Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities

by Rebuilding Alliance
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities
RA's Advocacy Team
RA's Advocacy Team

As 2020 comes to a close, I'd like to start off by thanking you for standing with us during such a difficult year. No matter what the next year throws our way, we know we will succeed with you by our side.

I joined the team first as a volunteer in June and I am now delighted to be coordinating the advocacy efforts as a member of Rebuilding Alliance’s staff. I wanted to update you now on our progress within our Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities. 

Please note, Rebuilding Alliance pioneered this work in 2008 when, in desperation, we asked constituents to call Congress to ask them to personally intervene to keep the kindergarten standing in Al Aqaba Village. We had helped build it -- and those calls keep it standing.  This is not lobbying because legislation is not part of the request. Personal intervention by Congressional offices at the request of their constituents is the heart of this ask.

Advocating for the Sumarin Family

Back in June, Rabbi Arik Ascherman of the Israeli human rights group Torat Tzedek alerted RA about an impending court decision in the 30 year effort by the Jewish National Fund to evict a Palestinian family from their East Jerusalem home. The Sumarin family built their home in 1950, and since then, three generations have resided there. However, in 1989, the Israeli government began eviction proceedings using the controversial Absentee Property Law, even though the family was never absent! After years of lower court cases and appeals, the Sumarin family eviction case reached the Israeli Supreme court in August of 2020, and is now slated to be decided in April of 2021. 

RA joined the Sumarin coalition to lead the effort to contact Congress on behalf of the Sumarins. We started by asking constituents to contact their members of Congress and invited them to a briefing with a team of 8 expert speakers from Jerusalem. Thanks to over 1600 constituent letters, we briefed 36 House and Senate offices on both sides of the aisle. Our request to Congress was for them to call the Israeli Embassy and State Department to stop the eviction. We also organized a virtual Leadership Learning trip to Silwan, which took constituents and Congressional staff on a walk from the Western Wall to the Sumarin family home.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier led a Dear Colleague letter to the Israeli Prime Minister urging him to stop the eviction. In total, she and 25 other Members of Congress signed the letter. During the up-coming months, RA will be preparing for the April court hearing.

Saving the Olive Harvest

This fall, our “Save the Olive Harvest” campaign started with a small British human rights group called the Friends of Madama and Burin who circulated a petition to the Israeli general in command of the West Bank urging him to protect the Palestinian olive harvest and olive farmers from aggressive Israeli settlers. With COVID-19, internationals couldn’t attend the harvest as monitors, and fearing what was to come, they asked the world to act from afar.

Rebuilding Alliance joined them, together with Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups, to bring our “Save the Olive Harvest” campaign to Congress. In response, constituents sent 1500 letters to their Senators and Reps, requesting intervention on their behalf. We held 45 briefing calls and two private virtual olive harvest tours with House and Senate Foreign Policy staff and constituents on the line. We asked them to call the Israeli Embassy and the U.S. State Department to investigate and prevent further violence. Many did — and the U.S. Embassy in Israel assigned staff to file a report. In the process, we also helped the Friends of Madama and Burin extend their reach by expanding our advocacy campaign toolset to include the British Parliament. This is just the beginning; the next step is to assure Palestinian farmers safe, year round access to their land.

The challenges facing Palestinians continue into 2021. Evictions, home demolitions, and vandalism to olive trees are higher than ever. Rebuilding Alliance will be drawing upon everything we learned in our advocacy for the Sumarin Family and the Palestinian olive harvest to launch our next Contact Congress campaign in January and mobilize American constituents to prevent further abuse and injustice. We're working through all the details to lauch a quick response constituent team, here and overseas, to ask Congressional offices to register concern the moment a 96 hour demolition order is posted. With a new administration and 60 new members of Congress, there’s hope for progress and all the more reason to press forward quickly in the year ahead. With your help, we will make a difference.  

Thanks again for your trust in us. Stay safe.

A father and son picking olives in the West Bank
A father and son picking olives in the West Bank
Amal Sumarin with her family
Amal Sumarin with her family

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Dear Friend,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to you with some exciting updates! 

