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Full complaint to OSCR re KKL Scotland

To: The Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), 2nd Floor, Quadrant House, 9 Riverside Drive, Dundee, DD1 4NY

29th November 2020

Dear OSCR

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign wishes to make a complaint about the charity KKL (Scotland) Charitable Trust SC037850. The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign exists to build effective solidarity in Scotland with the Palestinian people.

In 2007, a complaint against KKL (Scotland) was made concerning their relationship with the Israeli para-statal organisation Keren Kayemith LeYisrael, also known as the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), and also that KKL (Scotland)’s activities in funding KKL-JNF were not charitable. KKL (Scotland) provided evidence over a period from September 2008 to March 2010 which satisfied OSCR that KKL (Scotland) is indeed distinct from KKL-JNF, that the objectives of KKL (Scotland) are charitable and that the activities of KKL-JNF in Israel which are funded by KKL (Scotland) are compatible with those charitable objectives.

Our complaint is that, on the contrary, KKL (Scotland) raises funds in Scotland for activities of the KKL-JNF in Israel which are not charitable but are in fact illegal, and further, that the unstated objective of KKL (Scotland) and all organisations in the JNF ‘family’, is the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

During the period in which KKL (Scotland) was required to produce information for OSCR, the charity reported (in a letter of 23 July 2009, 2010, signed by the Chairman Stanley Lovatt) that it had remitted a total of £70,000 to KKL Israel (KKL-JNF) for the construction of a reservoir in Gazit in the North of Israel. A subsequent letter of 28 April 2010 indicated that the final remittance from KKL (Scotland) for the Gazit reservoir amounted to £120,000 (out of a total cost of £150,000). A letter of 28 October 2009 acknowledges that KKL (Scotland) “is not aware of how this is allocated between materials, labour etc as it is project managed along with numerous other similar projects by KKL in Israel” but that “volunteer members of JNF KKL Scotland (at their own expense) visit the site at various stages”. The letter claims that “This Project conforms with our Memorandum of Association under Objects Clause 3.2 ‘water conservation in the State of Israel.’ “

Other relevant Objects of KKL (Scotland) also include:

“To promote the advancement of environmental protection or improvement by supporting charitable projects within the State of Israel, particularly but not exclusively those carried out by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael which promote the environmental reclamation of the lands of the State of Israel …, the building of water reservoirs, … and other projects to enhance the physical and natural environment of the State of Israel for the benefit of all its residents”

In 2017, two of us (Eurig Scandrett and Susan Moffat) had the opportunity to visit Gazit and observe the reservoir. The reservoir is unmarked, fenced and inaccessible, and largely overgrown, and provides irrigation for the commercial agriculture of the Kibbutz Gazit. It is located approximately 1 km North East of the kibbutz. The Palestinian village of Kafr Misr is located approximately 3 km West of Kibbutz Gazit and has no access to the reservoir.

Gazit, as a kibbutz, is entirely occupied by Israeli citizens categorised in Israeli law as having ‘Jewish nationality’, whereas Kafr Misr is entirely occupied by Palestinians who are Israeli citizens categorised as having ‘Arab nationality’. The Israeli legal status of ‘Jewish nationality’ confers superior status and legal rights over those allocated the legal status ‘Arab nationality’ in Israel (a situation which Richard Falk and Virginia Tulley, 2017, for the United Nations, have categorised as Apartheid under international law). The legal privileging of Jewish citizens has since been exacerbated by the 2018 ‘nation-state’ law. Thus, the Gazit reservoir is solely for the purpose of facilitating agricultural production of benefit to citizens with superior legal status in Israel, while access is denied to those nearby citizens with subaltern legal status on the basis of their ethnically defined nationality.

