The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

The JNF troubles in East Jerusalem

In just more than a month, thousands of Jewish students from across the country, including 16 from UNC, will depart on winter Birthright trips to Israel. On their 10-day visit, these young people will discover a remarkable land, a remarkable history and a remarkable people.

This year, as in years past, some Birthright trips will visit the “City of David,” a major archaeological and historical site in East Jerusalem, just beyond the walls of the Old City. The City of David is likely the original site of King David’s remarkable political center.

It is also one of the most politically problematic of Israel’s tourist sites. It is owned by Elad, an organization dedicated not only to managing the site but to purchasing land in the abutting Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan for the purpose of moving in Jewish residents.

It is generally understood that a workable political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will involve dividing Jerusalem in two: between its Jewish neighborhoods and its Palestinian neighborhoods. Elad is seeking to move Jews into a Palestinian neighborhood, making it more difficult to deem it either Jewish or Palestinian. Elad’s actions undermine a two-state solution.

Most Birthright trips — including UNC’s trip this year — do not visit the City of David. But some do, and thus unknowingly fund Elad’s political agenda.

Just this week, the cost of this agenda was given a very human face.

On Monday, a Palestinian family — the Sumarins — was scheduled to be evicted from its home in Silwan. The Sumarin home is directly next to the City of David’s archaeological dig, making their land a prime target for Elad.

Several years ago, the Jerusalem municipality seized legal control of their home by invoking Israel’s Absentees’ Property Law. The eviction action against the Sumarin family has been brought to court by Himnuta, an organization that plans to pass on the land to Elad.

However, one of the most important Jewish organizations in the world, the Jewish National Fund, owns 100 percent of Himnuta’s shares. Initially, the JNF denied any responsibility for the eviction order. They have a long-standing policy of not conducting operations across the “Green Line” — the borders of Israel prior to 1967, across which the City of David is located. But their decision of the last week — under pressure from prominent Israeli human rights groups — to temporarily postpone the eviction suggests that they are indeed responsible for Himnuta’s actions.

I grew up, like many other Jewish children, placing weekly “tzedakah,” or charity, in the blue boxes of the JNF. For generations, the JNF has been a major avenue by which Jews around the world have supported the growth of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Without the JNF, Israel would not be what it is today.

But events from this week challenge this standing. Neither the JNF nor Birthright should have anything to do with these actions. Their consequences reverberate not only within the walls of one Palestinian home, but across a generation of American Jews struggling to connect to our homeland in a way in which we can be proud.

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