First off, I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Katie, and after two months of volunteering with Rebuilding Alliance, I have officially joined Rebuilding Alliance fulltime as an Advocacy Coordinator.

When I graduated from college with an Arabic and Islamic Studies degree at the start of the summer, I happened to stumble upon the incredible efforts of Rebuilding Alliance in a region I hold dear to my heart. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve this caring community from the nation’s capital, and work towards safeguarding Palestinian families.  I look forward to getting to know you better — if you ever have any questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out at any time.

In other news, we have exciting updates regarding our work in Palestine revolving around the Sumarin family. Congresswoman Jackie Speier has finished circulating a Congressional letter asking for the Israeli PM to halt the eviction of the Sumarin family. The signed letter now goes to the House Ethics Committee for review. This is a critical step forward in our fight to protect the Sumarins; one which never would have happened without your kindness and persistency. On behalf of the Sumarin family and all of us here at Rebuilding Alliance, thank you! 

The Israeli Supreme Court will now be taking the Sumarin case in April. Although this may seem like plenty of time to relax, we have no plans to ease off the gas. Rebuilding Alliance will be keeping a close eye on the situation in Silwan because, as we have learned, plenty can happen when we turn the other way. We are also working on a short film to document the progress of the Sumarin coalition, which has been leading the fight to keep the Sumarin house standing. 

On a separate note, our advocacy team is preparing to take on a new and exciting challenge in the Palestinian villages of Madama and Burin. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for an announcement about the details of the case! 

As always, thank you for your steadfast support for Rebuilding Alliance and most importantly, for Palestinian communities who deserve peace.

Sincerely,

Katie                                                                                                                                

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The Sumarin home is in Jerusalem's Old City
The Sumarin home is in Jerusalem's Old City

The Sumarins are a family in East Jerusalem that have been fighting to keep their home for over 30 years. Rebuilding Alliance was invited to join the Sumarin Coalition in May 2020 because we would contact Congress, and 8 volunteers came from all over the country and Great Britain to help!

The Coalition is an international group of 20+ organizations that are advocating on behalf of the Sumarins. Constituents were urged to call their Representatives and Senators and ask for 2 specific interventions: to call the U.S. State Department and to call the Israeli embassy to express concern about the injustice of this eviction. 841 constituents sent 3018 letters. We held about thirty-eight 30 minute briefings with Congressional offices with speakers from Jerusalem on the line, often with constituents joining us.

As a result of a briefing, Congresswoman Jackie Speier is sponsoring a letter addressed to Prime Minister Netanyahu requesting to halt the eviction. The letter as of now has 23 co-signers and will close for signatures on Wednesday, September 2nd at 6 PM.

From an excerpt of Congresswoman Speier's letter, here's what happened: 

"Thirty years ago, JNF asked the Israeli government to seize the Sumarin family home based on Israel's Absentee Property Law, even though the family had the rightful title and were never absent. On May 23, 1991, without notification to the family, the property was purchased by JNF from the Development Authority in a land barter. In 1994, Judge Yehudit Tzur ruled that the declaration of the home as absentee property was unlawful and denied the claim for eviction, yet the land and the title to their home were never returned to the Sumarin family. The Israeli Government's Klugman Commission later noted "grave findings regarding the functioning of the Custodian of Absentee Properties," and pledged to end the use of the law but failed to apply the policy retroactively to past eviction cases."

In a separate project, Rebuilding Alliance helped raise funds so the family could take case to Israel's Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court agreed to take the case. With this case, Rebuilding Alliance has learned much about building a coalition. If the Supreme Court case is lost, this Congressional intervention is the best way to moderate government action to safeguard the Sumarin family and their Jerusalem home.

As stated by a rabbi who spoke to Congress on behalf of the family, "In the Abrahamic tradition shared by Muslims, Christians, and Jews who live in the holy city, the Temple Mount is the site of God's presence on earth. The prophets envisioned that from this place, a divine spirit of global justice and moral responsibility would descend upon the world." 

Thank you for believing in us and for your support. More soon. 