If this constitutes ‘environmental improvement’ or ‘water conservation’ in Israel as stated as the Objects of KKL (Scotland) – which seems unlikely – it is clearly not ‘for the benefit of all its [ie the State of Israel’s] residents’ and is primarily aimed at reinforcing the privilege of the Jewish residents of Kibbutz Gazit over the Arab Palestinian residents of Kafr Misr. Reinforcing privilege – in this case by privileged access to water – is not charitable, and we believe that funds raised by the charity in Scotland, which have included tax exempt donations by Scottish residents, have been used for purposes which are not charitable.

Of more serious concern is the land on which Kibbutz Gazit and the reservoir have been built. Until 1948, during Ottoman and British occupation, the land was part of the Palestinian village of al-Tira (also sometimes spelled At Tira). In 1948, the population of al-Tira was evicted and the village destroyed by a collaboration between the Jewish National Fund and the Haganah militia. The Palestinian population have since been denied the right to return, in contravention of international law. Thus, any ‘environmental improvement’ to which KKL (Scotland)’s funds raised through their charitable status in Scotland have contributed, has been on land forcibly and illegally taken from its rightful owners and used for the sole benefit of the beneficiaries of this crime. Indeed, Scottish trustees, volunteer members and donors to KKL (Scotland), if they are Jewish, have a greater entitlement to the KKL-JNF land in Israel that they are ‘improving’ than the residents and descendants of the refugees from that land.

We provide evidence and further details in the appendix below. KKL (Scotland) is part of a family of organisations whose objective is ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and it knowingly raises funds for activities which are complicit in crimes in international law. KKL (Scotland) should therefore not enjoy the status of a Scottish charity.

Yours sincerely

Dr Eurig Scandrett

Chair, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

(on behalf of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign)

Appendix

During the 1947-49 war which accompanied the withdrawal of the British Mandate and led to the establishment of the State of Israel, al-Tira was depopulated. Walid Khalidi, in his authoritative book of the depopulation of Palestinian villages in that war, has the following account:

“The Jewish National Fund (JNF) decided to expel the people of al-Tira as early as 26 March 1948, when it organized a series of expulsions around the country in the weeks before the major military operations were launched. Israeli historian Benny Morris describes a meeting of JNF officials in which the director of the Lands Department, Yosef Weitz, argued that the inhabitants of al-Tira and nearby Qumya “must be forced to leave” because they were “not taking upon themselves the responsibility of preventing the infiltration of irregulars [i.e. Palestinian guerrillas]” But the decision was not implemented for almost three weeks. On 15 April the village was emptied “after receiving ‘friendly advice’ from the Haganah” according to Morris. (Morris also writes, inconsistently, that the villagers “were ordered to leave by Arab irregular forces” over one month later, on 20 May.) …The [Jewish] settlement of Irgun Borokhov, founded in 1943, was close to the village site. On 10 September 1948, it was taken over by a different settler organization and renamed Kibbutz Gazit (192227), and in late 1948 it absorbed the village of al-Tira. Gazit is 1.5 km southwest of the village site, on village land … The ruins of stone houses, covered with grass and thorns, are all that remain of al-Tira. The site is fenced in … and serves Israeli famers as pasture land.” Khalidi 1992 p. 63. Italicised words not in original

Following the establishment of the State of Israel on 15th May 1948, the residents of al-Tira were prohibited from returning to their village and some of the village lands were transferred to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The land of al-Tira is recorded in maps compiled by Salman abu Sitta as held by the JNF and other Jewish owners from the early years of the state of Israel (abu Sitta 2007 p. 48). Thus, Palestinian land, occupied by military conquest and the inhabitants expelled, was transferred to the JNF for the purposes of occupation by Jewish settlers. The actions of the Israeli state, its military and the JNF, in preventing the refugees of al-Tira from returning to their village, contravene the Fourth Geneva convention and, in relation to all Palestinian refugees, was the subject of UN Security Council Resolution 194 in December 1948.

In order to appreciate the significance of this, it is necessary to understand the relationship between the JNF in 1948, the present day KKL-JNF and KKL (Scotland). 

