The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) in London held the third online panel discussion of its Return Week III kick-started on Monday, December 05th.
The panel discussion was entitled “Stop the JNF : Over 120 Years of Colonisation” and chaired by Mick Napier, Head of Scotland's Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Mick Napier opened the discussion by saying that Palestinians continue to resist colonisation and the world’s governments continue to be complicit in crimes of ethnic cleansing, genocides and mass execution of Palestinians.
For the detailed program click here
The first speaker was Asa Winstanley, an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East. He has been visiting Palestine since 2004 and is originally from south Wales. He writes for the award-winning Palestinian news site The Electronic Intifada where he is an associate editor and also a weekly column for the Middle East Monitor.
He provided a brief historical overview about the birth and mission of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Syria (later Mandatory Palestine, and subsequently Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories) for Jewish settlement.
Asa said the JNF claims it will make Palestine a livable palce instead of an abandoned desert, which is a myth: “A land without a people for a people without a land; This is not true as Palestine was and is completely inhabited”.
Asa said in the postcolonial era Israel claimed it is based on a project of self-determination for the Jews. He cited pro-Israeli blogger David Collier who claimed the Jewish people built their nation in the hills of Judea and Samaria and that this isn’t settler colonialism and the Jews are indigenous and they came home.
“Hundreds of Palestinian villages have been destroyed to ensure the refugees could not return”, said Asa. “The JNF purchased and stole Palestinian land from the state, perpetrating even further a regime that discriminates against the Palestinians in all aspects of life”.
“Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East. But in reality, Palestinian citizens of Israel do not have equal rights and are being discriminated against”, he insisted.
Asa concluded his speech by referring the example of Araqib village, in the Negev area, which was destroyed for over 20 times by JNF in an attempt to change facts on the ground.
The next speaker was Khouloud Al Ajarma Alwaleed, Lecturer in the Globalised Muslim World with research interests in environmental concerns across the contemporary Muslim World. Khouloud is a Palestinian refugee, anthropologist, and award winning photographer and film maker. She is a lecturer at the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Al-Ajarma has also worked in the fields of refugee studies, international migration, gender studies, visual culture, environmental justice, and knowledge production in the Arab region, Europe and Latin America.
Dr Kholoud Al-Ajarma said she was born in Aida refugee camp, in the occupied West Bank. “To me Ajour village was a place that we heard about. When I finally managed to go to the villge, in a lengthy process; I was shocked when I saw signs reading ‘A gift from the people of the United Kingdom’. I thought this doesn’t sound right.”
“When I went home and looked up the JNF UK website I found out that it is a registered charity in the UK which means that it’s not only considered reasonable charitable body but also can fundraise in this country and get gift aid; And the money that is being sent to and from the charity is part of ongoing the ethnic cleansing and clonisation of my village and other villages”.
“The JNF UK is part of that colonization because also over the years it has systematically made sure that the rightful owners of the land cannot return first by buying the land from the newly-established Jewish State of 1948 and later by going back and demolishing all the houses that once existed in the village”, she said.
“Houses were destroyed and instead trees were planted by the JNF which claims that this makes part of its greening mission. But those who look closely can see the ruins of a people who once lived there”, she confirmed “The JNF is involved in ethnic cleansing”.
In her view, Palestinian refugees have the right to return this is an internationally-recognized, legitimate, and inalienable rights and it is not up to anyone, not even political leaders, to tell Palestinian individuals what to choose.
Annie O’Gara was the third speaker. She is an active member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the UK branch of the global Stop The Jewish National Fund Campaign. She is committed to BDS and is a founder of Northern Women for Palestine, a women's collective drawn from activists in cities across the North, which seeks to work with, and amplify the voices of Palestinian women partners.
“The JNF is the beating heart of the Zionist project. This projects exploits the land, resources, and the people to expel and replace them; This is typically the logic of elimination of Zionist settler colonialism”, she confirmed.
According to Annie the JNF operates invisibly but actively and that’s why we must get to know it and challenge it. The JNF helped to push the Zionist project move forward.
In her words, this project operates along two axes: one is to deny the right of return and the other is to establish itself as an environmental benefactor while in reality it seeks to displace Palestinian Bedouins in favor of colonial settlers.
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The final speaker was activist Heidi Grunebaum, a member of South Africa's Stop the JNF campaign.
Heidi tackled the complexity of the JNF tree-planting red herring, saying such the effective tactic of tree-planting has been deeply involved in developing various kinds of infrastructures for the state.
“The settler colonial enterprise is not simply one of conquest and, in the case of historical Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians, but also the creation of a landscape that could give the material kind of expression to the narratives, the new national narratives and nation-state laws privileging the Jewish ethnic polity as the supreme group; It is not just about the idea of greening but also the idea of creating a space, a state at the expense of a people’s land and identity.”
She also referred to the duality of the process of destruction and the covering of the destruction, in reference to Israel’s attempts to blur the tragic consequences of of the catastrophe, of the Nakbha.
“There’s been a kind of education around Jewish identity and Palestinian identity as if historically, 200 years ago, these native people weren’t more fluid, weren’t woven together in everyday life in historic Palestine. Obliterating this interwoven identity and erasing the hundreds of years of history and culture stand at the heart of the Zionist colonial project.”
She warned that the danger of the JNF does not only lie in fostering and reinforcing a political regime that privileges colonial settlers but also establishing a discursive regime which is deeply hegemonic and monolithic.
The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) in London invites you to follow its long-awaited “Return Week III” which was launched on Monday December 05th.
Stay tuned to get the latest updates on this year’s Return Week, which is exceptional in form and content as it is loaded with positive implications for the Palestinians and their supporters.
With more than 26 speakers of researchers, thinkers and activists supporting the Palestinian right from the UK, Europe, the United States, South Africa and Palestine, this year’s version of the Return Week sends a message to the entire world that the Palestinians will never ever forfeit their inalienable rights, particularly their right to return to their motherland and establish an independent Palestinian State on the 1967 borders. Until this dream comes true, the longest and most legitimate struggle in the world shall not come to an end.
Pluck up your courage and speak up for Palestine and Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their motherland!
Watch the full seminr here: