On March 30, 2016 attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild filed a legal memo to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requesting that the charitable tax-deductible status of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) be investigated. The memo alleges that the JNF, as the US fundraising arm of a quasi-governmental organization in Israel, known as the Keren Kayemeth L’Ysrael (KKL), should not receive US tax payer funds for their activities. These activities include destruction of Palestinian-owned land and structures, and forced removal of people from their villages based on ethnicity.

I am an American Jew and as such am very familiar with the little blue JNF boxes found in many Jewish households. Our families and synagogues encouraged putting change in these boxes, which, when filled would be donated to the JNF to “Plant a Tree” in Israel and “make the desert bloom.” In the 115-year history of the organization, according to the JNF’s website, they have planted over 250 million trees, created numerous national parks, and have undertaken many projects purporting to be “green” and “environmentally friendly.”

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When I was growing up I didn’t question the purpose or morality of those little blue boxes. Hidden from us amid the rhetoric of making the desert bloom was the reality of ethnic cleansing. The JNF, founded in 1901 to acquire land in Palestine for the exclusive use of Jews, began its mission in the early twentieth century by purchasing land. With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, over 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and approximately 500 villages were razed. Laws in Israel gave the JNF control of the land that had been confiscated from the Palestinians, and the JNF planted non-indigenous pine trees over many of the villages that had been destroyed. Even ignoring the fact that introducing a non-native species into an ecosystem can hardly be called “green” or “environmentally friendly,” the purpose of these trees was first and foremost to prohibit Palestinians who had been expelled from returning.

Many of the forests became national parks in Israel and the occupied West Bank. A visitor in Canada Park or Coretta Scott King Park might come across the ruins of a building and believe that those ancient stones were from Roman times, rather than from buildings destroyed in the twentieth century. It would not be obvious that the trees had not replaced a desert, but a vibrant ecological and social space.

The reality of the ethnic cleansing was certainly known to Palestinians. Dr. Ismail Zayid, a former resident of Imwas and now a Canadian citizen, recalled the pain of the 1967 destruction of his village. This village and two others became Canada Park, a national park within the West Bank paid for by the Canadian branch of the JNF (which has charitable status in Canada, similar to the tax-deductible status that the US branch has). Although 10,000 people lived in the three villages that were destroyed to make Canada Park, and although the villages were continuously inhabited since Biblical times, the JNF booklet on the history of the park does not mention the residents who were driven out in 1967. It does not mention the schools, mosques, and agricultural land destroyed. It does not mention the young, old, and disabled people who were “buried under the rubble” of the houses when they were unwilling or unable to evacuate.

When the JNF awarded a large donor with a humanitarian award for his work in financing Canada Park, Dr. Zayid was “mortified that political leaders in my new country, Canada, would consider the erection of recreation centres on the site of ruins of criminally demolished peaceful villages, illegally occupied, as a humanitarian act.”

The JNF is an early standard bearer helping to make Israel what it is today: a colonial state whose ethnic cleansing campaign did not stop in 1948 but continues unabated today. In 1948 the ethnic cleansing went by names such as Operation Dalet (the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet). Today, it has names like the Prawer Plan and Blueprint Negev. The names have changed but the goals remain the same: rid the land of non-Jews and settle Jews there.

As American taxpayers, we are contributing to this ethnic cleansing campaign. The JNF-US is a tax-deductible charitable organization in the US. Under no circumstances should American citizens be paying for ethnic cleansing. It is not “charitable” to steal land and demolish homes. The IRS should immediately investigate the abuses of the JNF and withdraw its tax-deductible status.

Schwarz is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and is married to a Palestinian refugee born three years before the Nakba. She is a civil engineer living in St. Paul, MN.