Susiya olive trees destroyed by Israeli settlers
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For decades, Jews around the world have cherished the Jewish National Fund's supposedly "charitable" work buying and managing land in Israel. Generations of Jewish children have been encouraged to drop pennies into its iconic blue collection boxes.
The Fund is held in similar high esteem by western governments, which typically subsidize their citizens' donations to the JNF by treating them as tax exempt. Meanwhile, international agencies seek out its advice on environmental and sustainability issues.
But a vote last month by the JNF's board threatens to unmask the Zionist charity, even to its most faithful supporters. For the first time, the organization has agreed to publicly allocate funds to expand Israel's illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The JNF has initially set aside nearly $12 million for what it describes as "land purchases" in the occupied West Bank. In reality, the JNF will be funding the confiscation and takeover of Palestinian lands by Israel's occupation authorities.
According to reports, the JNF may ultimately funnel hundreds of millions of dollars from its reserves into the West Bank in a bid to more than double the size of the settler population there - from at least 450,000 to one million Jews.
Analysts have noted that the KKL-JNF - as the organization is known in Israel - is being rapidly reinvented as a "bank" for right-wing politicians. They want to use its enormous reserves to entrench the government's de facto annexation policy by helping the settlers tighten their hold on the West Bank.Collusion in war crimes
Worried about how this will look outside Israel, and the threat it could pose to the JNF's fundraising activities overseas, five of the JNF's 32 board members have demanded that the decision be rescinded.
They are pinning their hopes on a follow-up meeting, after Israel's March 23 election, when the board will vote on whether the JNF changes its declared policy and operates openly inside the West Bank.
Unless the decision can be overturned, donors to the JNF - as well as foreign governments that bestow charitable status on the Fund - will be directly and visibly colluding in the development of the settlements and the further erosion of prospects for a Palestinian state.
Significantly, such collusion will be occurring immediately after the International Criminal Court in the Hague announced last month an investigation into potential Israeli war crimes that include its building and expansion of settlements.Public money laundered
The JNF's decision is a dramatic indication of how ultra-nationalists allied to Benjamin Netanyahu's government have co-opted Zionism's most venerable international organization.
Till now, the JNF in Israel has been careful to veil its involvement in the settlements to avoid both alienating more liberal American Jews and endangering its overseas charitable status by openly flouting international law. Instead it has hidden its operations inside the West Bank behind a subsidiary called Himanuta.
But that approach has changed since the JNF's new chairman, Avraham Duvdevani, took office in October. He previously headed the World Zionist Organization, whose settlement division has been the main vehicle by which Israeli governments have laundered public money to expand the settlements, often in breach of Israel's own laws.'Land theft division'
An editorial in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz in 2017 labelled the WZO settlement division, then under Duvdevani, as "the land theft division", following a series of investigations by the paper.
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