What would we say if an American institution, holding a seventh of all the land in the
We would not believe it. And it is, indeed, impossible.
But that’s the way things are in
These are the facts: The Jewish National Fund (in Hebrew Keren Kayemet le-Israel – KKL) holds 13% of all the land in
The debate arose after a recent ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court which proscribed discrimination between citizens in the distribution of land. On the strength of this, the KKL has been sued. Now the Attorney General has decided that the Government cannot discriminate against Arab citizens, even while distributing land belonging to the KKL.
This is all very nice, but there is a “but”. The best legal brains looked for a way out: How to keep the discrimination alive in spite of the court’s decision? No Problem. The Attorney General simply proposes that for every dunam (1000 square meters, a Turkish measure still applied in Israel) that the KKL will have to distribute – God forbid – to Arabs, the government will compensate it with another dunam somewhere else. The alternative land will be in the “peripheral” areas, the Negev and the
The KKL, by the way, appoints almost half the directors of the “Israel Land Authority”, the government body that is in charge of all state-owned land in
In this situation, 20% of the citizens of
How did this state of affairs come about?
Like many other bad things here, it started quite innocently.
More than a hundred years ago, when the Zionist movement was created, the need arose to buy land for Jewish immigrants in
With the money thus collected, a lot of land was acquired, on which Kibbutzim and Moshavim were set up. That was the height of Zionist idealism.
The “Redemption of the Land” and “Hebrew Labor” were the cornerstones of the Zionist dream.
And, indeed, what could be more beautiful? Children all over the world dropped their pennies into the blue box. The
All over the world, Jewish children were singing: “I shall tell you, girl, / And you too, boy, / How in the
However, this beautiful story had a dark side, which was not registered in Zionist consciousness.
The land was indeed bought, often at exorbitant prices, but from rich absentee owners, who did not live on it or cultivate it. When the late Ottoman Empire was bankrupt and in dire need of money, it sold huge tracts to rich Arab merchants in Jaffa, Beirut and other cities, who bought them as an investment. The Arab Felaheen (farmers), who had tilled the land for many generations, were mere tenants. When the KKL bought the land, the Felaheen were driven out, often with the help of the Turkish, and later the British police.
In spite of all this effort, when the United Nations resolved in November
1947 to partition the country between a Jewish and an
Logic would have dictated that with the founding of the State of Israel, the KKL transfer its lands to the State. After all, that was the idea of collecting the money.
But this did not happen. In fact, the very opposite took place: the new state transferred to the KKL millions of dunams of land expropriated from Arabs – the refugees who were not allowed to return (“absentees” in legal language), those who had remained in the country but were absent on a given day from their villages (“present absentees”), as well as Arabs who became citizens of Israel.
It is important to keep this in mind, since it disproves the big lie that hovers over the whole debate: that the KKL land was bought with the money of the Jewish people. The greater part of the present KKL land was not bought at all, but conquered in war and transferred to the KKL.
Why transferred? Why did the sovereign state transfer lands gratis to a non-state body? Only one reason comes to mind: so as to continue with the discrimination against the Arab citizens.
In an official brief, the KKL argues that it does not owe loyalty to the principles of the State of Israel, as put down in the 1948 Declaration of Independence (equality between all citizens, regardless of religion and race), but to “The Jewish People”. This means that “The Jewish People”, which is not a political body, is being presented as an independent entity superior to the State of Israel.
The KKL does not act, of course, for “the Jewish People”. It is an instrument of the Israeli Jewish community against the Israeli Arab community. It has become an instrument for institutionalized discrimination.
The Attorney General’s sleight of hand, designed to satisfy the demand of the Israeli Supreme Court for equality between all citizens, while still allowing a body based on discrimination to keep hold of 13% of the land in the state, does not change the situation in principle.
The KKL is not unique. Discrimination reigns in many fields. In the last few days alone, the following facts happened to come to light:
* The chiefs of the Treasury Ministry are pondering how to pay allowances to big Jewish families, without paying them to big Arab families. (There are two communities in
birth-rate: the Jewish orthodox and the Muslim Arab, especially
* The Ministry of the Interior is pushing a law that allows all foreigners who marry Israelis to acquire Israeli citizenship, even if they are not Jewish – but explicitly excludes Arabs. This denies thousands of young Arabs, citizens of
* The Ministry of Education confirmed what until now has been an open
secret: that the appointment of every teacher and principal in an Arab school in
Until now, the Shin-Bet representative was automatically the vice-chairman of the appointments committee. From now on, he will only be a simple committee member.
It would be nice if we could say that these phenomena, and the many others of the sort, are inspired by the right-wing. But the truth is that most of them came into being when the Zionist left was in control, and continue now with the support of the left-wing whose representatives serve in the
This is not the state that we promised ourselves in the Declaration of Independence. We have a tough struggle ahead of us, until
A step in this direction would be the abolition of the KKL and the transfer of its lands to the state.