The Sumarin Grandchildren
The Sumarin Grandchildren
Old City (background) seen from the Sumarin home
Old City (background) seen from the Sumarin home

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Gazans joined us in DC re. Gaza aid and trade
Gazans joined us in DC re. Gaza aid and trade

Dear Friend,

This year Rebuilding Alliance's advocacy initiatives significantly expanded: we brought even more speakers to Washington; and we travelled to DC three times since January to walk the halls to ask Congressional offices to help ease an escalating crisis in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem.  (Because Congressional intervention had such immediate and positive results, one set of visits focused on thank you meetings.)

Rebuilding Alliance's overall strategy is case-by-case intervention, inspired by this quote by Oxford Professor Nabeel Hamdi, 'To do something big — to think globally and act globally — one starts with something small and one starts where it counts.'  As a result, Rebuilding Alliance's access to Congress is increasing — and that's remarkable.

Let me describe how calls from House, Senate, and local offices got the Israeli Army to change their mind. A woman engineer from Gaza, Majd Mashharawi, was receiving the Confidence Award from the Mohammed Ali Center in Louisville, KY, but the Israeli Army blocked Majd's parents from transiting Israel to Amman to fly to attend the ceremony. When I asked RA's list to email their elected officials to ask their help, hundreds responded. 

At their constituents’ request, local and D.C. officials and their staff called both me and their local Israeli Consulates.  When I called the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco they told me to call the Israeli Army (— I called the Israeli civil administration's hotline and spoke with an officer named Tom). Meanwhile the Israeli Embassy asked me for more information and, starting at 11pm until 6am Pacific time, we worked through a 3-way negotiation that caused COGAT officials to reverse their decision; unfortunately, this was an hour too late for her parents to make their flight for the award ceremony.  Nonetheless, Majd's mom made the trip and I met them both in DC to thank all the offices who helped. This gave Majd and her mom the opportunity to introduce themselves and speak about the challenges that businesses and families face in Gaza under blockade.

More Congressional offices than ever are scheduling with Rebuilding Alliance for briefing meetings, in person or by phone, with our speakers. In April we had a record 54 meetings in one 5-day week in Washington DC, with both Republicans and Democrats, when I brought Rebuilding Alliance's trade expert from Ramallah to walk the halls of Congress to describe one way to open the blockade to trade and food aid. We asked Congress' help to assure shipments of fresh herbs from Gaza greenhouses to New York City, as the trade expert currently does with West Bank herbs. That proposal continues to have legs far beyond our visit. 

Despite the harsh rhetoric in the Israeli election cycles, our visits to Congress continue to help keep the West Bank Area C villages of Susiya and Khan al Ahmar standing.  But that is not enough: on July 22nd, the Israeli Army destroyed more Palestinian homes in the Wadi Al Hummus neighborhood of the East Jerusalem district of Sur Baher since any time since 1967 —— this just 3.7 miles from the U.S. Embassy. In October we brought two of the Israeli advocates who acted as witnesses and served as peaceful presences in the homes of the Palestinian families during this destruction, to Washington DC. I was amazed when some 360 Congressional offices asked to meet with our guests. We continued to hold 30-minute briefings with as many offices as possible afterwards, for the next two weeks.  Later, when I went overseas, I met with the Wadi Al Hummus Village Council to explore what it will take to help them safely rebuild.

Rebuilding Alliance's board member, Betsy Valdes, joined me for part of our October trip to DC and summed it up well: "As a Rebuilding Alliance board member, volunteer, and citizen, I'm always impressed with the level of our exchange and dialogue when we meet with officials and representatives in Washington, and I am reminded of the power that constituents have to effect change when enough people participate."

Your support made all the difference.  In this time of crisis, there's so much more we need to do. Please give generously on Giving Tuesday when GlobalGiving will be matching all donations until 9pm Pacific Time. Please feel free to call me if you have any questions or suggestions: +1 (650) 651-7165.

