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On March 10, 1949, two Israeli brigades took competing routes down through Israel's southern Arava to see who would be first to reach the po-lice station at Um Rash Rash at the northern tip of the Red Sea. They both made it safely; not a shot was fired as Israel's southern border was thus forged. The armistice agreement with Egypt had been signed two weeks

earlier on the island of Rhodes. The War of Independence was over, and the newly independent State of Israel woke to discover that it held over twenty million dunams of land—far more than that allocated under the UN-approved partition plan. With the exception of the Etzion block, which fell to Jordan early in the war, the borders included virtually all the JNF forests.

The creation of the State of Israel touched off something of an identity crisis for the Jewish National Fund. Military victories had expeditiously completed the primary mission for which the JNF had toiled so patiently and steadfastly: The land of Israel was under Jewish jurisdiction. What was left to be done? Even in the area of forestry, the JNF was no longer the only player. Israel's Ministry of Agriculture inherited the British forestry department, whose professional experience and woodlands exceeded those of the JNF. To complicate matters, the future of the JNF was linked to a broader issue: the relationship between its parent institution, the Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency, and the State of Israel it had created.

There was no real reason for concern, however. No one ever thought se-riously about closing down the JNF. Despite tension with the JNF over Arab refugee policy, Aaron Zisling, the leftist Mapam party interim Minister of Agriculture, wrote to the JNF Directorate requesting that it continue its work.[89] Actual land purchases by the JNF, in fact, reached a new peak immediately after the War of Independence: On the block were the so-called Absentee Properties—lands abandoned by Arabs during the course of hostilities. The JNF believed that it, rather than the State, should hold these lands. First of all, it assumed that the Fund would be in a better position to pay for the “millions” in compensation that would ultimately be exacted. Second, given the instability of the new State politically, and Israel's unresolved demographic situation, the JNF felt better able to guar-antee Jewish land ownership.[90] Yosef Weitz took the lead in negotiations with his old Second Aliyah comrades who now held power.

The new Israeli government was initially receptive to Weitz's over-tures. As a result, JNF land holdings tripled between 1948 and 1954, from 936,000 to 3,396,333 dunams. The acquisition of such controversial lands remains an enormous source of bitterness and outrage for Arab-Israelis and Palestinians, who still see the JNF as representing the most imperial-istic aspects of Zionism. As the diplomatic stalemate set in and Israel's map stabilized, however, the government reconsidered its position, and the real-estate sweepstakes promptly ceased. When James de Rothschild, Edmond's son, transferred the baron's remaining Israeli land holdings to the JNF in 1957 (including 3,000 dunams of woodlands),[91] this brought

JNF-owned territory close to its final level of 3.6 million dunams or 15 percent of the country's lands.[92]

Fundraising was reason enough for the state to preserve the organiza-tional infrastructure of the JNF, a nongovernmental corporation with a nonpolitical persona, forty-eight national affiliates around the globe, and unparalleled name recognition among Jewish communities in the world. In retrospect, however, this was probably the least compelling reason to con-tinue the JNF. After the creation of the State of Israel, the JNF was no longer dependent on donations from the Diaspora: In 1997, for instance, 83 percent of the its budget came from payments of Israeli leases.[93] United Jewish Appeal and Israel bonds would soon supplant the high profile of the JNF in Diaspora fund-raising.

The JNF scandal of 1996, however, offers an excellent example of how detached the Israeli JNF program has become from its Diaspora supporters since independence. That year, American JNF offices were rocked by jour-nalist Yosef Abramowitz's claims of illegal diversion of funds to South American JNF offices and general mismanagement.[94] A subsequent probe revealed that despite its slogan that “Israel is our only business,” only 21 percent of U.S. donations to the JNF were reaching Israel. The scandal resulted in the unceremonious resignation of the JNF's senior American management.[95] Before 1948 this sort of public-relations debacle would have been a major source of concern for the Yishuv, but now the story failed to crack the newspapers in Israel.

