On January 2nd members of a Stop the Jewish National Fund (JNF) delegation joined individuals from a nearby refugee camp, trade union representatives, youth activists, Stop the Wall campaigners and representatives of a spectrum of political parties to take part in a new project to re-plant trees in previously devastated areas of Palestine. The group planted 111 trees, representing the number of years that the JNF has been in existence, playing a key role in Israel’s policy of displacing and dispossessing Palestinians. The JNF controls land that the organisation openly decrees is solely for the benefit of Jewish people; non-Jewish people are not able to live or work on the land and it can only be sold or rented to Jewish people. Despite the JNF’s clearly discriminatory and racist raison d’etre, it remains a key instrument of Israeli land administration.
Together we planted in the Tulkarem district, formerly one of the richest and most important districts of Palestine. In 1948, most of its lands were taken and dozens of villages destroyed. The JNF played a key role in the destruction of some of these villages and the ethnic cleansing of their population. The land we planted the 111 trees in the city of Tulkarem was historically part of the agricultural land of the city. However, in 2002 the Israeli military bulldozed the citrus orchard on this stretch of land, supposedly for “security reasons”. Tulkarem has also been one of the districts most affected by Israel’s illegal Apartheid Wall, which has destroyed some 8.4 square kilometres of olive and other fruit trees, 37.3 km of water networks, 15 km of agricultural roads, as well as irrigated agricultural land in Tulkarem, Qalqiliya and Jenin districts.
Despite poor weather, there was a large turnout for the planting and the event was welcomed by those involved. A representative from the Palestinian Farmer’s Union explained the importance of such events that bring different groups together: “The participation of farmers, youth groups, friends from various organisations and others increases belief in the justice of our cause and makes us feel that we are not working alone against the Israeli Occupation. The land that was so important to us was uprooted by the Occupation.” He added that the event was timely because of the on-going attacks of Israeli settlers on Palestinian agricultural land.
The Stop the JNF delegation included members of Palestine solidarity and campaign groups in Scotland, England, the United States, France, Austria, as well as a representative of Midlothian Trade Unions Council. The main activity of the delegation was 5 days of fact-finding and educational visits around Israel and the occupied West Bank, followed by the day of tree planting in Tulkarem. The group visited Al-Araqib in the Naqab desert, a Bedouin village which has been destroyed 33 times since July 22nd 2010 in order to make room for a new JNF forest. Each time the villagers rebuild. The group also visited British Park and Canada Park, both JNF parks built on top of Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948 and 1967, such as Imwas and Ajjur, and met with refugees originally from these villages. We witnessed some of the devastating effects of Israel’s illegal Apartheid Wall in Al-Walaja, a town that was established in the West Bank after the original village of Walaja was destroyed in 1948; the JNF went on to build the Kennedy memorial the original village's land. The wall is still under construction and, when complete, it will completely encircle the town. Residents will be forced to use an access road controlled by the Israeli military if they wish to leave the town for any reason. The wall will cut residents off from much of their agricultural land, and will inevitably lead to displacement as residents look to find viable employment elsewhere.
These visits left participants with no doubt of the JNF’s deep complicity in crimes against Palestinians, past and present. However, none of the delegates failed to be inspired and in awe of the resistance of the Palestinian people who fail to surrender and accept the injustice that has been forced upon them. We saw many different forms of resistance, some large and obvious and some more subtle but no less impressive. The commitment to resistance of all those that we met with served to emphasise the importance of the on-going efforts around the world to show solidarity with Palestinians, such as the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign against Israel.
The Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project is one way in which people can resist the injustices of the JNF and the Israeli government. The project will never be able to compete with the financial clout of the JNF and the 240 million trees that the organisation planted in Israel and the West Bank. However, the project does allow a positive way to act against such crimes, enabling Palestinians to resist on-going attempts at dispossession. As Stop the Wall pointed out, the event in Tulkarem served as an ideal way to educate those affected, Palestinians young and old, about the role of the JNF in the dispossession of their homes. “Awareness has been raised about the organisation that has done so much to make the Palestinian people suffer. This is why this project is invaluable and worth taking forward, in Palestine and internationally.” The project offers huge potential for collaborative, non-violent resistance against the Israeli government’s attempts to entrench the illegal occupation of the West Bank, dispossess Palestinians within Israel of even more of their lands, and take away the rights, enshrined in international law, of 7 million refugees to return to their homes.
Dave Black (26), from Aberdeen in Scotland, studied Politics and International Relations and has a masters degree in International Political Theory. He currently works with Travelling Communities in the North-East of Scotland.
The Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project is a joint project of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Stop the Wall, the Palestinian Farmer’s Union, and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and is part of the international campaign to stop the JNF.