September 16, 2007

Land for peace, land for soldiers or land for Jews only

Back to the Magnes Zionist for an update on the Jewish National Fund bill. We can expect racist laws from Israel and there's no surprises with this one but a section of the post did strike me.
Last night, Menachem ben Sasson, who is chairman of the Knesset's constitution committee, came to my shul for holiday prayers. I asked him, hopefully, whether he thought that that the bill would be buried in committee. He said that it would not, that it was not in his committee, and that it would come to the main floor for the second and third readings. But -- and here is main point -- there would be significant changes with the JNF and its relationship with the Israel Land Authority, which administers the land. These changes would involve the JNF's returning to the state the Palestinian land which it purchased in the fifties. So none of that land would fall under the purview of the JNF and its new "Jews only" clause. Now this solution had already been proposed by former Justice Minister Amnon Rubinstein, in a letter to Prime Minister Olmert. Rubinstein, who criticized the Knesset law. also proposed that the JNF would not lease its land to "Jews only" but to projects of national importance, that could include Jews and non-Jews. Pay attention:
Rubinstein's proposal, made to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, recommends that a distinction be made between JNF lands and state lands, with the organization returning all state lands in return for being allowed to manage the properties under its control "in line with national interests." As an example of such "national interest," he proposes that JNF lands be used for housing projects for discharged soldiers.
Another example of land for "national interests" would be apportioning lands for a "peace village" for Jews and Arabs. I asked Ben-Sasson if the Knesset was going to come up with something that looked like Amnon Rubinstein's proposal. He said that it would not be identical but it would "be in that direction." Now, Rubinstein's proposal sounds much better than the original law, which he severely criticized on liberal grounds. But it is just as racist because of the "national interests" clause. For example, the phrase "discharged soliders" is a synonym for "non-Palestinians," since Palestinians are not allowed, by law, to be soldiers. This is a common tactic used to discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. When I lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, I leased land from the JNF which was made available to IDF veterans or new immigrants, i.e., to keep Palestinians out of the neighborhood (By the way, it is still segregated by law, and the law was sustained by the High Court of Justice.)

As for joint Jewish-Arab villages, I assume that he is referring to villages on the model of Neveh Shalom, the only one of its kind in Israel. He may be liberal enough to include Jewish communities that are segregated, but where Palestinians wish to live, as in the Ka'dan case. That would affirm the status quo and would seem to be a blow to the proponents of the JNF bill.

But would it? The fact is that by returning the land to the state, Israel would be able to keep lands expropriated for Jews only (at least until challenged by the courts, which has not yet happened.)
You see that stuff about preferential treatment for ex-soldiers? Now there are Jews who go to live in Israel at a time in their lives when they don't have to join the army. This "national interest" provision means that they might want to join the army even if they don't have to.


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