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Jewish National Fund
The Jewish National Fund (Hebrew: Keren Kayemet LeYisrael) is an organization that was founded in 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basle. Its purpose was to buy and develop land in Palestine for the purpose of Jewish settlement.
During the British Mandate period, the JNF purchased about 94 square kilometers of land, largely from absentee Arab landlords. The main source of income was hundreds of thousands of "little blue boxes" distributed in Jewish communities all over the world.
After Israeli independence in 1948, there was a debate concerning the future of the JNF. Initially the government wanted to dismantle it, but after the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194 calling for Arab refugees to be allowed back into their homes, the JNF was seen as mechanism by which land "abandoned" by Arabs could be placed further out of their reach. Accordingly, the government began to sell land to the JNF land that had been seized from Arab refugees. At the end of 1948, 100 square kilometers of this land (from a total of about 350 square kilometers) was sold to the JNF for 11 million pounds. Another 25 square kilometers was sold to the JNF later on. Questions about the legality of these transactions were tidied up by legislation.
In 1953, the JNF was dissolved and reformed as an Israeli company without much essential change. A far greater change occurred in 1960, when administration of the land held by the JNF, apart from the forests, was transferred to a newly formed government agency, the Israel Lands Administration. From that point on, the JNF has been a quasi-official body, neither completely private nor completely government controlled. JNF-owned land is only about 13% of the total controlled by the ILA, but it includes a large part of the most valuable land in central and high-demand regions. Since 1967, the JNF subsidiary Himnuta has purchased land for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, from Arabs via middlemen or from the government after requisition from Arabs.
Like most land administered by the ILA, land owned by the JNF is leased rather than sold to intending residents. Until January 2005, only Jews were eligible to receive such leases, in accordance with the JNF charter, but Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled in response to a supreme court petition that this practice violated Israeli anti-discrimination laws. Various schemes for circumventing this ruling were proposed, and it is not clear as of mid-February 2005 how this will turn out.
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