In late 2011, I publically resigned from the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in order to expose and protest the JNF’s efforts to use Israel’s arcane absentee property law to steal the Sumarin family home in Jerusalem along with many other Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories. Sadly, I just learned that the JNF (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael in Israel) is trying again to evict the Sumarin family after multiple rounds of legal efforts to take the property.
Back in 2011, after a tremendous public outcry which I am proud to have been a part of, the JNF/KKL agreed to delay the eviction of the Sumarin family, and the case has bounced back and forth ever since. Thanks to the deep legal pockets of JNF/KKL, backed by the US JNF, this family has spent 26 years in legal limbo.
In spite of vehement denials, the US JNF, legally a separate entity from JNF/KKL in Israel, is complicit in these land thefts. On its website JNF proclaims that “JNF prides itself on honoring the pioneers of the past and celebrating their spirit by continuing the pioneering tradition in the areas of technology, environmental progress, community development, water renewal and building the land of Israel for many years to come.” Of course, they neglect to say that the 440+ communities it supports directly or indirectly are segregated and open to Jews only. It also does not say that funds raised by the JNF US to “buy trees” and support other programs are often sent directly to the JNF/KKL, thus enabling programs in Israel including those in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem — including the funds used to drag the Sumarin family through the courts for decades.
Unfortunately Americans don’t understand the total immorality of Israel’s absentee property law. Passed in 1950, the law’s stated purpose is to take over property owned by Palestinians forced to leave during and after the War of Independence. The closest comparison is U.S. policies in WWII which allowed the takeover of homes and property owned by Japanese Americans interned by FDR. After the 1967 war, this law was applied on East Jerusalem as well, creating ground for confiscation of more lands and houses.
Under Israeli law, even if the property owner living abroad allows their relatives to live in the home, it can still be taken over as absentee property. JNF/KKL and its subsidiary company called Himnuta seek out these situations and attempt to use the courts to take the homes.
Another ruling adds to the complexity and immorality of both the Israeli government and JNF/KKL’s action in this case. In 1992, the Rabin government set up the “Commission of Inquiry on the Transfer of Assets in Silwan.” In August 1992, the Commission issued the Klugman Report documenting that “the function of the Custodian of Absentee Property was carried out according to a very poor standard …The grave findings regarding the function of the Custodian of Absentee Property require, in the Committee’s opinion, a thorough examination and immediate consideration.” After that report, this approach to stealing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem was abandoned, but take-overs already in process were not made null and void and the legal procedures continued. The case against the Sumarin family is one of those cases.
The sad reality is that the JNF in the US, the JNF/KKL in Israel and the Israeli government, institutions that I once loved and supported, are now working together to steal the Sumarin family home and the homes and property of countless other Palestinians using quasi-legal means that no true democratic country would accept. The only response I got from the JNF on my resignation from the Washington DC board was, “we didn’t do it, the Israelis did.” My response: “If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.”
JNF/KKL and the Israeli government knew in 1992 that the case against the Sumarin family was invalid but they have dragged it through the courts ever since. Isn’t it time to end their ordeal and acknowledge a very simple reality —- that the Sumarin family owns their home in East Jerusalem?
This story "The JNF Is Helping Israel Steal This Palestinian House" was written by Seth Morrison.