International organizations urged to abandon online Israel event

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New York, NY – In a November 2nd letter, seventeen organizations in the US and abroad were urged by several groups, including Adalah-NY, to respect the Palestinian boycott call and cancel their participation in a November 14th internet event, “With Earth and Each Other.” The event is organized by Friends of the Arava Institute, and other partners, including the Jewish National Fund (JNF), to benefit Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.

The November 2nd call to cancel the organizations’ participation has led to email exchanges between Adalah-NY and the Director of Friends of Arava and some of the participating groups, but it is not clear if any groups will withdraw. The event on November 14th has attracted attention due to calls by many groups for legendary folksinger Pete Seeger to withdraw from it. In a recent interview, Seeger said he supports the economic boycott of Israel, but not a cultural boycott.

With Earth and Each Other: A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East,” is described as a support effort for Arava, an environmental institution in the Negev desert. Arava has been taken to task for failing to take a stand for the rights of Palestinian Bedouins living in the Negev, and failing to criticize the recent demolition, five times, by the Israeli government of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Al Araqib, also located in the Negev. Al Araqib village has been demolished to make way for a forest to be planted by Arava’s partner, the JNF. Arava did not sign onto an October 11 letter to its partner, the JNF, denouncing the JNF’s participation in the dispossession of Bedouins in the Negev. The letter was signed by 28 Israeli organizations and eight American Jewish organizations.

A fact sheet on the event prepared by Adalah-NY explains, “the JNF has been engaged in the “Judaization” of Palestine for more than 100 years. After the 1948 expulsion of two-thirds of the Palestinian people from their lands, the JNF planted fast-growing non-native trees on the ruins of Palestinian villages in a deliberate attempt to prevent refugees from returning to their land… Today, the JNF directly controls 13% of the land in Israel and effectively controls more than 93% of the land, renting and leasing only to Jewish citizens of the state in violation of the rights of the Palestinian minority.” Israel’s on-going dispossession of its Palestinian Bedouin citizens, and the JNF’s role have been documented by groups like Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Human Rights Watch.

In recent statements, the Arava Institute and its supporters have sought to minimize their relationship to the JNF. However, the Arava Institute website explains that “The Arava Institute and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) share a common mission to protect and preserve the land of Israel. This common mission has resulted in a formal partnership between the two organizations, allowing JNF donors to direct their contributions to benefit the Arava Institute.” According to the JNF’s form 990 for 2008, the JNF granted $357,315 to the Arava Institute in 2008.

In a November 3rd email to Adalah-NY, David Weisberg, Executive Director of Friends of Arava, wrote that “the Arava Institute is very purposely not a political organization and does not take political stands.” In another November 3rd email to Adalah-NY, Weisberg stressed that the chair of the committee putting on the event “is a Muslim Palestinian from Gaza.”

Ethan Heitner from Adalah-NY responded, “Historian Howard Zinn said you can’t be neutral on a moving train. In the Negev, it’s Israeli bulldozers that are moving on people’s homes, and Arava is refusing to take a position. We know Arava contributes some aid to Bedouins, but I’m sure the Bedouins would trade it all to keep their homes. And while Weisberg attempts to legitimize the event by noting a single Gazan supporter, over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations have called for a boycott of Israel, and 17 organizations from Gaza have called on Pete Seeger to withdraw from this event.”

In their November 2nd letter to participating organizations, Adalah-NY, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK), Educators for Peace and Justice (Toronto), and Jews Say No! (New York), called on the participating organizations to “make a contribution to real, serious dialogue and resolution of injustice in the Middle East” by rejecting the greenwashing of Israel’s occupation. The groups charged that participants will be “complicit in creating a feel-good counter-image to the harsh realities of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians, realities the event does not even acknowledge.”