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Jewish National Fund

JEWISH NATIONAL FUND

JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (Heb. קק״ל) – קֶרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל), Keren Kayemeth Leisrael ), the land purchase and development fund of the Zionist Organization. It was founded on December 29, 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress at Basle, which resolved: "The jnf shall be the eternal possession of the Jewish people. Its funds shall not be used except for the purchase of lands in Palestine and Syria." The Hebrew name comes from the talmudic dictum about good deeds "the fruits of which a man enjoys in this world, while the capital abides (ha-keren kayyemet) for him in the world to come" (Pe'ah 1:1). A land fund was first suggested by Judah *Alkalai in 1847. It was proposed by Hermann *Schapira at the *Katowice Conference in 1884 and again at the First Zionist Congress in 1897. Schapira based his idea of public ownership of land on the biblical injunction "The land shall not be sold forever for the land is Mine," and on the institution of the Jubilee Year, which stipulates that all holdings which have changed hands revert to their original owners in the 50th year (Lev. 25:10, 23–24).

jnf leasehold contracts run for 49 years and can be prolonged by the lessee or his heirs as long as they serve the purpose specified; holdings may neither be united with other domains nor divided among several heirs; the lessee needs the lessor's consent if he wishes to use his holding for a purpose other than that stipulated in the contract; on rural tracts, the lessee must cultivate his own soil; ground rents are to be kept as low as possible, whether the land serves farming, industry, housing, or other purposes.

Early Activities

Between 1902 and 1907, the jnf had its administration in Vienna, where Johann *Kremenezki created a worldwide organization for fund raising by means of jnf stamps, the Blue Box, a small tin collection box, and the Golden Book for honoring a person by donating a large contribution in his name which is inscribed in the book, which soon became popular Zionist symbols. In 1907 the head office was transferred to Cologne, with Max *Bodenheimer as chairman of the board of directors, and the jnf was incorporated in London as an "association limited by guarantee." The first tract of land acquired was that of Kefar Ḥittim in Lower Galilee (1904), followed in 1908 by Ben Shemen and Ḥuldah in Judea, and Kinneret-Deganyah near Lake Kinneret. The jnf made its first experiments in tree planting in 1908 with the Herzl Forest, financed by its Olive Tree Fund. It aided urban development by long-term loans to the founders of Tel Aviv and by acquiring the building of the *Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem, land for the Herzlia High School in Tel Aviv, and the *Technion in Haifa. It also financed the activities of the Palestine Office of the Zionist Organization. In 1914, with the outbreak of World War i, the head office was transferred to The Hague in neutral Holland under Nehemia de *Lieme. In July 1920, the London Conference of the Zionist Organization, which established an additional fund, the *Keren Hayesod, declared the jnf to be "the instrument of the urban and rural land policy of the Jewish people," devoted exclusively to land acquisition and improvement.

Under the Mandate

The first large settlement area was acquired in 1921 in the Jezreel Valley ("The Emek"), increasing jnf land property from 4,000 to almost 15,000 acres (16,000 to 59,000 dunams) after a violent debate with Zionist leaders who preferred the acquisition of urban holdings. In 1922, the head office was transferred to Jerusalem, and Menahem *Ussishkin became its president. During the later 1920s, it acquired the Emek Ḥefer, creating a continuous chain of Jewish settlement in the coastal plain, with the Plain of Zebulun as hinterland to Haifa port. The Arab riots of 1936–39, and the Peel Commission's partition plan (1937–38) lent increased political importance to jnf land acquisition. Jewish holdings and "*stockade and watchtower" settlements were rapidly extended to new regions (Beth-Shean and Ḥuleh valleys, Manasseh Hills, Western Galilee, southern Coastal Plain). During World War ii, the jnf sought intricate legal expedients to overcome the severe restrictions imposed in February 1940 by the land regulations issued under the British White Paper, and stepped up land acquisition even further. Opening up the northern Negev for Jewish settlement and strengthening positions in Galilee, it brought its possessions in 1947 to 234,000 acres (936,000 dunams), more than half the total Jewish holdings in Palestine. After Ussishkin's death in 1941, a committee of three – Berl *Katzenelson, Rabbi Meir *Bar-Ilan (Berlin), and Abraham *Granott – headed the jnf board of directors. In 1945, Granott took over as chairman and on his death in 1960 was succeeded by Jacob *Tsur.

