Fact Sheet: What is the Jewish National Fund?

June 26, 2020

JNF role in the Zionist movement’s dispossession of Palestinians & ethnic cleansing during Israel’s establishment in 1948 

  • Since it was established at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1901, the JNF has played a key role in the Zionist movement and subsequently the Israeli government’s dispossession of indigenous Palestinians in order to create and maintain a Jewish-majority state in their place. In its early years, it worked to acquire land for European Jewish colonists, often purchasing it from large landowners who lived abroad and dispossessing Palestinian peasant farmers in the process. 

  • In August 1937, David Ben-Gurion, head of the Zionist colonial leadership in Palestine and Israel's first prime minister, alluded to the JNF’s role in dispossessing Palestinians while arguing in favor of larger-scale ethnic cleansing (‘transfer”) during a meeting of the Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich, Switzerland, stating 

“You are no doubt aware of the JNF's activity in this respect. Now a transfer of a completely different scope will have to be carried out. In many parts of the country new settlement will not be possible without transferring the Arab fellahin [peasants]... Jewish power [in Palestine], which grows steadily, will also increase our possibilities to carry out this transfer on a large scale." 

  • In December 1940, Joseph Weitz, director of the JNF's Lands Departmentwrote in his diary: 

“There is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, and to transfer all of them, save perhaps for [the Arabs of] Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one [Bedouin] tribe. And only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers and the Jewish problem will cease to exist. There is no other solution.” 


  • Following Israel's establishment on May 14, 1948, the new Israeli government set up an unofficial body, the "Transfer Committee," to oversee the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages or their repopulation with Jews and to prevent expelled Palestinians from returning to their homes. In a report presented to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion in June 1948, while hostilities were ongoing and the newly-established Israeli army was engaged in large-scale ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the three-man committee, which included the JNF's Weitz, called for the "destruction of villages as much as possible during military operations." 

JNF fundraising abroad & planting trees to hide ethnic cleansing 

  • Following the ethnic cleansing of between 750,000 and one million Palestinians and the systematic destruction of more than 400 Palestinian towns and villages during Israel’s establishment 1948-49, the JNF planted forests in many areas covering the ruins and evidence of the Palestinian Arab society that much of Israel is built over. 

  • From its earliest days, the JNF raised money abroad with its “Blue Box” campaign, taking in huge sums in the US and other countries. In the US, the JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization, meaning American taxpayers are subsidizing its activities in Palestine/Israel. In 2017, the JNF took in more than $72 million (USD) in tax-deductible contributions and grants in the US alone. 

JNF role in Israel’s ongoing dispossession of Palestinians today 

  • Today, the quasi-governmental JNF,  whose website declares it is “the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners - Jewish people everywhere,” continues to play an important role in the distribution of state lands and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  

Inside Israel 

  • More than 80% of the land in Israel is state-owned and controlled by the Israel Land Authority and quasi-governmental agencies like the JNF. The JNF itself owns more than 10% of the land in Israel and systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20% of the population, in its allocation. In 2004, following a Supreme Court petition challenging the discriminatory charter of the JNF, the ILA agreed to temporarily open JNF bids to any citizen of Israel, regardless of ethnicity, but if a non-Jewish citizen won the bid to the land, the ILA agreed to compensate the JNF with other equivalent state land. Together with Admissions Committees, the JNF and Israel's discriminatory land policies make it extremely difficult for Palestinian citizens of Israel to gain access state lands for residential, commercial, agricultural, or other uses. 

  • In places like the Negev (Naqab to Palestinians) desert in southern Israel, the JNF has been working with the Israeli government to evict Palestinian Bedouin - who are Israeli citizens - and destroy their homes and communities. The village of al Araqeeb has been destroyed more than 100 times because it’s located on land that the JNF wants to plant trees on as part of it’s so-called “Ambassadors Forest.” 

In the occupied Palestinian territories 

  • In occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, the JNF is also displacing Palestinians, often in cooperation with right-wing settler groups like Elad. Through subsidiary companies like Himnuta, which was established in 1938 to help get around institutional and legal restrictions on its activities, the JNF has acquired thousands of acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and conducted numerous campaigns to evict Palestinians from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. Israeli governments have also frequently used Himnuta directly to purchase property in the occupied territories, without going through the JNF, which owns 99% of its shares. (For more, see fact sheet Elad, the Jewish National Fund & the US Taxpayer-Subsidized “Judaization” of Silwan. 

  • Often, the JNF/Himnuta purchase Palestinian land at above-market prices through shady middlemen who don’t disclose to the Palestinian owners that Israeli settlers are the buyers and other means.  

“[This] is not an isolated case. JNF has gained ownership of other Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and, in many instances, then transferred these properties through its subsidiaries to Elad, a settler organization whose purpose is to ‘Judaize’ East Jerusalem… the expulsion of the Sumarin family is a violation of human rights. But it is also part of the systematic transfer of Palestinian property to ideological settlers who wish to put facts on the ground that hinder a lasting peace agreement.” 

  • Morrison also noted that the JNF’s “initial response was to deny any involvement in the [Sumarin] eviction,” only admitting the truth when legal documents naming a JNF subsidiary as the initiator of the eviction proceedings became public.