Of course, sentimental factors, as well as the natural tendency of bu-reaucracies to perpetuate themselves, helped keep the JNF alive after the establishment of the State. There was a substantive reason too, however. With colossal challenges facing a young nation in every conceivable sphere, the government of Israel was truly relieved to have an existing and reliable nongovernment agency to which it could delegate some of its functions. It would take a decade for the formalities to be worked out, but the new focus of the JNF was soon apparent: infrastructure and agricul-tural land development, with a particular emphasis on forestry. The JNF would maintain its status as an independent institution within the World Zionist Organization, working with the Jewish people in Israel and abroad to raise funds “for the redemption of the land from its barrenness.”[96]

The JNF would require internal and external reorganization to adapt to this new role. The first formal institutional change by the JNF after inde-pendence was the establishment of a legal entity in Israel for the Jewish National Fund.[97] Since 1907, the JNF had been registered as an English company, Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael Ltd.[98] Now it was established as an

Israeli corporation: Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael. Working out a relationship between the JNF and its government counterparts in areas where activities overlapped was a thornier task. The functional division of labor in the area of afforestation was set forth in a 1949 proposal by Weitz: The govern-ment's Forestry Division would be involved in applied research into plant-ing techniques, particularly in semiarid areas, and into industrial timber opportunities as well. In addition, the government would establish nurs-eries for subsidized distribution of saplings to citizens and for educational initiatives. The JNF, in turn, would be responsible for improving indige-nous forests, afforesting hilly regions, stopping the spread of sand dunes, and planting windbreaks. In addition, the Israeli army formed a special tree-planting unit to shield sensitive roads from enemy cannon and rifle sights.[99]

As is often the case, sorting out responsibilities was easier on paper than in the field. Amihu Goor and his staff at the Ministry of Agriculture's Forestry Department were perceived by JNF leaders as tainted by their as-sociation with Mandate foresters. (Goor, whose sister had married the son of England's first High Commissioner to Palestine and who had completed degrees at Oxford and Yale, perceived himself as something of an aristo-crat during the Mandate.[100] Those credentials did little to endear him to Yosef Weitz.) Coordination between the competing agencies fell apart, and the appointed liaison committee soon stopped meeting. The inefficiency associated with duplication of efforts set in.

The problem was not limited to civilian government foresters. JNF foresters saw the commander of the military's forestry division, General Akiva Atzmon, as unrealistic and suffering from perennial flights of fan-tasy.[101] It was not until 1959 that the government granted the JNF full au-thority over afforestation, and it was not until 1964 that the Ministry of Agriculture bowed out of the forestry business altogether, disbanding its department.[102] The supremacy of the Forestry Department (operating under JNF's Land Development Department) in related matters was un-contested at last and remains so today. This remarkable autonomy en-trusted to a private agency has been criticized by environmentalists and developers alike. Ultimately the traditional autocratic approach was chal-lenged in the Supreme Court, which in 2001 ruled that present JNF forestry procedures were inherently undemocratic and illegal.[103]

The final stage in the institutional evolution of the JNF came about in its 1961 covenant with the Israeli government and in a series of Knesset laws that formalized government land policy in Israel. The covenant was the cul-mination of a lengthy negotiation process that began when Ben-Gurion

appointed a joint JNF-government committee in 1957 to consider issues of land ownership and development. By the time the covenant was signed on November 28, 1961, it was rendered a mere formality. The Knesset had already enacted a Basic Law for Lands some eighteen months earlier, which constituted a somewhat more binding statutory expression of the agree-ment. Of the covenant's principles, none had greater symbolic significance than the State's pronouncement that the land of Israel is owned by the Jewish people and must not be sold in perpetuity.[104]

The JNF entrusted the management of its lands to a newly established Israel Lands Administration, which also oversaw government holdings. In practice this means that leasehold agreements issued by the Lands Administration mirror the standard JNF contract prior to the covenant (for example, they run for 49 years with an option for renewal). Both en-tities maintain formal ownership of their lands. Supervision, however, is in the hands of the Israel Lands Administration, which is overseen by a coun-cil of six JNF and seven governmental representatives. The JNF retains the right to withdraw from the covenant if the Basic Law is repealed or amended without its approval.

It might have seemed that by transferring administrative authority for its lands to a government agency, the JNF struck a foolish deal, yielding its primary source of influence, but in retrospect the agreement turned out to be lucrative. The direct influence of the JNF was extended to the 92 per-cent of Israel's lands that were now State-administered. An Advisory Board to the Israel Lands Administration even has a JNF majority. Yosef Weitz was appointed as the first director of the Israel Lands Administration, during its first six years bringing his distinctively JNF perspective to the task. Most important, the JNF maintained the revenues from its considerable holdings. Had forestry been solely a governmental activity, its level of appropriations would be far smaller than the level it enjoys today. And despite being a nongovernmental corporation, the JNF maintains almost total independence in determining forest policy.

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