Rights and Accountability 18 June 2014
On 19 June in New York City, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), in collaboration with the UN’s Department of Public Information and NGO Relations, will convene a panel of “experts” to discuss water management and sustainability in “arid countries.”
The presentation is just the latest example of how the JNF, founded at the turn of the century in order to colonize the land of Palestine with the Jewish people of the world, is attempting to alter its settler-colonial image by establishing itself as a leader and champion of environmental and water conservation causes. The organization is presenting at the UN as an approved member of its nongovernmental organization network.
But far from a operating as a nongovernmental organization, the JNF actually works in close tandem with the State of Israel to promote its agenda of maintaining a Jewish settler-colonist state.
For example, the JNF holds a privileged status in Israel. It holds 50 percent of the seats on the Israel Land Administration (ILA) Council, the public authority that controls 93 percent of state lands. The JNF’s bylaws prohibit the organizations from leasing land to “non-Jews.” In fact, in August 2004, the ILA admitted that the JNF tenders land only to Jews. Thus, Israel hands off the dirty business of explicitly discriminatory land policies to the JNF, neatly avoiding direct violation of many of the human rights treaties the state has signed.
But despite this function within Israel, in the last decade the JNF has presented itself to the United Nations as a nongovernmental, non-political organization. In July 2004 it was approved as an nongovernmental organization by the UN Department of Public Information. Thrilled with the credibility the status bestowed, Yehiel Leket, World Chairman of the JNF, said, “Our acceptance by other countries into the United Nations legitimizes our award-winning efforts in water, environment and sustainable development.”
Of note, however, in 2006, the JNF’s application for consultative status was rejected by the UN on the basis that the organization was “too political,” and had been involved in projects in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Israel denied the political nature of the JNF, stating it works on “sustainable development and environmental conservation issues.” At the vote, Israel pointed out that the organization had withdrawn from its participation in a project in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
But even if the JNF is not operating directly in the Palestinian territories outside the green line (Israel’s internationally-recognized armistice line with the occupied West Bank), it has played a critical role in the aggressive displacement of Bedouin communities in the Naqab (Negev) — in particular, in Al-Araqib. Furthermore, despite Israel’s concerted efforts to depoliticize the issue of water, it is inherently a political one — as is JNF’s involvement in it.
The JNF began to alter its agenda from being an organization exclusively dedicated to settling Jews in Palestine and covering over Palestinian villages destroyed by Zionist militias to a seemingly less controversial agenda in 2002: “Beginning in 2002, Jewish National Fund made its debut on the international front as an environmental organization,” the organization states on its website.
JNF’s profile on the website of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs lists climate change, forests, freshwater and human settlements as among its fields of expertise.
JNF’s membership with the UN’s Department of Public Information allows it sponsor or facilitate panels and workshops at UN conferences around the world, affording it the chance to conduct bluewashing events like the one taking place tomorrow.
This “bluewashing” agenda seeks to extract the issues of water in Palestine from the broader political circumstances, focusing on technical solutions to water scarcity and emphasizing Israel’s conservational approaches to wastewater and agricultural practices. The salient facts are ignored — Israel exercises total control over all the natural water sources in the region, deliberately gives Palestinians insufficient water and even denies their ability to collect it, and thus maintains a system of water apartheid.
For Palestinians, the water crisis is constant: as many as 200,000 Palestinians are not connected to running water, and the average Palestinian consumes just 70 liters a day while the World Health Organization recommends at least 100 liters per day. Gaza’s sole aquifer is over-extracted, making 90 to 95 percent of the water unfit for drinking. Bluewashing is a flagrant attempt to paper over these facts and create new ones.
All of this brings us to tomorrow’s panel, which will be moderated by the JNF’s Vice President of Government Relations, Joseph Hess, and includes Clive Lipchin of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Seth Siegel, an AIPAC member and commenter on water issues in the region, and Sharon Megdal, a professor at the University of Arizona.
Clive Lipchin is the Director for Transboundary Water Management at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. The Arava Institute was founded in 1996, in the wake of the Oslo Accords, and as such promulgates a mission that values cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli groups in “environmental studies” outside of any political context.
While its mission may appear anodyne, Arava has been a partner with the JNF since 2002. In 2010, New York City-based Palestine activism group Adalah-NY called for a boycott of a virtual event planned by the Arava Institute, writing: “The JNF and Arava are clearly close partners, using one another to bolster their images and funding.”