The JNF was established in 1901 by the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) and incorporated in England in 1906 (under the German title Juedischer Nationalfonds (Keren Kajemeth Le Jisroel), Limited) as a cooperative association limited by guarantee under the Companies Act. The purpose of the JNF was to ‘redeem lands in Zion’: that is to acquire land in Palestine which, with reference to the biblical book Leviticus, it would hold as custodian for the Jewish people (as distinct from owning it directly), and contribute to the subsequent development of that land for Jewish colonisation of Palestine. Once held by the JNF, land would therefore be held in trust on behalf of its ‘owners’, the entire Jewish population of the world, and would no longer be available for sale or occupation by non-Jews, in perpetuity, therefore ensuring the progressive colonisation of Palestine by Jews, which was the objective of the WZO. As Israeli historian Ilan Pappe put it “the JNF was the principal Zionist tool for the colonization of Palestine” (Pappe 2006 p. 17).

The current website of KKL-JNF (kkl-jnf.org) states:

“KKL-JNF was established in 1901 to purchase and redeem lands in Zion [ie Palestine], and was appointed trustee and custodian of this land on behalf of the Jewish People, which they serve to this very day.”

thereby demonstrating the continuity between the JNF established by the WZO in England and the current KKL-JNF in Israel. The body which ‘appointed’ the JNF as ‘trustee and custodian of [Palestinian] land on behalf of the Jewish People’ was the WZO at its Fifth Congress in Basel in 1901. 

In their scholarly history of the JNF, Walter Lehn and Uri Davis note that there was a debate within the WZO about whether the JNF should be established as a charity. It was decided that it would not meet the legal definition of charity in England, because its purpose was the Jewish colonisation of Palestinian land, at the time under the Ottoman Empire. They quote the opinion of lawyer Hannah Bodenheimer:

“If the purpose of the Fund, as stated in the resolution of the Zionist Congress, is to promote the return of the Jews to Palestine through purchasing land there and leasing it to Jewish settlers, we cannot state that the purpose is charitable within the framework of British law. It would be different if those to whom the land is to be leased were limited to poor and indigent Jews. This, however, is not the case and to our knowledge no such limitation is intended. In fact it seems evident that in the view of the Zionist movement it will be of great importance to favour particularly the settling of well-to-do Jewish families in Palestine rather than to regard the land as a charitable shelter for needy Jewish families. We therefore conclude that the purpose of the fund will be a political rather than charitable one, and that limiting the Fund’s use to strictly charitable purposes would run counter to the main purpose of the Fund.” (Lehn & Davis 1988, p. 28-29)

In order to ensure that the political purpose of colonisation was to be secured, the JNF’s original Articles of Association required that ‘“members of the Association”, the ultimate authority within the JNF, had to be holders of founders’ shares of the Jewish Colonial Trust (articles 4-6), thus assuring that the JNF and the Trust would co-operate closely and effectively (all founders’ shares of the Trust were held by the WZO)’ (Lehn & Davis 1988, p. 33).

Moreover, the original and current purpose of the JNF, to ‘redeem lands’ and act as ‘trustee and custodian … on behalf of the Jewish People’ means that once held by the JNF, even for a short period of time, land can never subsequently be owned or leased by anybody who is not Jewish. This constitutes a 20th Century interpretation of the Hebrew Bible verse Leviticus 25: 23 “the land must not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine”. By such a device, the JNF thereby became one of the principal bodies of Zionist colonisation of Palestine. The form of colonisation envisaged and practiced by the Zionist movement and its institutions is termed by sociologists ‘settler-colonisation’, in which settlers purposefully replace the indigenous population (to distinguish from forms of colonialism the purpose of which is exploitation of land and indigenous labour for the benefit of a colonising state, and which therefore does not necessarily require permanent settlement). 

