Thanks to your support, we're now very close to completing the fundraising to meet Rebuilding Alliance's commitment to construct the first three homes in the Rebuilding to Remain program. More challenging is whether or not the Palestian National Authority will be able to meet their commitment. I've been meeting with advisers and talking with Mayor Haj Sami to figure out a Plan B and so get the houses finished. More on this soon.
In the meantime, I put all my frequent flier miles together and flew to Washington D.C. a week and a half ago to explore ways to move our rebuilding projects and our advocacy work forward. I was joined by Morgan Bach, our second visiting teacher in Al Aqaba. Together we met with sister organizations to invite them to join our Stay Human Conference Call series, visited with other NGO building companies to explore new projects, and also met with senior staffers to request their assistance with the State Department. We visited old friends and made new friends too.
An especially positive moment came when I joined Morgan for a Lutheran Service only to somehow find ourselves in the 40 year anniversary celebration for N Street Village, a remarkable residential shelter for homeless women. Forty years ago it must have felt as bleak and hopeless as Israel/Palestine peace feels today, yet they persevered and now N Street Village is a beautiful place and a model for everyone.
With Israel announcing the E-1 punishment for Palestinian statehood and the U.S. Congress announcing various amendments to cut-back U.S. humanitarian aid to Palestine, Rebuilding Alliance's work is needed more than ever. U.S.-back mortgage insurance for Palestinian families in Area C could change the game. Below is a copy of my letter to Diane Feinstein, Senator from California.
P.S. Morgan's speaking tour continues in December and January. Please give me a call if you would like to hold a houseparty fundraiser or a speaking event. My cellphone is 650 440 9667.
Dear Senator Feinstein, December 6, 2012
I am writing as your constituent to ask you to seek clarification on my behalf of U.S. policy regarding American investment in Palestinian housing in ‘Area C’. Please forward my letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
I am the founder of Rebuilding Alliance, a U.S. nonprofit organization that offers mortgage loans to Palestinian families in Area C to help them build their homes on the land they own. Rebuilding Alliance’s pilot project is called Rebuilding to Remain. We work with Israelis as advocates and use the Israeli legal system to pursue building permits and petition to freeze demolition orders. Three homes are now in construction in Al Aqaba Village in the northern Jordan Valley near Tubas where in 2004, Rebuilding Alliance built a kindergarten that serves 160 children/year.
Here’s the challenge: despite holding clear title to their land, 97% of the buildings in Al Aqaba Village — including the kindergarten — have been issued demolition orders by the Israeli Army. When Rebuilding Alliance requested mortgage loan insurance, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) said U.S. government policy requires denial of mortgage insurance to Palestinian families in Area C. This can’t be true.
Rebuilding Alliance works to help Palestinian families in Area C build their homes on the land they own, find employment, educate their children, and plan their future. I know the U.S. seeks to realize these goals as well through USAID programs to support Palestinian infrastructure development in Area C.
While OPIC insures Palestinian mortgages in Areas A and B, their mortgage loan insurance does not extend to Area C because the Israeli Army refuses to issue building permits to Palestinian families living there. As you may know, the Israeli Army is denying Palestinian master plans and thus denying building permits to Palestinian families in Area C while the Government of Israel is simultaneously issuing building permits to illegally expand Israeli settlements on occupied land. The Israeli Army denied Al Aqaba’s 3rd master plan on June 21st 2012 for no good reason. On Mar. 14, 2012, Al Aqaba Village became the first Palestinian village in Area C to issue building permits, realizing both the text and the spirit of the Oslo Accords. On Apr. 14, 2012, Rebuilding Alliance became the first group to provide mortgage loans, including a clause stating that if the home is demolished, the family will not make payments until occupancy is restored. I ask your help to make OPIC mortgage loan insurance available for Rebuilding Alliance’s Rebuilding to Remain mortgage loan program to fully develop this revolving mortgage loan program.
Please ask Secretary of State Clinton to issue a policy directive instructing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to guarantee Rebuilding Alliance’s mortgage loans in the Rebuilding to Remain program. Please ask her to make U.S. policy clear: starting with Al Aqaba, recognize the right of Palestinian villages in Area C to issue building permits in accordance with their master plans —just like towns throughout the U.S. — and support that right by providing U.S.-backed mortgage insurance.
