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How Britain Dresses Up Crimes in Israel as 'charitable acts'

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UK officials have stonewalled a campaign to expose a group that funded a park used to aid the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
UK officials have stonewalled a campaign to expose a group that funded a park used to aid the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
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When is a war crime not a war crime? When, according to British officials, that war crime has been given a makeover as a "charitable act".

The British state is being asked to account for its financial and moral support for a UK organisation accused of complicity in the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland. So far, it appears determined to evade answering those questions.

The target of the campaign is the Jewish National Fund UK (JNF UK), which describes itself as "Britain's oldest Israel charity". Noting its role in "building Israel for over a century", the organisation boats: "Every penny raised by JNF UK is sent to a project in Israel."

In fact, donations to JNF UK were used to buy some of the 250 million trees planted across Israel since 1948, the year when 750,000 Palestinians were forced out at gunpoint from their homes by the new Israeli army. Those expulsions were an event Palestinians call their Nakba, or "catastrophe".

Afterwards, the Israeli army laid waste to many hundreds of Palestinian villages, turning them into rubble. Forests planted over the villages were then promoted as efforts to "make the desert bloom".

Subsidised by taxpayers

In fact, the trees were intended primarily to block Palestinian refugees from ever being able to return to their villages and rebuild their homes. As a result, millions of Palestinians today languish in refugee camps across the Middle East, evicted from their homeland with the help of the forests.

JNF UK raised the funds for a parent organisation in Israel, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which enforced the expulsions by using the donations to plant the forests. The Israeli state's ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population was effectively disguised as a form of environmentalism.

Britain and other Western states appear to have accepted that barely concealed deception. They have long treated their local JNF fundraising arms as charities. JNF UK received charitable status in 1939, nearly a decade before Israel was created as a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestinians' homeland.

The forests are still managed with money raised through tax-deductible donations in Britain and elsewhere. Since 1990, donations to JNF UK have been eligible for Gift Aid, meaning that the British government tops up donations by adding its own 25 percent contribution.

In effect, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages has been subsidised by the British public.

Backing from MPs

Britain's continuing sanction of these crimes and others is being belatedly given scrutiny by human rights activists in Britain.

A campaign launched in 2010 called Stop the JNF backed by various Palestinian solidarity organisations has aimed to shame British officials into ending JNF UK's charitable status.

The campaign gained parliamentary support a year later, when 68 MPs signed an early-day motion condemning the JNF's activities and calling for its charitable status to be revoked. The motion was sponsored by Jeremy Corbyn, then a backbencher but now leader of the Labour Party, and attracted cross-party support, though no Conservative MPs backed it.

Nonetheless, the campaign has faced institutional resistance every step of the way. Over the past six years, appeals to the Charity Commission, a department of the British government, to intervene and remove JNF UK from its list of registered charities have been repeatedly rebuffed.

Rather than seeking explanations from JNF UK, British officials have largely ignored the evidence they have been presented with.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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