JNF-USA Writes Back/Fights Back
Here's what you'll get from JNF-USA if you write to them about Blueprint Negev:
The following is a response to the false statements of our colleague David Seidenberg about the work of the Jewish National Fund and our Blueprint Negev Campaign:
David wrote: "The Jewish National Fund office of the US is funding the destruction of Bedouin villages through "Blueprint Negev". JNF-USA is circumventing the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (the JNF in Israel) by funneling funds raised here through a little-known organization that is partnering with the government of Israel to destroy the Negev's Bedouin villages, and to replace them with Jews-only suburban bedroom communities. The development plan is called 'Blueprint Negev', and it's being administered without backing from Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael, and without environmental review.”
The truth is that the Jewish National Fund is not working alone in development of the Negev. It is a comprehensive plan of sustainable development that involves Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, the Or Movement, Daroma and the government of Israel which has pledged $4 billion towards Negev development. Environmental review, transportation, employment opportunities, schools, and agriculture are all a part of it.
David wrote: “Two villages were already demolished in June (A-tir and Um al-Hiran) and many many more are going to be demolished if Blueprint Negev becomes a reality.”
The truth is that the Atir Bedouin village was unrecognized as it was built illegally. There are, in fact, several Jewish Negev ranches that were erected on government land without conforming to ranch laws and are now being removed. Why should Jews and Bedouin – both citizens of the State of Israel – be allowed to interpret the law differently? If the ranches need to be removed because of a legal technicality why should the illegal Bedouin villages not be subject to the same law?
The community of Hiran will occupy the same area but will not damage the ecological qualities of the area. JNF does not use up precious resources but in fact adds to them. All agricultural water that will be used in the Negev will come from recycled wastewater reservoirs that are being built. JNF does not contribute to toxic dumping but is working hard to clean it up. Already the riverbed in Be’er Sheva, which had been filled with waste, has been cleaned out and is contributing to a revitalization of that city.
Blueprint Negev, JNF’s $600 million part of the Negev development, is a planned campaign of sustainable development. As such it includes defined communities with a pre-determined footprint of how large they can grow, precluding the possibility of urban sprawl.
JNF-KKL is a law-abiding organization that works within legal parameters and is subject to legal oversight which includes approval by sustainable development committees.
JNF’s research and development centers work hard at developing new sustainable techniques all the time –fish ponds, better hothouse growth on less energy. Our attention has turned towards advancing the use of renewable energy sources (solar, wind) to replace the use of fossil fuels.
Today, JNF and its partners must grapple with the challenge of balancing the phenomenal growth and development Israel has experienced in the last decade with the maintenance of an ecologically sound environment. As such JNF has become a global environmental leader sponsoring conferences on battling land degradation and combating desertification, sharing afforestation techniques across the world, funding research on grappling with arid land management, and leading the world in water desalination and purification techniques, helping solve Israel’s water crisis by building reservoirs and recycling waste water.
There is a romantic view of the life of the Bedouin -- that they are sustainable in their own right. But that is not the truth. Rather, the Bedouin are dealing with old vs. modern lifestyle issues, sky high population growth, 90% unemployment, and high crime rates.
The Negev Desert comprises 60% of Israel’s land mass but only 8% of the population lives there. The Negev development is a long term plan that will minimize the strategic dangers inherent in such a large percentage of the population living in the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv-Haifa triangle.
Blueprint Negev is focused on developing the Negev for the benefit of the State of Israel and the residents of the Negev. Such overall improvements will alleviate some of the sharp edges of many prevailing issues in the Negev which also affect Bedouin such as economic well-being, education, social and quality of life issues, employment opportunities.
We have a deep concern about the Bedouin community living in Israel, specifically in the Negev. Here are some of the facts that should be taken into consideration from a human rights perspective:
In Rahat, the largest Bedouin community in the Negev, every week the mayor asks to open a new kindergarten class laying claim to the Bedouin’s birth rate – 6.5% -- the highest in the world. This issue is not one of ideology; it’s economics. As citizens of the State of Israel, every Bedouin receives welfare payments, child support, and educational opportunities from the government.
In the Bedouin village of Segev Shalom (where JNF built a $450,000 playground to enhance the quality of life that was subsequently vandalized by the very people who it was built for) the former mayor lost the most recent vote to an anti-Israel candidate. By the way, you should know that his salary and that of his office are paid for by the Israeli government.
85% of the Bedouin population is under 35-years-old. School through age 16 is mandatory by law. 90% of the population does not receive a high school education. Only 10% of the girls go to any school at all. If you really believe that human rights is important and you really want to do something that will better the Bedouin life, your efforts should be focused on making sure these kids go to school. True activism would be enforcing their school attendance.
Crimes committed within the Bedouin community are few. The rate of crimes committed in neighboring communities by the Bedouin population is the highest in the country. If you really want to help the Bedouin, your energies should be put into educating them and giving this expanding young community a chance for the future.