I look forward to your prompt reply. Sincerely,Donna Baranski-Walker Founder & Executive Director
Thank you again for making it possible to realize a dream in the creation of the first Palestinian Birthing Center in Area C, the Jordan River Valley. We're getting closer to project implementation as we work to address three important questions: (1) Customs Approval, (2) Staffing for 24/7 access, and (3) RI Matching Grant paperwork.
Customs Approval: This is especially challenging because we must seek approval from at least 2 and possibly 3 countries, each with their own regulations regarding the import of refurbished medical equipment. Do it wrong and there could be tariffs or huge delays. The Rotary Club of Ramallah have been researching possibilities and meeting with Palestinian ministries seeking advice and waivers of tariffs and taxes. Assist International is in touch with the Israeli Ministry of Trade to confirm that they are providing a waiver of tariffs and taxes as well. While in Washington DC, I met with American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) to learn how they approach challenges like this and received their offer of help too. We're closer now to moving forward.
Staffing Up for Round-the-Clock Care: As you know, babies are born on their own schedule, so round-the-clock staffing will required for our Birthing Clinic. That's the staff we'll be training as part of this project. When we first drafted this proposal with Al Aqaba's Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq, we assumed the Palestinian National Authority would readily provide the staffing needed when the time came. However, sanctions leading up to and following the U.N. vote for recognition of Palestinian statehood, mean that the Palestinian government is unable to pay its current staff and in no position hire new staff. Recently, the director of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, Dr. Allam Jarar and Dr. Ruchama Marton of Physicians for Human Rights — Israel spoke at Stanford University Medical School. I asked both for their help. Next step: I'll soon contact the British Consul General in Jerusalem to ask if British funding is available for staffing, as the British built Al Aqaba's clinic building. If you have an in with the British Foreign Service, please ring me at 1 650 440 9667.
Transfer of the Rotary International Matching Grant Funds: this should be straight-forward once all i's are dotted and t's are crossed. Overall, that approval of the RI Matching grant is just good, significant because some seven Rotary Clubs in the SF Bay Area signed-on to help, along with the Rotary Club of Nazareth Israel and the Rotary Club of Ramallah Palestine.
I want you to know that you are part of a dream that took shape back in 2008. You see the light at the end of the tunnel, and usually only the next two steps ahead are visible. Take those two steps, reach out to all who can help, and the next two steps become clear. Happy Holidays, Happy New Year!
With love and gratitude,Donna
P.S. GlobalGiving is offering a remarkable 100% match for new recurring donations — our Birthing Center will certainly benefit from and deeply appreciate your long-term commitment. Throughout the entire month of December, GlobalGiving is matching new monthly recurring donations 100% up to $100 per donor. This could be a wonderful gift for the holidays! To participate, click the Donate button and select "Recurring Donation".
Morgan Bach, our 2nd visiting teacher in Al Aqaba Village, is now in Michigan starting her U.S. speaking tour! We sent her there to attend the Students for Justice in Palestine conference. Today she is speaking at the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor, standing-in for Palestinian nonviolence leader Iyad Burnat who was prevented from entering Jordan despite holding a U.S. Visa.
The wonderful travel stipend you provided through your donation to this program brought Morgan to Al Aqaba Village where she spent eight months volunteering as teacher, writer, and aspiring filmmaker (remarkable films). A graduate of Whitman College, she was in New Orleans working as a teacher when she found Al Aqaba through Rebuilding Alliance’s campaign to save the kindergarten that hundreds of Americans helped build.
160 children now attend our kindergarten! It keeps Al Aqaba Village standing, attracting new investment despite demolition orders — we hope that is a positive model that audiences will want to explore and support. Morgan will share her stories, photos and films to introduce Al Aqaba and discuss Area C, the 62% of the West Bank controlled solely by Israel where over 12,000 demolition orders have been issued by the Israeli Army to Palestinian livelihood structures build on their own land. Morgan will describe new interfaith building projects there, and introduce a new way to reach Congress here, on behalf of 149 Palestinian towns at-risk in Area C.
Here are Morgan's destinations:
Please give me a call at 650 440-9667 if you would like to gather your friends and organize a house party or speaking event to hear this dynamic speaker!