Attacks on Jewish fund obscure campaign to eliminate Israel

Chaim Cohen, Isla Feldman

Recent attacks on the Jewish National Fund can only be seen as part of the decades-long struggle to exclude Jews from the Middle East.

Radical Arab leaders cannot countenance a Jewish state or accept Jews owning any part of the region's land. (AFP)

In 1901, 47 years before the state of Israel became a reality, the fund was set up to help to realise the dream of statehood. The region was then ruled by the Ottomans and local Arab landowners were happy to sell land to the fund.

But radical Arab leaders cannot countenance a Jewish state or accept Jews owning any part of the region's land. The systematic, illegal campaign to confiscate land owned by the fund was started by Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian Arab and personal friend of Hitler's. His programme of riots, murders, boycotts, assassination attempts and theft of Jewish property was embraced by Arab states such as Syria. In 1942, taking advantage of the Holocaust, Syria stole 73974 hectares of Jewish-owned land. This was followed by attacks on fund land in Lebanon by the Jordanian occupying force and 820 000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries across the region.  

Such attacks continue, despite the fact that the vast majority of fund land is in the Galilee and the Negev, recognised as Israeli property.

The fund is one of the world's most successful environmental non-governmental organisations. Israel is arguably the only country today with more trees than in 1900. Hundreds of delegates from Africa, Asia and Latin America regularly attend sessions of the fund at United Nations environmental conferences such the Conference of the Parties and the Rio Summit, and moderate Arab regimes such as Tunisia are realising the importance of its work. Advanced agricultural technology, offered freely, has benefited many, including South Africa.

Ismael Khaldi, Israel's first Bedouin vice-consul and the first high-ranking Muslim diplomat in Israel's ministry of foreign affairs, said: "As a shepherd I used to fight all the time with the Jewish National Fund because my goats would eat the leaves of its trees. As I grew up, I began to appreciate its work."

Many Bedouin work with the fund on its sustainable forestry programmes. Some, however, have squatted illegally on land to which they have no title deed, such as the El Arakib settlement ("Forest green screens a history denied", November 2). Yet they have access to Israel's excellent and impartial judicial system, which has thrown out these assertions of ownership three times.

Chaim Cohen is the chairman of the Jewish National Fund of South Africa and Isla Feldman is its national executive director

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