from Palestinian sources. That would be illegal and therefore unacceptable.
Referring to this post published on The Electronic Intifada, Van Bommel asked the government if they are familiar with the campaign of Palestinian activists and nongovernmental organizations against the JNF-NL project dedicated to the prince, requesting a response to the criticism. He also asked the ministers to specify which springs will be used for the water project for the project and if Palestinians hold any legal rights to the water. He conludes his list of questions with “Do you share my view that the JNF-NL is an undesirable project partner for Prince Willem Alexander? If not, why not?”