According to the JNF’s 2011 990 form, it gave $523,825 to the Arava Institute in 2011 alone, making it JNF’s largest single recipient of cash aid.
Seth Siegel sits on the national board of AIPAC and runs a brand-licensing agency. According to his biography, Siegel has a forthcoming book about water resources in Israel.
In February, he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which he excoriated Palestinians’ mismanaging of water and blamed Hamas for Gaza’s scarcity of potable water, writing, “Given their proximity to Israel, the Palestinians are likely to be among the few Arab winners in the water race … But as water problems grow, one hopes that ideology will give way to pragmatism and may open a door to an Arab and Islamic outreach to Israel.”
Siegel’s noxious mendacity makes his role as hasbarist easy to recognize. However, other water experts fall in line with him, ably assisting in bluewashing efforts that emphasize solutions like desalination rather than confronting Israel’s systematic denial of Palestinians’ water rights.
Sharon Megdal is a professor at University of Arizona has been traveling to Israel to study the water situation in earnest since 2009. She is the co-author of a 2012 publication, Shared Borders, Shared Waters: Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges, which advocates for a kind of “science diplomacy” to resolve difficult transboundary water conflicts, such as in Palestine.
In December 2004, the JNF wrote the following to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Rights in Israel:
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 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.
While this admission was in reference to the region’s land, is there any reason to think that this organization would handle the region’s water resources with equity for all the people living there? By hosting this event tomorrow, the UN becomes complicit in the JNF’s bluewashing project.
Andrew Kadi contributed to this report.
- Jewish National Fund (JNF)
- United Nations
- Arava Institute
- Clive Lipchin
- Sharon Megdal
- Seth Siegel
Permalink Annie Norwich replied on
Why does Charlotte Silver hate Israel so much? As an American living in Israel for over 8 years, I see and experience something different. Israel and JNF offers their R&D, water, and help..... NOT ACCEPTED BECAUSE IT IS FROM ISRAEL.
The only way to know the truth is to see it with your own eyes
Do you even know what you are talking about
Permalink Leah replied on
The briefing at the UN is available for viewing on their website. Clearly you didn't care to watch it before writing this BS article.
If any of your super educated, unbiased readers care to actually see what it was like:
Power and water treatment
Permalink Yani replied on
I can just see Gaza running an expensive reverse osmosis plant using Israeli technology. That fact is, as they have discovered in Australia with these plants, you can't turn them off or put them in mothballs when not required. Once they are operating, operating must be 100% on or cells need to be replaced at massive expense. So when dams overflow and the nation is in flood those plants keep on burning up energy.
This is not going to work in Gaza where the power is on and off. Nothing is going to work for Gaza until the politics of separation in Israel-Palestine is eliminated. Hamas get this. Perhaps they could tone it down a bit at times, perhaps they could be more Palestinian and not so influenced by external forces, but they get the essential concept that for life to improve the existing structures of Israeli separation must be abandoned and a single nation with uniform rights established. If there was ever a 2SS then why in 66+ years has it not surfaced?
You can't repair the Gaza Strip why simultaneously bombing it and starving it of resources. No high or low tech solutions will work in this environment. Gaza is on a one way trip to hell and that is exactly what the Israel right want. But there will be consequences, we are seeing the rise of polio virus in Gaza and contamination of the water table. The straw that breaks the camel's back is coming. It won't be neatly contained in Gaza but effect the whole region. It will be claimed as being unpredictable yet it is clear that when man fails the environment, the environment fails man.
If you want to save the Middle East then you need to separate the irrational and the rational. There is no God in governance. It is past time that people stepped up and revolved to create better outcomes for all people equally. The idea that the situation can keep to the current path is absurd.
JNF in the occupied territories
Permalink Balad replied on
Charlotte Silver wrote that "the JNF is not operating directly in the Palestinian territories outside the green line". This is not entirely true. It is documented that JNF acts through Himnuta in East Jerusalem and elsewhere for some deceptive land purchases, but it does not hide itself in many other instances. An example among many is the Nahal Oz reservoir, which recycles water from Maale Adumim to the benefit of four illegal settlements near the Dead Sea. It was admitedly funded by KKL France.
this article is about the
Permalink Anonymous replied on
this article is about the backgrounds of the panel members/organizations and the video does not at all disprove these facts. too bad the introduction to the jnf is not included in the video.