We have just sent your most recent generous donations to our partners in Gaza. If all goes well, new lights will be installed before the end of Ramadan on September 9th, and before the end of the Rachel Corrie Ramadan Soccer Tournament. We will keep you updated!
Below is a photograph of Rebuilding Alliance volunteer Kate Gould with UNRWA social worker Khaled Nasrallah, standing in front of the Unity Club soccer field. In the background, you can see the portable unit the Rebuilding Alliance helped build to launch the Yebna Charitable Society community center.
Even with the new additions of lights, the field will not be fully lit, so there will be more work to do before the next Ramadan, and the next Rachel Corrie Ramadan Soccer tournament!
Thanks for all your support, and stay in touch!
There is good news in the civil case of Abir Aramin, a little girl killed in 2007 by an Israeli soldier’s rubber-coated steel bullet just outside her school. On Monday, Aug. 16th, Judge Irit Efal-Gabai issued her ruling on behalf of Israel’s Civil Court. Her decision holds the State of Israel responsible for killing Abir Aramin and orders the State to pay compensation. At the end of this month, by order of the Israeli High Court, the Jerusalem Prosecutor’s Office must present the results of its criminal investigation. Indictments may follow. We thank Judge Efal-Gabai, Attorney Leah Tsemel, and the Aramin family for their wisdom and strength.
It was late night in Anata, East Jerusalem when I reached Bassam Aramin, Abir’s father, by phone. “From the beginning, as you know, I believed in justice,” he said. “What the judge decided is very strong.”
Justice, worth believing in, has been long in coming. A few months after Abir Aramin was killed, the Jerusalem Prosecutor’s Office closed the investigation without indictments, citing lack of evidence and denying appeal. In contrast, Judge Efal-Gabai found the 14 eye-witnesses and the independent autopsy compelling and decided, "There is no debate over the conclusion that Abir was injured by a rubber bullet shot by border guards, which in turn leads to the conclusion that the shooting of Abir occurred out of negligence, or in violation of the rules of engagement."
Judge Efal-Gabai continued, "We are not talking about injury by shots fired at a crowd of rioters and rock-throwers, near which a little girl just happened to be standing. The girls were walking down a street where there were no rock-throwers and therefore, no reason to shoot in their direction.”
How did she know? In January, Judge Efal-Gabai, escorted by 100 Israeli soldiers, went to Anata, East Jerusalem to see for herself. She interviewed the soldiers and witnesses on the site where Abir was shot three years earlier.
“This was the first time that an Israeli judge visited the scene of the crime against a Palestinian victim,” said Mr. Aramin. “Our lawyers say that not even in Tel Aviv, not even in Jerusalem has this ever happened before.”
Remarkably, at the start of the civil court proceedings, Judge Efal-Gabai asked Abir’s parents why they chose to build playgrounds in memory of their daughter. She also asked, “Who is this Rebuilding Alliance group that helped raise funds for Combatants for Peace to build the playground?” On-site, she asked to enter the gate of the Anata Girls School to see the playground called, “Abir’s Garden: a Safe Place to Grow.”
Policy change is required to make this playground safe. To achieve this important goal, the Rebuilding Alliance brought Bassam and Salwa Aramin with their elder daughter Areen (an eye witness) to the U.S. to tell their story on a speaking tour, joined by two Israeli former soldiers who, with Bassam Aramin, were among the co-founders of Combatants for Peace. We brought them to testify at the State Department to enter Abir Aramin’s case into the State Department’s Annual Report on Human Rights.
Later that year, when the Jerusalem Attorney ignored the evidence and closed the investigation, the Rebuilding Alliance translated all the court documents, petitions, and the independent investigation presented by Israel’s Channel 2 News from Hebrew to English and presented the transcripts to the State Department and to Senate staffers. Because U.S. human rights law can and does save lives, the Rebuilding Alliance formally requested that the State Department invoke the Leahy Amendment on behalf of Abir Aramin’s family. This law requires the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Defense Department to stop providing aid or training to any foreign military unit that commits a gross violation of human rights -- as did the West Bank unit of the Israeli Border Police when they shot 10-year-old Abir in the back of her head.
Given the strength of Judge Efal-Gabai’s decision, the Jerusalem Prosecutor should seek criminal indictments against the soldier and his commander. This too would be a first. As stated by the Israeli Human Rights group, Yesh Din, “Throughout the years of the Israeli occupation of the territories, and especially during recent years, the law enforcement agencies have been under severe criticism…Figures provided to Yesh Din show that during the years of the second intifada, 90% of the Military Police Criminal Investigation Department investigations ended with the files being closed and without indictments being filed.”
Abir Aramin struggled for her life for 3 days before life support was removed. Hadassah Hospital is in West Jerusalem; her extended family was not allowed to cross the checkpoint to be there to offer solace. Instead, Israeli co-founders of Combatants for Peace joined Abir’s parents at her bedside. In the grief of these gruff former Israeli soldiers, Bassam and Salwa realized that their daughter Abir was not only their child – she was all their children.
In the criminal trial to come, may justice be served, precedent set, and policies revised to assure that justice becomes accessible to all families. May laws be changed to keep soldiers far from schoolyards and to ban the use of rubber-coated steel bullets. May justice strengthen those who work to bring the Occupation to an end so that all children – Israeli and Palestinian both – can be safe.
In Rebuilding Peace,
This morning, we heard some wonderful news from Ramallah. Since 1996, a group of residents have been waiting for the approval of their application to launch a Rotary Club. Finally, the Ramallah Rotary Club was chartered in the spring, and was presented to the 30,000 rotarians present at the International Rotary Conference in Montreal.
What does this have to do with the Birthing Center that you are helping us to build? Everything.
The Ramallah Rotary Club has approved our plans for the first Palestinian Birthing Center in Area C, to be built in Al Aqaba, and will join us in raising funds.
This is a huge roadblock that we have crossed. The Rotary partnership is one essential piece of completing this project. Due to its ambitious scope, we could not raise the funds for the center from individuals or rotary clubs alone. Both are necessary, and the Rotary network brings a great deal of opportunity forward.
Executive Director of the Rebuilding Alliance, Donna Baranski-Walker comments:
"Because Rotary is involved, we are bringing the proposal forward at clubs throughout California, and to add the Ramallah club to the list is a great joy. There is considerable bravery on all sides, because the the Rotary Club of Nazareth is welcomed by Al Aqaba and all involved as a strong supporter in the project. It's taken a year and a half to bring this all together, and we are delighted to give many communities the opportunity to help."
Though we still need your help, and have a lot of work ahead of us, this development is heartening, especially now. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. We have seen these peace talks before, and we must remember now that talking is not enough. We have to build together to really make peace. And to pursue a building project so essential for women's health in Area C, where demolitions of Palestinian homes continue, is all the more important. Much of Area C is the Jordan River Valley, and the Birthing Center in Al Aqaba is nestled there. It not only provides a vehicle of health, but a way for Palestinians to
Join us in celebrating the new Rotary Club of Ramallah, our new partnership, and a path to move forward with the Birthing Center!