Sincerely,

Donna

P.S.  Just to clarify, this advocacy does not influence legislation and is not lobbying.  This is all about what happens when constituents ask their members of Congress to intervene on their behalf with a U.S. agency.  To borrow from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, ours is a 'friends don't let friends drive drunk’ strategy. Elected officials, on behalf of constituents, make calls to the U.S. State Department and the Israeli Embassy to request permits, prevent demolitions, and de-escalate violence. 

Majd Mashharawi, Gaza entrepreneur at Rep Speier's
Majd Mashharawi, Gaza entrepreneur at Rep Speier's
Majd, her Mom, &  me w Rep. Eshoo's chief of staff
Majd, her Mom, & me w Rep. Eshoo's chief of staff
We seek to prevent demolition of Palestinian homes
We seek to prevent demolition of Palestinian homes
Apt bldg demolished in Wadi Hummus, E. Jerusalem
Apt bldg demolished in Wadi Hummus, E. Jerusalem
E. Jerusalem families asked them to come be w them
E. Jerusalem families asked them to come be w them
Explaining to Congressional staff
Explaining to Congressional staff
Explaining what's needed to de-escalate violence
Explaining what's needed to de-escalate violence

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Our team at Capitol Hill after the briefing!
Our team at Capitol Hill after the briefing!

Dear Friend, 

As RA's new Communications and Advocacy Manager, it is my pleasure to announce that the 4th #ICareAboutPeace Congressional Briefing, held on February 5th on Capitol Hill, was an absolute success! 

This year's briefing marked many firsts for Rebuilding Alliance. For the first time ever, the event was publicly sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein. In addition, we were granted an extra hour of briefing time which we used to host a teleconference with human rights experts  Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei, Executive Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Ms. Tania Hary, Exec Director of Gisha, and Architect Alon Cohen Lifshitz, of Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights. They spoke about the situation faced by the people of Palestine and suggested tangible ways that Congress could intervene on behalf of Palestinians. 

Most importantly, Rebuilding Alliance was able, for the first time, to bring a teenager from Gaza City and her mother to speak about their experiences and what peace means to them before Congress in Washington D.C. Lama and her mother Amal were joined 16-year-old Aysar, 11-year old Ahmed, and Ahmed's mother Heyam from Susiya. These brave youth speakers and their mothers shared heart-wrenching stories about their life experiences and inspired our audience with their visions of peace. Children from Medina Montessori school also attended to present Congress with their Pinwheels for Peace. 

“I want Congress to keep my village safe and standing,” said Aysar, age 16, from the Palestinian Village of Susiya who has participated before.  Because Senator Feinstein took action, Susiya’s demolition orders were put on hold last year.  

This extraordinary event was attended by the staffers of nearly a dozen Congressional representatives, as well as constituents — and our Facebook Live broadcast, moderated by a wonderful team of English and Arabic speakers from We Are Not Numbers, received fantastic engagement.  Watch the link below to view an excerpt of 14-year-old Lama from Gaza City's speech.

Thanks to the hundreds of constituents who sent emails to invite their members of Congress, we're doing our best to arrange meetings with Senators and Representatives — and also looking forward to taking the children to see the sites. Soon, we'll begin our road trip, the #ICareAboutPeace speaking tour, all the way up to Boston. If you're in the DC area or on the East Coast and would like to host a house party or speaking event, or just want to join us for a visit to a museum or the zoo, please be in touch.

None of this would have been possible without your generous support. Your donation truly made a difference and on behalf of our delegation of speakers and Rebuilding Alliance, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

Sincerely, 

Katlyn Murray

Our team visits Capitol Hill before the briefing!
Our team visits Capitol Hill before the briefing!
Our brave Palestinian speakers!
Our brave Palestinian speakers!
Ahmed visits Senator Feinstein's office
Ahmed visits Senator Feinstein's office
Ahmed and Aysar get to see the cockpit!
Ahmed and Aysar get to see the cockpit!
Medina Montessori Students Pinwheels for Peace
Medina Montessori Students Pinwheels for Peace

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Rebuilding Alliance

Location: Redwood City, CA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @RebuildAll
Project Leader:
Donna Baranski-walker
Executive Director
Burlingame, CA United States
$121,000 raised of $150,000 goal
 
1,395 donations
$29,000 to go
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