Within the Blueprint Negev campaign, the government is planning 11 new communities for the Bedouin population. JNF leadership has met with the government and the Prime Minister’s office and has raised the challenge of building one or two prototype Bedouin communities with the Bedouin involved in the planning and implementation. This requires funding – about $10 million -- so if you really want to help the Bedouin community, be a partner with JNF and give the Bedouin a chance for a new life.
Blueprint Negev is not a threat to the State of Israel, nor is it a threat to the Bedouin. In fact, it will help that community more than any other program that has been tried thus far. Better and more educational opportunities, and better and more employment opportunities -- both the answer to the ailments that riddle the growing Bedouin population – will not happen without moving an additional 250,000 – 500,000 people into the Negev over the next decade. Israel is a democracy and a democracy goes where the votes are. For the Negev to be heard, people need to live and work there.
You really want to make a positive difference in the lives of the Bedouin? Be a partner with JNF and Blueprint Negev and help us help them.
Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, D.Min.
Chief, Institutional Advancement and Education
Jewish National Fund
Here's our response:
JNF-USA's propaganda about Blueprint Negev is based on thoroughly debunked notions about "helping" the Bedouin. Blueprint Negev is a project of T'nuat Or, not KKL, and your money goes to demolish Bedouin villages and replace them with Jewish single family homes with *green lawns and sprinklers in the desert* (no kidding - this is the actual PR in the video put out by T'nuat Or).
The bottom line is that Rabbi Eric Larkin wants to sell you a bill of goods.
He wants you to ignore everything we know about the history of the Bedouin in Israel when he justifies the destruction of A-tir by the state of Israel because A-tir was "illegal". The residents of A-tir, like most of the Bedouin villages JNF-USA wants to destroy, were moved to there current locations over 50 years ago by the IDF. For the entire intervening half-century, the state of Israel has refused these vilages recognition, electricity, water, sewage, etc. He talks about "several Jewish ranches" recently built that are being moved (note: not demolished). Thousands of Bedouin, living where they have lived for five or more decades, have received demolition orders.
Rabbi Larkin also wants to sell you a bill of goods when he says that Blueprint Negev will create 11 new Bedouin townships and will educate the Bedouin. These townships are the same as the ones already created: essentially ghettoes where connection to the land and the traditional Bedouin way of life is cut off. I've been to these towns and I've talked with Bedouin people who moved from the "unrecognized" (not illegal) villages to these towns. There is nothing there for the Bedouin, not even employment.
Rabbi Larkin says that "1 or 2" of these towns will even be created as model experiments with the *actual participation* of the Bedouin themselves. If these towns are for the Bedouin, why aren't ALL of them being created with the full participation of the people that are supposed to move there?
The original Blueprint Negev didn't even talk about helping or educating the Bedouin - this was an afterthought added to respond to criticisms. The advertising changed, but the plan didn't. As one member of the JNF-USA Advisory Board who was raised concerns about these issues put it to me: "Their response to the issues was to double the advertising budget."
The state of Israel wants to force the Bedouin to move to the townships that Rabbi Larkin extols by demolishing their homes, killing their crops, and even, quite recently, *poisoning their wells*: "During the Ramadan the government destroyed a well used by Bedouin Shepherds by spilling gasoline and used oil into it. The well is located in the middle of a remote and very dry area -- Bir Hapir -- between Mitzpeh Ramon and Nitzana. A person who depends on the well will find himself stranded without water, and may even perish. During the last spring the Israel military filled the well with gravel. The Bedouin shepherds worked for days using buckets to clean out the well. This time it may not be possible to clean." (from Bustan's report)
That's what Blueprint Negev is about.
Blueprint Negev is nothing but a rich man's attempt to put his personal mark on the history of Zionism. It is unfortunately a very black mark. Rabbi Eric Larkin is just Ron Lauder's spiritual front man. Blueprint Negev in its current form is a smokescreen to bring a final end to these Bedouin villages which have persisted for 50-plus years. There is no education plan, no employment plan, except for the Bedouin to be used in construction of the towns they won't be allowed to live in. And Blueprint Negev is *not* a KKL project.
The greatest loss of this is that Israel needs a real Blueprint Negev, one that maps out a *sustainable* future in which the Bedouin, the current Jewish communities, and new communities where Jews and others can live, are all developed together in a way that protects the desert. The millions Lauder is raising for his Blueprint could be put to holy use. But that is not this Blueprint Negev, and so far JNF-USA has refused all attempts to get it to redraw its "plan".
I beg you all to help educate your congregants about Blueprint Negev and JNF-USA. Tell everyone who wants to give: give directly to KKL, not to JNF-USA - it's the only way to know that your money isn't being used to demolish people's homes. You can also rest easy knowing that your money is not being spent on JNF-USA's posh offices, or on their astronomical media buys to dissimulate what Blueprint Negev is really about.
Please give with a conscience.
Rabbi David Seidenberg