The centrality of the JNF for the settler-colonisation of Palestine explains the influence of Yosef Weitz in the depopulation of the village of al-Tira. Weitz was the director of the JNF’s Lands Department, a member of David Ben-Gurion’s inner circle (the ‘Consultancy’) and, as leader of the ‘transfer committee’ from early 1948, the architect of the plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, drawing on the JNF’s detailed database of Palestinian villages (the ‘Village Files’) (Pappe 2006 p. 17-22, 63).

The Zionist Israeli historian Benny Morris is the main source of information concerning the depopulation of Palestinian villages during the 1947-49 war. Morris emphasises the key role in many such evictions of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), and especially its Lands Department, which was responsible for land acquisition for Jewish settlement in Palestine, and its director Yosef Weitz. In The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-1949, Morris states:

‘ “There is a tendency among our neighbours … to leave their villages,” the director of the Jewish National Fund’s Lands Department, Yosef Weitz, wrote on 31 March 1948 to the JNF’s chairman, Avraham Granovsky (Granott). Weitz, writing after a visit to the North, cited the organised departure, in British army trucks, of the inhabitants of Qumiya [near al-Tira] in the Jezreel valley on 26 March.

This “tendency” was being promoted and expanded in part by Weitz himself, who was responsible for the Yishuv’s land acquisition and, in great measure, for the establishment of new settlements. Soon after the start of hostilities, Weitz realised that the circumstances were ripe for the “Judaization” of tracts of land bought and owned by Jewish institutions (the JNF, PICA) on which Arab tenant farmer communities continued to squat…

…Already in early January 1948 … Weitz wrote in his diary: “Is not now the time to be rid of them? Why continue to keep in our midst these thorns at a time when they pose a danger to us?”…

[In March 1948], Weitz, on his own initiative, began to implement his solution to the problem of tenant farmers. First he tried, and failed, to obtain a Haganah General Staff decision in principle to evict the tenant farmers. Then, using his personal contacts in the settlements and the local Haganah units, and Haganah Intelligence Service officers, he organised several evictions… Weitz and his JNF colleagues in the North then decided to raze the tenant farmers’ houses and to destroy their crops, and to pay the evicted Arabs compensation.’ Morris 1987 p. 55-56. Italicised words not in original

As Khalidi notes, there is some confusion in Morris’s accounts of the details of the evacuation of al-Tira. Morris records “On 26 March, for example, at a meeting with JNF officials, he called for the expulsion of the inhabitants of Qumiya and At Tira” (p. 56) and “On 20 May the villagers of … Kafr Misr, At Tira, …,were ordered to leave by Arab irregular forces (who apparently feared that the villagers intended to throw in their lot with the Yishuv)” (p. 67), and also in a footnote “At Tira, in the Galilee, was evacuated finally on 15 April after receiving “friendly advice” from the Haganah” (p. 311). It is certainly possible that the village was partially depopulated at different times and under pressure from both sides in the war. However, it is clear that the JNF played a significant role in the depopulation, as they did with many Palestinian villages that were regarded as impediments to the Zionist objective of Jewish settler-colonisation of Palestine.

However, of even more significance than this is the JNF’s role in establishing settlements for the dual purpose of security and land settlement – in other words, occupying land and expelling the Palestinian populations in land seized in military operations (including outwith the borders identified for a Jewish State in the United Nations’ 1947 partition plan) for strategic purposes. Initially this was developed under the ‘surplus lands’ policy, in which land would be set aside for Palestinian refugees to return. However, as Morris documents, this policy was largely fictional.

