When I was a kid, my family, friends, and school all passed various hats, boxes and pledge cards around to raise money for the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, or Jewish National Fund. This was all about planting trees in Israel.
As I became a teenager, and on into my early 20s, and the situation in Israel became somewhat more fraught for me, I still saw giving to the JNF as one sure way to promote something good without the political entanglements of so many other causes.
Boy was I wrong.
In the town of al-Araqib, in the Negev desert, a JNF bulldozer is standing poised at the village cemetery, ready to plow it down in order to make way for…wait for it…a “peace forest.”
This is the 17th time the village has been razed by the Israel Land Authority, which controls all state land, some of it in partnership with the JNF. The Bedouin claim to this land has been in dispute since 1951 when, the villagers say, they were forced out. Israel claims the land was abandoned, a very familiar claim regarding Arab lands in the wake of a war from which many families, not wanting to get shot or blown up, did flee, expecting to return.
Al-Araqib is one of many so-called “unrecognized villages” in the Negev. By definition, all construction in these villages is illegal in Israel, because the state will not grant a building permit in a village which, technically, “does not exist.”
Al-Araqib has become something of a cause célèbre and an opportunity for Israeli activists to shine a light on the issue of unrecognized villages and how the state treats this sector of its citizenry. In particular, one incident last year where Israeli police not only destroyed the village, but showed appalling delight in doing so.
The structures that are being destroyed are mostly tents and lapped-together shacks. Even this is being denied to the Bedouin of the Negev. At this writing, the villagers have once again been driven from their homes by a shower of rubber bullets and have massed in the cemetery, watching the JNF bulldozers destroy their homes again, and wondering if their presence (and maybe some last trace of common decency) will at least protect the cemetery.
I’ll remind you again, these villagers are Israeli citizens!
Is this the Israel we were contributing to years ago? Is this really what we put those quarters into the pushkes (charity boxes) of the JNF for? I know I sure didn’t think so…