In Independent Israel

With the founding of the State of Israel, the emphasis of jnf activity shifted from land purchase to land improvement and development as well as afforestation, headed by Joseph *Weitz from the early 1920s. Besides swamp drainage (Jezreel Valley, Ḥefer and Zebulun plains, etc.), much was done for hill reclamation through stone clearing and terracing, principally along the 1949 armistice borders, opening new areas for settlement. In the Negev contourline plowing, planting of shelter belts around fields, and leveling of eroded terrain have won new areas for farming. The jnf's most important swamp draining enterprise was that of the Ḥuleh Valley (1952–58). By 1967 the jnf had reclaimed a total of 120,000 acres (480,000 dunams) and another 125,000 acres (500,000 dunams) approximately through swamp draining, together totaling about a quarter of the 1.05 million acres of cultivated land inside Israel's 1966 borders. Up to 1947, the jnf planted 5,280,000 forest trees on approximately 5,000 acres. Annual planting equaled or exceeded these figures since 1948, bringing the total in 1967 to more than 90,000,000 trees and 100,000 acres, in addition to thousands of acres of degenerated natural brush rehabilitated by adequate care. The jnf serves tourism by installing camping and picnic grounds in its forests, and participates in landscaping national parks and nature reserves. As part of its reclamation and afforestation programs, it has paved over c. 1200 miles (2,000 kilometers) of roads, particularly in border areas. It also constructs storage dams to make storm-flood water available for irrigation. The jnf has aided immigrant absorption by setting up "work villages" and providing work for newcomers, especially during periods of unemployment. Since the mid-1950s, the jnf has embarked on comprehensive regional development projects (the Adullam, Adoraim, Yatir regions in southern Judea, the Modi'in region in northern Judea, the Iron Hills and Mount Gilboa in Samaria, the Chorazim region north of Lake Kinneret, and, from 1963, Central Galilee bordering on Lebanon). In the 1960s, the jnf started building *Naḥal outpost villages in reclaimed border areas.

In July, 1960, the Knesset passed a fundamental law on Israel land holdings, followed by the Israel Land Administration Law. An agreement between the jnf and the government, signed on August 1, 1960, set up an Israel Land Authority for the administration of all government and jnf holdings, with a council of seven government and six jnf representatives, and a Land Development Authority functioning in the jnf framework, with seven jnf and six government representatives on its council. The latter is responsible for land development and afforestation of all public land. In 1967, jnf land holdings totaled more than 637,000 acres (2,549,000 dunams), including 332,500 acres (1,330,000 dunams) which the jnf acquired from the state after 1948. In 1967, the government approved a concession to the jnf for the development of state domain land totaling 125,000 acres (500,000 dunams).

The jnf derives its budget largely from contributions from world Jewry, which in the 1960s averaged il24,000,000 per year; the balance of the il56,000,000 budget comes from leasehold fees and other sources. It operates in approximately 40 countries. It engages in Zionist education in schools and youth movements both in Israel and abroad; a jnf teachers' council is active in Israel, as well as in a number of Diaspora countries. The jnf is headed by a board of directors consisting of 26 members elected by the Zionist General Council and up to three governors nominated by the Zionist Executive.

After the Six-Day War the jnf reclaimed 11,000 acres of land and helped establish new settlements in both the Rafiah area and the Aravah. In afforestation work, jnf trees reached the 100 million mark. During the 1980s a quarter of the jnf's trees were planted in the Negev, bringing its afforested area up to 45,000 acres. The jnf built dams and reservoirs to combat Israel's chronic water shortage, and in the 1990s started to rehabilitate the Hula Valley in order to prevent the flow of pollutants to the Sea of Galilee and restore the fertility of agricultural lands. It also provided the infrastructure for housing the massive waves of immigrants during the decade.

In the hundred years since it was founded, the jnf has planted more than 240 million trees, built more than 180 dams and reservoirs, developed more than 250,000 acres of land, and created more than 1,000 parks throughout Israel. It ensured that Israel was the only nation in the world to end the 20th century with more trees than it had at the beginning.

bibliography:

A. Boehm and A. Pollak, Jewish National Fund (1939); A. Granott, Agrarian Reform and the Record of Israel (1956); J. Tsur, Old Concepts and New Realities (1962); J. Weitz, Activities and Tasks of the Jewish National Fund (1933); idem, Afforestation Policy in Israel (1950); idem, Struggle for the Land (1950); Reports of Keren Kayemeth Leisrael to the Zionist Congresses, beginning from the Sixth Congress (1903– ). website: www.kkl.org.il.

[Jacob Tsur]

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