Zionism on trial

By Akiva Eldar


Shvat 22, 5765

The controversy surrounding the Jewish National Fund lands, like the dispute over the Law of Return, touches on the thin line that practical Zionism has tried to tread for more than 100 years: living in coexistence with democracy. At the beginning of its response to the petition on the matter of allocating its lands to Jews only, the JNF mentions that it was founded by the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901 to serve as the World Zionist Organization's arm for purchasing land - land that would belong to the Jewish people.

Few have anything to say about the fact that the institutions of the Jewish people have also become the long, cruel arm of the occupation, the great enemy of Zionism, democracy and peace. Few are unaware of the fact that the institutions of the Jewish people have served for some 30 years now as a tool in the hands of Israel's governments for the purpose of purchasing land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and for financing settlements, which are outside of the consensus.

Tens of thousands of acres on which settlements, industrial zones and roads have been built were purchased by a subsidiary of the JNF - Himnuta, Ltd. - which specialized in buying land from Palestinians through "straw men." The 2003 State Comptroller's Report notes that "the Settlement Division (under the WZO) works on behalf of the state to promote and develop rural settlement in Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights." The comptroller's reports, including the report of Talia Sasson - a former senior member of the State Prosecution's Office - that was published yesterday reveal a little of the exploits of these two institutions; others are hidden in the pages of plans and in budgetary data known only to a handful of people.

Here are a few examples: Last June, Haaretz published a report on a plan to establish a Jewish neighborhood adjacent to the village of Wallajeh, south of Jerusalem, with the purpose of surrounding Jerusalem with a belt of Jewish settlements and thus cut it off from Bethlehem. The Israel Lands Administration said at the time that Himnuta was in charge of the plan. Was this what the JNF's response to the High Court of Justice petition was referring to when it said that the existing situation and legislation "reflect an appropriate balance between the state's Jewish-Zionist character and its democratic character"?

Or perhaps it was referring to the plan that the Settlement Division prepared in 1998, in conjunction with the Gaza Strip council, "to make use of vacant state lands west of the axis of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip" (State Comptroller's Report, 2000)? In the wake of this, the council signed deals for carrying out development and ground-laying work in an area now slated for "disengagement."

The WZO's contribution to building up trust with the Palestinians is outlined in a secret plan, prepared by the Settlement Division in November 1993, in the immediate wake of the Oslo accord. The plan presents maps of "settlement formations between adjacent communities in order to facilitate strengthening their socioeconomic fabric." In January 1997, the plan was updated, again secretly, "to provide the decision-makers with an updated and relevant tool following the signing of the Oslo 2 agreement and the transfer to the Palestinians of areas in the West Bank." The document reveals astounding data: "Settlement formations" include 1.1 million dunams [275,000 acres] of privately owned Arab land, constituting some 35.6 percent of the area."

A public opinion poll published of late by the JNF reveals that 85 percent of the respondents (Jews only) believe that "the Jewish nation has the right to hold on to land for the Jewish nation." They weren't asked if the Jewish nation has the right to take control of land for itself in the heart of the Gaza Strip and the suburbs of Nablus.

Under the heading, "Zionism on trial," JNF chairman Yehiel Leket writes that when Chaim Herzog tore to shreds the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, "he surely never imagined that a generation later, an Israeli court would be called on to debate the question of whether one of Zionism's central organizations was guilty of racism."

Herzog surely never imagined that those same Zionist organizations would also be party to the sin of racist occupation that its arm created at the time at the first "outpost," Sebastia, which was supposed to be a Zionist response to that miserable UN resolution.

Zionism is on trial today - in the Sasson report and in the struggle for the right to life without occupation.