'My family village in Palestine was stolen and turned into a British Park. Today British people can help fight this ethnic cleansing by saying 'not in my name!''

Report from Hastings & Rye PSC meeting Saturday 12 March 2022

Kholoud al-Ajarma's grandmother Fatima.
In the middle of a park half an hour southwest of Bethlehem stands a large oak tree.

That tree was once the centre of a thriving Palestinian village - Ajjur - where Kholoud al-Ajarma's family lived and farmed barley, wheat and sesame.

Her grandmother Fatima fled Zionist militias barefoot with her four children in fear of their lives during the Nakba in October 1948, fully expecting to return one day, fully expecting to sit under that great oak tree where she once played as a child.

But Fatima never returned to her village.

Instead it was bulldozed to make way for the building of a park, the British Park.

Kholoud al-Ajarma.
Today, the British Park - a hilly, forest reserve full of hiking trails - sits on the remains of seven Palestinian villages from which the inhabitants were never allowed to return.

Dr Kholoud addressed our meeting in Hastings, describing in heartbreaking detail how her beloved grandmother never gave up hope of returning to her village one day.

But Fatima passed away a few months ago, over 100 years old, at the Aida refugee camp, two kilometres north of Bethlehem, where she raised her family.

'Until her last breath her only words were her assertion that she wanted to return to Ajjur,' said Kholoud. 'She would say that even when she passes away, we should continue the resistance.'

'And when we do return, to dig her bones up from the Aida camp and to carry them and plant them again where they actually belong, under the oak tree where she played as a child.'

In 2015 Kholoud returned to the site of the village, which is now the British Park, only to find a block of stone next to her grandmother's favourite tree, inscribed with the words: 'Restored and developed thanks to contributions from friends of KKL JNF in the UK.'

This set Kholoud on a quest to find out more about the UK organisation that had built over her family's village. It was a quest which led to one awful discovery after another.

'The JNF is a pillar of Israeli Apartheid,' explained Annie O'Gara from the Stop the JNF campaign. 'It has played a central role in the Zionist project of settler colonialism right from its birth in 1901.'

She went on to explain that its key aim from inception was 'to redeem the land from foreigners.'

'Those so-called foreigners are the indigenous people, the Palestinians,' she said. 'And they've lived on that land not for generations but for millennia.'

The only surviving building in the village of Ajjur. It was once the mayor's house, owned by the Al-Azza family.
Click to enlarge.
In the beginning the JNF bought up land and evicted the Palestinian tenants, making the land exclusively for Jewish people and setting a pattern of expulsion and Jewish supremacy. But this process proved too slow and in 1940 the JNF leader Yosef Weitz wrote: 'There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from the country, transfer them all. Not one village must be left. And for this, funds will be found.'

Said Annie: 'Today, we call 'transfer' ethnic cleansing, and in that quote you have the seeds of the ethnic cleansing, the Nakba, of Palestine. And the funds he was talking about were from the worldwide network of officers, including here in the UK, where the JNF became a registered charity in 1939.'

The JNF - later renamed the KKL-JNF - took on significant, practical roles both before and after the Nakba.

Entrance to the British Park.
'First, very skilled map makers went out across Palestine, surveyed the land and produced something called 'the village files.' 'Annie explained. 'These were meticulous maps which the Zionist militias later used to sweep through Palestine, removing people.'

'They gave information about road networks, village population, the social structure of the villages and even something called an 'index of hostility' towards Zionism. And all of this was a useful military tool.'

After the Nakba, the UN issued Resolution 194 declaring the refugees had the right to return home and live in peace but the new state of Israel worked to prevent that return.

'Over 300 of the 500 plus ethnically cleansed villages and their lands were taken over by the JNF to prevent return and also to conceal the terrible deeds done in the process of the Nakba, including massacres.'

Sign at the British Park acknowledging a UK donor.
Click to enlarge.
'They built parks and planted forests. British Park is one of these forests planted on the lands of seven ethnically cleansed villages. Indeed, 46 of the 68 JNF parks and forests are on ethnically cleansed lands, all tourist attractions.'

'In summary, they helped to plan the Nakba crime, they provided a helpful tool and then they came and mopped up the crime scene afterwards.'

'So they are complicit in building the apartheid state and covering it up to the rest of the world in phoney environmentalism. Not only that, they've dragged us into it by using names as a propaganda tool to make the rest of the world complicit.'

Along with her UK and Irish partners, Kholoud challenged the charitable status of the JNF in the UK, which affords it tax exemption and an extra 25% of all donations from HMRC.

Entrance to the Aida refugee camp.
'Their work seemed to contradict what a charity meant to me,' said Kholoud. 'The JNF was concealing war crimes by planting trees in these parks to hide the remains of what was there once upon a time.'

They wrote to the Charity Commission and in her submission Kholoud included Fatima's story as well as the ownership deeds of their land that was never sold or given up. But the Charity Commission rejected the claim and even a challenge to this decision failed at tribunal in 2019.

'To me the British justice system was, in a way, as well as the charity commission, complicit in what the JNF is doing,' said Kholoud. 'They are helping the JNF UK to exist as a charity, to raise funds in the UK and to continue the colonisation of Palestinian lands. My land was stolen by the JNF UK, as well as being stolen by Israel itself.'

Last year Kholoud returned to Ajjur again and was struck by the beauty of the land from which her family were driven. She was also surprised by the inclusion of a new sign near one of the entrance points of the park.

'It was devastating,' she said. 'Many foreign names were engraved on it, names of people from Birmingham, Glasgow, London and tens of names who had made donations.'

'I wondered how much these people knew about where their money was going, but also how much pain they were causing for thousands of people who originally came from that land. Unfortunately, and also added to the pain was the fact that my grandmother passed away a few months ago.'

The Stop the JNF campaign aims to bring the JNF UK's work to public attention.

Kathy Brooks from Stop the JNF said: 'Today, the JNF continues to act as a global fundraiser for Israeli colonisation and apartheid, channelling funds to the illegal settlements and the East Jerusalem evictions. It is also pouring money into the Naqab where Bedouins are being evicted.'

'The JNF UK continues its crimes under the name of the British people, after whom the park takes its name,' added Kholoud. 'I ask you to join us in this struggle and say it is not under your name that these crimes are being committed. By doing so you would be contributing to the land one day to return to its rightful owners.'

WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY: Sign the Declaration to reject the British Park 'Not in My Name'


Yossef Weitz (pictured right) was the director of KKL-JNF's Land Settlement Department.

In 1940 Weitz stated: "There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, to transfer all of them... not one village must be left... for this goal funds will be found."

Weitz wrote in April 1948: "I have drawn up a list of Arab villages which in my opinion must be cleared out in order to complete Jewish regions. I have also drawn up a list of land disputes that must be settled by military means." (Source: Ilan Pappé 2006).

In 1948 the state of Israel was established, during the Nakba (the Catastrophe), at the end of which over 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from 531 villages.


Getting to the root of the matter
The JNF-KKL is one of four founding institutions of the State of Israel. Israel was founded and continues to exist with the support of an international network of institutions that provide extensive financial and political support to the State. Before the State of Israel was founded, the Jewish National Fund was at the forefront of the colonial project of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine - already the homeland of the indigenous Palestinians.

The 'Stop the JNF' campaign intends to expose and challenge the very premise of the State of Israel; it is not possible to build the basis for a democratic and pluralistic state through colonization and dispossession.