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.” Continue reading