Palestinians and Solidarity Movement Expose JNF Conference

On Saturday November 5, a long picket line for Palestine stretched across the front of the Omni Hotel in Boston’s Seaport. The Mapping Project, BDS Boston, Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), and local Students for Justice in Palestine mobilized around 125 people to disrupt and shut down the Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) national conference.

“The JNF paid to demolish my family’s home,” a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement impassionedly roared through the bullhorn. “This conference is drenched in the pain and memories of my family.”

The Jewish National Fund is a quasi-state institution in Israel that serves as a key lynchpin in the violent theft of Palestinian lands and genocide of the Palestinian people. The JNF presents itself as an international eco-charity that raises funds for land development and conservation in Israel — planting trees, water reclamation, etc. In reality, the JNF holds a plurality on the board of the Israeli Land Authority (a state agency), owns 13 percent of the land in Palestine, and is actively expelling Palestinians from their homes across the nation.

The Boston Palestine solidarity movement came together Saturday to expose the truth behind the JNF and to make sure the conference faced public opposition. That so many came out to the picket line, some as far as Amherst, without major Israeli human rights violations in the capitalist press, shows the ongoing strength of Palestine organizing in the city and region.

Some JNF apparatchiks stood off to the side of the picket and tried to goad us as we chanted and marched by. “Do you know what an intifada is?!” one of them screamed past our security team as we chanted Long live the intifada! “It’s about blowing up children!”

Covering Up Violence with “Conservation”

Let’s ignore the fact that intifada means a shaking off, an uprising. The word says nothing about the particular tactics in that shaking off. More importantly, though, what about the violence of the JNF and the whole zionist colonial project? I just returned from Palestine two weeks ago, where I witnessed this violent dispossession and its results first hand.

I visited one of the villages subject to Israeli “reforestation.” Lifta was a wealthy village of 3,000 people that sat at the bottom of a valley inside Palestine’s pre-1948 territories (the land now known as Israel or ‘48). During the Nakba, residents fled zionist terrorism after the brutal massacre of men, women and children at nearby Deir Yassin. Lifta suffered its own assault, including zionists’ machine-gunning of a local cafe (killing seven) and their firebombing of the village leader’s home.

Both Deir Yassin and Lifta were part of the JNF’s Village Files — a pre-1948 survey of Palestinian villages that became a key tool in the zionist militias’ strategic ethnic cleansing during the Nakba.

With Lifta residents driven out, Israeli colonizers claimed the Palestinian homes as their own until the 1970s. In the 1980s, Israel then moved the settlers and converted the village into a nature reserve — even drilling holes into the keystones of the arched roofs so the homes would no longer remain stable. But the buildings defied those plans and still stand — steadfast like their rightful Palestinian owners.

Today, Israeli colonizers make their way down the hill from their newer settler-colonies and swim in the only remaining natural spring of the three original springs in the village. Israeli boy scouts hike and camp among the former homes; Israeli dirt bikes screech up and down the valley paths. The beautiful Levantine architecture is covered in graffiti and trash; the village feels like an ivyed-over graveyard. And to cover up the colonial violence, signs to the nature reserve claim that this village was “abandoned” at some point in the distant past.

“The whole of Israeli society lives in huge denial,” Palestinian archivist-activist Umar from the ‘48 NGO Zochrot told me. “They know about Palestinians leaving but they don’t connect that leaving to their own responsibility.”

Ongoing Colonization in Al-Naqab

This greenwashing, this use of conservation to hide colonial theft, still continues today.

One of the major topics of discussion at the JNF’s Boston conference was its “Blueprint Negev” campaign, which seeks to remake 11,000 acres in Al-Naqab, the southern desert in ‘48 where many Palestinian Bedouins live. That “remaking” comes through violence.

As I walked among the Bedouin village of Al Zarnouq, I saw scrap metal and trash between clotheslines and thrice-repaired fences. The conditions reminded me of Indigenous reservations in the U.S. Though the Bedouins there are officially citizens of Israel, the state refuses to recognize their 120-year ownership and land occupancy. So the state cuts them off from all services — no water, no electricity, no ambulances, no mailing addresses, no local schools. Instead, they’re targets for home demolition orders.

How a Home Demolition Works

“When they talk of home demolitions, it’s not just demolishing the building but the man, through trauma,” Mohammed, one of the village organizers, told my group. One of my trip-mates played with the village children as Mohammed talked. They relayed later that one of the young girls has trouble sleeping. She has nightmares of the Israeli military breaking in, ripping her from her bed and demolishing her home — a fear not at all far from reality.

Typically 14 days before a demolition, the Israeli military police will issue a warning. The day-of, they will send a WhatsApp message to the homeowner: “send us a photo of your demolished house, or we will send our bulldozers out.” Our host claimed 90 percent of homeowners demolish their own homes — because the Israeli state will bill them if they have to send their “special” military unit. The fines can cost a single homeowner anywhere from $3,000 to $98,000 for the “service” of having their home destroyed.

“There’s no other way to call it but psychopathic,” a fellow visitor and Jewish Voice for Peace activist said as we walked along the sandy gravel roads running along al-Zarnouq’s homes.

As for the JNF, they plant trees in Bedouin villages the Israeli military has destroyed — or has coerced into self-destruction. Where villages still remain, like in another nearby unrecognized village al-Araqib, the JNF has been implicated in multiyear and systematic poisonings of villagers through air-dropped herbicides. As al-Araqib residents remember family members who have passed from cancer, the JNF continues to present itself as an environmental charity.

Continuing the Fight for Palestine in Boston

Back in Boston, the rage against colonial theft ended in a vibrant, joyful circle of drumming and dancing. Both a Palestinian Darbuka hand drum and a modern protest bucket drum carried the beat, side by side, until we dispersed.

Socialists must continue building the Palestine solidarity movement here, centered in the leadership of young Palestinians. Exposing the JNF’s crimes as we did Saturday is a vital part of that work. We must organize not only when bombs fall on Gaza, but expose and end the daily violence — especially when it’s dressed up as an environmental charity. We must fight for Palestine’s total liberation, from the river to the sea.

For a thorough firsthand report-back from Palestine, join our joint meeting with the Denver Communists on Wednesday November 23 at 8 PM Eastern.