‘On 20 August [1948], the executives [of the settlement enterprise] submitted a revised plan, calling for 32 new settlements on JNF, State and Arab-owned lands. They stressed that settlement on Arab land would be only on sites where there would be sufficient surplus land to accommodate and maintain the original inhabitants, should they return… (Morris 1987 p. 184). On 18 December, Weitz asked Ben-Gurion whether, in planning settlements, “surplus land” should still be set aside for a possible refugee return. Ben Gurion replied “Not along the borders, and in each village we will take everything, as per our settlement needs. We will not allow the Arabs back”. In the course of September-December 1948 and January 1949, the bulk of the 32-settlement plan approved in August was carried out … During September 1948, five new settlements were established – [including] Kibbutz Gazit … at At Tira, in Eastern Galilee … (ibid p. 186. Italicised words not in original).

In other words, Kibbutz Gazit was established on the land of al-Tira following the eviction of its population and with a view to preventing their return because of its strategic location. The continuing occupation and development of this land is in clear breach of the fourth Geneva Convention and United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. KKL (Scotland) therefore, in funding Gazit reservoir, is contributing to the illegal occupation of land.

With the establishment of the state of Israel, the role of the JNF changed from acquiring land by purchase and donation, to receiving and developing land by transfer from military conquest, particularly through the Absentees’ Property Law passed in 1950. In 1953, an Act of the Israeli Parliament gave the JNF formal para-statal status within Israel (as Keren Kayemith LeIsrael, KKL-JNF). In 1959 the JNF forestry division merged with the (considerably smaller) Israeli state forestry division of the Ministry of Agriculture, under the directorship of Yosef Weitz (Cohen 1993 p. 71). In 1960 new Israeli legislation gave the JNF significant control over all state-owned land (80% of the total land of Israel) through the Israel Lands Authority (ILA), in addition to the 13% legally owned by the JNF, and in a Covenant between the Israeli Government and the JNF signed in 1961, the JNF principles of land-holding applied to all ‘Israel Lands’: state and JNF.

As Lehn and Davis (1988 p. 115) point out, this means that well over 90% of the land which constituted Israel between 1948 and 1967 was held in trust on behalf of the global ‘Jewish people’ in perpetuity, could only be leased to Jews and employ Jewish labour, and any exception to this can only be authorised by a body (the ILA) comprising appointees of the Israeli Government and the JNF. The vast majority of Jews who live outside Israel have greater right to Israel Land in Israeli law than the Palestinians who were forcibly evicted from it and have the right to return under international law. As the custodian of land on behalf of the Jewish people, the JNF thereby plays a key role in disenfranchising the indigenous Palestinian population from their land.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the JNF did not abandon its international fundraising activities. The official website of the KKL-JNF names over 20 ‘national offices’ across the world, including KKL (Scotland). In many countries, KKL-JNF offices host organisations registered locally with charitable or equivalent tax exempt status, thereby presenting their ongoing colonisation activities as for public benefit and worthy of subsidy from taxes of those countries.

Thus, while on the face of it, raising funds for the construction of the Gazit reservoir would appear to be an environmental improvement and therefore charitable, in fact the reservoir was constructed as part of a commercial agricultural development for a Jewish-only settlement on land illegally obtained through conquest by militias and transferred to the JNF to hold as custodian on behalf of the global Jewish population, solely for Jewish lease, labour and occupation, and to which its Palestinian owners have illegally been prevented from returning. While presented in charitable terms, the work of KKL (Scotland) is not charitable but rather a contribution to the political project of settler-colonisation, explicitly stated in the JNF’s founding documents, but omitted in its current Memorandum and Articles.

According to a letter to OSCR from KKL (Scotland) of 14 May 2010 (signed by Stanley Lovatt), the charity subsequently funded “the development of a park around a winter pool in Mercaz Shapira situated in the Negev area of Israel”. Walid Khalidi records that Mercaz Shapira was established in 1948 on the land of al-Sawafir al-Gharbiyya (Khalidi 1992 p. 132) which was depopulated and destroyed in May-June 1948 by the Haganah’s Givati Brigade, as part of Operation Barak, the purpose of which was to clear the Palestinian villages of their populations within the State of Israel that had just been declared. While we do not have any evidence that the JNF were directly involved in this act of ethnic cleansing, Salman abu Sitta’s (2007) maps (p. 119) show that the land of al-Sawafir al-Gharbiyya was acquired by the JNF at some point after 1948 and, since this land now constitutes ‘Israel Land’ is now subject to the JNF principle that it is held in trust on behalf of the Jewish people and cannot be sold, leased or worked by the Palestinian (ie non-Jewish) inhabitants who were expelled. This provides further demonstration of the pattern of practice by KKL (Scotland) of using its charitable status to raise money in Scotland and transfer these funds to projects which contribute to settler-colonisation of ethnically cleansed lands in Israel/Palestine.

