Mira Sucharov expressed confusion regarding management of lands owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in Israel in her column “Is it time to have a debate about the JNF?” (CJN, Aug. 6). However, the answers are very straightforward.
In 1960, the State of Israel established the Israel Land Authority (ILA). Ever since then, all JNF-owned lands have been managed by the ILA, and a share of the proceeds from the income is transferred to JNF.
The JNF is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the land of Israel for Jewish people everywhere. The work that we undertake benefits all of Israel’s citizens. JNF has seven “Action Areas” supported by our offices in 48 countries: forestry and ecology, water, community development, security, education, research and development, and tourism and recreation.
JNF works on other ecological issues in addition to its forestry efforts. Over the past several decades, JNF has built more than 250 reservoirs and dams, dramatically increasing Israel’s water resources and providing drinking water to 1.2 million Israelis. Furthermore, our reservoirs provide more than 50 per cent of all water used for agriculture throughout Israel. JNF’s water management projects also include water conservation, river rehabilitation, and recycling.
JNF builds the infrastructure necessary to create and support communities throughout Israel with a major focus on developing Israel’s northern and southern regions, preparing over 700,000 acres for new communities in the periphery. As Israel’s population expands, these newly developed towns offer opportunities for Israeli families. As well, JNF continues to develop infrastructure for Druze and Bedouin communities. These co-operative projects include the construction of reservoirs, sewage treatment plants, rehabilitating streams and educational activities for children. It should be noted that 65 per cent of the pasture used for grazing by the Bedouin population is located in our forests.
JNF has built more than 1,000 parks, playgrounds, and recreation areas, over 1,200 kilometres of bicycle paths, thousands of kilometres of walking and hiking trails – all for the enjoyment of Israeli families of all faiths and abilities. Many of these parks have been built in communities where Jews are not the primary residents, including the picnic and leisure area in the Ahihud Forest in memory of Sheikh Amin Tarif, the Druze spiritual leader, the active recreation area at Isfiya in the north and at Rahat and Segev Shalom.
JNF is a partner in establishing the Wadi Attir project, an occupational tourist centre at the Negev village of Hura. This agri-tourism site preserves Bedouin farming traditions while employing Hura’s residents. JNF Canada is also putting the finishing touches on a large botanical garden in the city of Acre, set to open in October.
Our work in Israel spans every aspect of what it takes to build and maintain a country. Last summer when terrorists were firing rockets at Israel, JNF built bomb shelters – not only in Jewish communities, but also in Bedouin communities throughout the Negev. More recently, The Glassman Mental Health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Centre will soon begin construction at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem from the proceeds of the 2014 Toronto Negev dinner. And just this month, we saw JNF fire trucks leading the fight against a forest fire around Jerusalem.
JNF is a vibrant organization that reaches all people around Israel in a plethora of ways. On an annual basis, donations from JNF Canada employ hundreds of workers throughout Israel, including Arabs, Muslims, Bedouins, Druze and Jews.
I have been involved with JNF and seen our work on the ground. I have spoken to Israeli families, children, adults, teachers, parents of special needs children, tourists, mayors, Knesset members and the prime minister. All have praised the work of JNF.
In 114 years of existence, JNF has never dispossessed or evacuated anyone, nor has it confiscated the property of anyone. I invite Ms. Sucharov to visit Israel and see what JNF is truly about.
Jerry Werger is president of JNF Canada.