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Reassess Jewish National Fund’s practices

Special to the Justice

Published: Monday, December 5, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 13:12

Two weeks ago in East Jerusalem, the Sumarian family was just a few days away from losing their home.

However, this had nothing to do with their failure to pay their mortgage: The Sumarian family was going to be evicted because of a legal maneuver by the Himnuta organization, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund.

Under Israel's Absentee Property Law, a law that applies solely to Arab residents, the Israeli government was able to take legal possession of the house after the family patriarch's death in 1991.

Although other family members were already living in the house, because his three sons were living outside the country, the government assumed the deed and transferred it to Himnuta.

Post-eviction, Himnuta plans to hand over the property to the Elad Foundation, a settler organization that operates the City of David tourist site located in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem.

The Jewish National Fund, as the primary land trust for the country, has been known for generations as an important organization to which Jews around the world have donated and supported the growth of Israel as a Jewish homeland. In addition, it is known for planting millions of trees throughout Israel. This is a legacy we celebrate.

We know that without the JNF, Israel would not be what it is today. It is important to note, however, that the JNF has a policy of not operating over the Green Line, which is the line of the 1967 Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem.

This may well lead you to ask what exactly the JNF has to do with this at all, considering that East Jerusalem is over the Green Line.

The sad truth is that though the Himnuta organization is not officially attached to the JNF, it is a subsidiary, and the two organizations share an executive.

In other words, the JNF is operating by proxy over the Green Line.

J Street U Brandeis is deeply concerned by this distressing situation.

We want the JNF to build upon its genuinely applauded and celebrated work by supporting Israel's future rather than jeopardizing it by supporting expansion beyond the Green Line.

This act significantly threatens Israel's democratic and Jewish future by undercutting the prospects for achieving a viable two-state solution, a solution toward which J Street U and many others are working.

As neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which will ultimately become the capital of a Palestinian state in any two-state final status agreement, become more and more Jewish, the ability to divide the land in two becomes more and more impossible. The JNF can and should stand for values that the Jewish people strive to exemplify and should live up to its long legacy of encouraging Israel's security and survival.

We are therefore supporting a petition put forward by Rabbis for Human Rights, that demands a permanent cancelation of the eviction. As of now, the eviction has only been postponed due to pressures from petitions like this one.

We are further saddened by this situation because it violates Jewish law, upon whose spirit Israel was built.

In their petition, Rabbis for Human Rights references the prominent Jewish rabbi and philosopher Rambam.

He says that Jewish law goes to great lengths to prevent any sort of evictions, especially in cases in which those evicted will end up "abandoned on the street."

Our work as J Street U Brandeis is driven by the conviction that the fates of Israelis and Palestinians are ultimately intertwined. We work toward establishing a two-state solution where both Israelis and Palestinians exercise their deserved self-determination is an urgent necessity. It is out of our love and concern for Israel's well being and security and our wish to see her survival as a Jewish democracy that J Street U Brandeis is critical of Israel's actions.

J Street U Brandeis strives to bring together Jewish and progressive values, shares in a commitment to Israel, and exhibits a passion for social justice.

If you support our work or you just want to learn more about the issues we tackle, we urge you to come to our next event, a campus screening of the moving documentary Encounter Point.

The film follows the stories of both Palestinians and Israelis who have been deeply affected by this conflict.

Editor's note: the writer is the communications representative of Brandeis' chapter of J Street U.

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