I am a 22 year old American living in Jerusalem. I moved here shortly after my college graduation to spend a year learning Jewish texts and familiarizing myself with Israel. Coming here, I expected to meet wonderful people and be enriched by high quality learning and wonderful adventures. What I did not expect was to have my heart broken by the reality of what is going on in Israel.
All my life I have contributed to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). As a little kid, I remember how exciting it was to put coins in the little blue boxes. I was proud of the work they did building reservoirs and planting trees. I admired the way they also financed parks and trees in Palestinian territories. And I was personally grateful for their help in financing my alternative spring break trip to Uruguay to build emergency housing in the barrio during my freshman year of college.
Because I was so proud of JNF and because I lauded them for the good they create in the world and because they are one of the few organizations I have personally funded, you can imagine my shock when I opened the paper this week and learned that my JNF is behind the eviction of a twelve person family in East Jerusalem including five children, a pregnant mother, and a grandfather on dialysis. How could this be?
The eviction of the Sumarin family began almost twenty years ago. The owner of the property passed away, at which point government officials took exception to documentation regarding inheritance of the property and confiscated it under the Abandoned Property Law. Despite the fact that the Sumarin family was still residing in this home, the property was then transferred to the Development Authority which is run by the state of Israel. In a not-uncommon turn of events, the government then exchanged this property and surrounding lands for land near Wadi Ara, Northern West Bank. In this deal, Himnuta, the JNF subsidiary, became the owner of the property. That was in the early 1990s.
Shortly thereafter, Himnuta leased the other properties involved in this land exchange to Jewish settlers through the Elad agency. The Sumarin family appeared in court many times over the coming years, defending their right to their home, and received both verdicts in their favor and against them. In 2005, Himnuta filed to evict the Sumarin family. This suit was accepted in 2006 by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court and the family was required to vacate the property and pay a one million shekel fine. (Keep in mind that according to a government survey conducted in 2008 of Israeli—not Palestinian—territories, the gross monthly income per Israeli household was 13,339 shekels. According to this study the gross yearly income of an Israeli family would be 160,068 shekels. This means that the Sumarin family’s fine was 6.25 times the gross yearly income of the average Israeli family, and the average yearly income for a Palestinian family is far less than that of an Israeli family. How could any family anywhere pay a fine of 6.25 times their yearly income?)
For a few years after the eviction notice was delivered, it seemed that Himnuta had forgotten about the suit. But, about two months ago, proceedings began again. This time, Himnuta pursued the property through the Bailiff’s office. The Sumarin’s received another eviction notice which requires them to vacate the property by November 28 or they will be forcibly removed from the property. And their fine was doubled to two million shekels.
This story not only breaks my heart, but fills me with an indelible sense of guilt. After all, my beloved JNF is not the only culprit here. I contributed to their funding. In this way, I helped to fund the Sumarin family eviction. And this is not an isolated case. This appears to be a commonly employed strategy to displace Palestinian families and expand Jewish settlements in spite of what is publicized as government or JNF policy.
I beg you to please write to JNF. Tell them that creating Jewish homes by throwing Palestinian families into the street is no way to create a homeland. Implore them to act with a higher moral authority. Demand that your money be directed towards good in the world, and not in a way which fuels terrorism and ill will. I have been a witness for the pain that JNF is causing. If you speak up and demand change I can be a witness to JNF living up to its charter and to traditional Jewish values of social justice.
I was shocked to find out how different the reality here is from what is reported in the American press. I believe that things will only change if the American people hold Israel accountable. Please speak up. Please allow me to witness the righteousness of the American people. Hold JNF accountable for policies and actions committed under the guise of Himnuta and create a more just Israel.
Since this article was written, the family was granted a temporary reprieve. But this is not the end. There is still a lot of work necessary to prevent this from happening in the future, and to alleviate ongoing threats of eviction. Want to get involved? Here are a few suggestions:
- Go to facebook and “like” http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jewish-National-Fund-Do-Not-Uproot-Palestinian-Families/186727121416986?sk=wall.
- Write a letter to JNF. Tell them that their actions are inappropriate and unethical. Urge them to change course and find a workable solution for all involved parties.
- Write to your community at home. Let them know what is happening with families in Silwan. 60% of the Palestinians who live there are facing this type of eviction. Let your community know that their tzedakkah is enabling this heartache.
- Visit Silwan. This is a powerful opportunity to see firsthand what is happening and learn a side of the truth. You may also want to learn about the laws which support this type of eviction, and the action (or inaction) that has taken place in the past.