An insight into the strategic relationship between the KKL-JNF in Israel, and KKL (Scotland) and its other ‘national offices’, is provided by Lehn and Davis (1988) in their quotation from the presentation to the Israeli Knesset in 1959 by Levi Eshkol, Finance Minister and chairman of the government-JNF committee (on which the JNF was represented by Josef Weitz) on the future role of the English JNF following the establishment of the State of Israel and the Israeli para-statal KKL-JNF.

“The mission entrusted to the JNF by the WZO at its Fifth Congress was to redeem from aliens [sic.] the land of the Land of Israel … the aim being the settlement of Jewish immigrants from the diaspora. … This mission was almost completed in the War of Independence, when the Israeli army liberated the greater part of the land within the boundaries of the state. …

“With the establishment of the state, the mission of the JNF was transformed; the redemption of the land from people became the redemption of the land from desolation …

“The [English registered] JNF Board of Directors, as an independent institution of the WZO, will act within the Jewish public in the country and in the diaspora to collect money for the redemption of land from desolation: for reclamation, development and afforestation. The JNF will also promote information and Zionist-Israeli education in the diaspora and among the Jewish youth abroad in order to draw them closer to the idea of Jewish colonization (hitnahalut) in the homeland [ie Palestine].” (Lehn and Davis 1988 p. 104-105)

In conclusion, the strategy of the JNF ‘family’ of institutions is clear. Its primary purpose is political: to obtain land in Palestine (ie the region that was considered Palestine until May 1948, currently Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory) and replace its Palestinian owners, occupiers, lessees and workers with settlers from the global Jewish population. This constitutes ethnic cleansing. In order to achieve that purpose it has taken on a variety of roles, including environmental improvement, water conservation and agricultural development, and has established institutions of various kinds in different parts of the world, aiming to be compliant with local jurisdictions but facilitative of these roles pursuant of its primary purpose.

In Israel, the JNF’s close relationship to the state allows it protection to function in defiance of international law by settling and ‘developing’ land depopulated by military force and whose Palestinian occupants have been prevented from returning; and by applying apartheid laws to ensure that this benefits only Jews as a privileged category in the ‘Jewish State’. In Scotland, the JNF’s strategy has involved the establishment of an institution with Objects designed to be charitable in Scotland, and conducting activities which give the semblance of being charitable, but which are dependent on other members of the ‘family’ being in breach of international law. Collectively, the JNF ‘family’, of which KKL (Scotland) is part, exists for the overall political purpose of the Jewish settlement of land and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

References

Abu Sitta, S. 2007 The Return Journey: A Guide to the Depopulated and Present Palestinian Towns and Villages and Holy Sites. London: Palestine Land Society

Cohen, S.E. 1993 The Politics of Planting: Israeli-Palestinian Competition for Control of Land in the Jerusalem Periphery. Chicago: The University of Chicago Geography Research Paper No 236

Falk, R. and Tulley, V Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian people and the Question of Apartheid. Palestine and the Israeli Occupation Issue No. 1 Beirut: UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

Khalidi, W. (ed.) 1992 All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Beirut: The Institute for Palestinian Studies

Lehn, W. with Davis, U. 1988 The Jewish National Fund London: Keegan Paul

Morris, B. 1987 The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Pappe, I. 2006 The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld

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