In his OpEd “The Two Israels,” (NY Times, March 1, 2015) Nicholas Kristof made a rather broad accusation stating that Jewish National Fund plants forests on land owned by Bedouin Arabs. Unfortunately, Mr. Kristof chose to subscribe to the BDS diatribe against Israel and used JNF as a straw man to do so. We take exception to such reporting and in a response to the Times on March 3 let them know.
Further, the fact that no Israeli governmental official was interviewed by Mr. Kristof to discuss that country’s laws, or identify any specific property disputes and claims procedures, or legal history on the subject should also raise red flags.
We are not a political actor in Israel but rather a 501(c) 3 charity and a UN NGO. Our mission betters the Land for all the people of Israel, regardless of ethnicity or religion. This multi-purposed goal facilitates the continuity of a secure and independent homeland for Jews across the diaspora, and supports our country’s only free and democratic strategic ally in the Middle East.
What Mr. Kristof did not report on was JNF’s multi-year work with the Bedouin community in the Negev that has improved their lives. Witness our efforts at a project called Wadi Atir, near the village of Hura, where the Bedouin community combines its traditional medicinal herbal practices and animal herding with modern farming techniques — the effects of which provide Bedouin men, and most importantly, women, with the tools to empower, educate and bring long-term financial and professional success.
In my meetings and visits with JNF’s wonderful volunteers, board members and staff, I am often overwhelmed by the caring and love shared for the people of Israel, in both good times and bad. Last year when rockets were sent from Gaza into Israel, we helped protect all of Israel’s residents on that border, including the Bedouin. Our partner Green Horizons responded to their villages to calm children with a variety of programs and bomb shelters were delivered to ensure safety.
JNF contributors understand that inclusiveness is the key to Israel’s future. Throughout the Negev Desert, JNF has partnered with numerous organizations to foster synergy and enhance and strengthen the region’s smaller communities that were often forgotten in the past. This small 8% of Israel’s population lives in some 60% of the land. Because they are so far removed from the central part of the country, they are often shortchanged for services, even when it comes to emergency treatment. To meet the demand for urgent care, last year we opened a medical center deep in the Negev Desert, alleviating the two-hour drive residents used to make.
Additionally, people with special needs are treated at our partner facilities Aleh Negev, Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center, and LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible – regardless of complexion, faith or language. And we have collaborated on a transboundary issue to repair an important watershed for the Palestinian Authority and the people of Be’er Sheva, the capital of the Negev, to make sure all have access to clean water.
For more than a century, JNF donors worldwide have taken part in a time-honored tradition and planted more than 250 million trees in Israel to commemorate important milestones, memorials or living testaments to loved ones. This act of taking care of the land has also served to create a green lung throughout the region. JNF is equally renowned for its protection of ecological systems, investing in smart technology and renewable energy, our leadership in sustainability, greening the desert and water conservation. Donors also choose to build farms, reservoirs, hospitals, schools, research centers, parks, and many other projects that benefit all the people of Israel.
Our history is one of love, nation building and industry that has reduced poverty, encouraged women’s rights and created economic opportunities for all. That’s the story that is Israel and JNF. That’s the story that the world needs to know.Jeffrey E. Levine