8 very real ways our U.S. Movement to Save Palestinian Villages made a difference
By Donna Baranski-Walker - Founder & Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance
Prof. Ophir Minz-Menor w us at Rep. Eshoo's Office
I know the world looks bleak and so much more that needs to be done. Yet through your support, our US Movement to Save Palestinian Villages realized 10 very real breakthroughs. We made a difference in so many lives, and we opened new ways forward — and this is only the 2nd year of this program!
We brought Palestinians to the U.S. to speak for themselves, Israelis too.
“We spoke for ourselves before members of Congress and audiences young and old. Friends joined us, as we, in our own voices, representing our villages, pressed for recognition of our rights. Describing the challenges we are facing, we gave American policy-makers and American people the opportunity to help.”— Eid Suleiman Hathleen, representing the West Bank Bedouin Village of Um Al Kheir in the South Hebron Hills
The village of Susiya is standing today because of our in-depth advocacy, Al Aqaba Village continues to thrive, and the State Department and the National Security Agency are now responding to first calls. Rebuilding Alliance rallied U.S. government intervention for Susiya when we held briefings for congressional staff and the State Department. In Susiya, negotiations continue between the Israeli Army, the Susiya town council and their lawyers at Rabbis for Human Rights. There's discussion of letting the villagers stay on the land they own and continuing the stay of demolition orders.
Last May, with the encouragement of Villages Group and Rabbis for Human Rights, Rebuilding Alliance sprung into action when Israel’s High Court refused to freeze demolition orders issued to the Village of Susiya until their petition (appeal) was heard — this put the Palestinian Village of Susiya at particularly high risk and also increased the risk to 12,000 other Palestinian structures, as it meant the fragile lifeline of freeze orders (injunctions against demolitions) could easily collapse. Susiya’s work for justice through the years meant that Israelis and Europeans were staying in Susiya round-the-clock to keep the village standing. European diplomats were publically engaged. Rebuilding Alliance brought Congress in and pressed the State Department to take action, publically, in support of Susiya’s right to exist. Jewish Voice for Peace helped with a petition that we helped write — 30,000 people signed! With negotiations still underway, Susiya’s future and the future of all 149 Palestinian villages in Area C, remain an important ongoing issue — we ask that everyone stay involved, ready to express concern to their members of Congress and press for the rights of Palestinian villages to plan and build on the land they own.
We hit Congress on 3 fronts: — We pioneered a new way to Contact Congress: 30 minute briefings with Constituents on the line. It started in June, when Rebuilding Alliance brought a member of Villages Group, Professor Ophir Minz Menor, to join us with Liz Mulford as we visited and briefed 27 congressional offices — sometimes we did 5 briefings a day. We continued to schedule meetings with another 33 offices, with constituents on the line for 30 min telephone calls — and that really worked! I'll do my best to get this program up and running again in the months ahead.
— We held TWO Congressional briefings (House and Senate) for Susiya. On September 21st, International Peace Day, Rebuilding Alliance boldly brought three children and their families from the Palestinian villages of Susiya and Umm al Kheir, along with friends from Villages Group in Israel, to the US to brief members of Congress and ask them to press for Palestinian planning and construction rights. Aysar (14) thoughtfully delivered his speech while Hamoudy who is nearly 5, distributed pinwheels, one by one, to each member of the audience. Sadin, who is only seven, held up her Pinwheel for Peace and explained, “Peace means being secure and safe. Peace means your family stays all together and that your grandparents are okay, not hurt by settlers. Peace means ‘Hurriya’ — Freedom.”
— Senator Feinstein was deeply moved – and is personally advocating to keep Susiya standing. Senator Dianne Feinstein personally met with the delegation and had the children sit in her chair. Afterwards she tweeted multiple times about the importance of keeping the Village of Susiya standing. Sen. Feinstein wrote her second letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu expressing concern, and she met with him personally on this issue when he visited Washington in November. Mondoweiss and Agence France Press published stories, which were picked up by Yahoo News.
A top software patent law firm filed a patent application for Rebuilding Alliance, pro bono, making a $38,000 investment in our good ideas. In keeping Palestinian villages standing on the other side of the world, we’ve learned something very important about advocacy, something that can apply to nearly any cause: local, regional or international ... and I hope to build our mobile app in the year ahead!
Palestinian Children say, “I Care About Peace.” In July, all the children in Susiya and Um al Kheir made ‘Pinwheels for Peace,’ writing down what peace means and drawing what peace looks like — and it was a breath of fresh air for everyone, adults and children alike. In 2008 Al Aqaba Village became the first in the Middle East to do this, when their case was coming before the Israeli High Court and demolition of their whole village was imminent ... something about this was so wonderfully grounding and positive that Susiya and Um al Kheir adopted it. Al Aqaba's children are now doing this every Wednesday; Susiya and the South Hebron area are joining in -- and I've asked the State Department to pay close attention and find a way to make this gentle peacemaking initiative more than an empty gesture. We're suggesting that the U.S. provide Political Risk Insurance against demolition of Palestinian homes, schools, barns, and shops in Area C.
In late October, we spoke at 42 speaking events and a Congressional Briefing for our #OpenGaza: Trauma and Hope, First Handspeaking tour! As violence escalated in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in October, Rebuilding Alliance brought Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei, Executive Director of Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and Ran Goldstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, on speaking tour in the United States to press for positive peacemaking and call for the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza. They discussed their important work, the mental and physical health crisis facing children in Gaza and the impact of the blockade. Co-sponsored by the Gaza Mental Health Foundation, Seattle Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Psychologists for Social Responsibility, they spoke at 42 venues, including the Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Washington, UMass Boston, Smith College, three medical centers, Jewish Voice for Peace meetings, and numerous public gatherings. The tour concluded in Washington DC with a filled-to-capacity briefing in Cannon House Office Building on Thursday October 29th.
“I am truly thrilled with the warm welcoming of the people on the speaking tour and their readiness to support the Palestinian people in so many and various ways. We in GCMHP try to find areas of hope in people’s lives so to strengthen them and help them recover — so if we are not losing hope, you must hold on to hope too.”— Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei
Ran Goldstein leads a staff of 30 and a membership of 2500 doctors and medical personnel in PHR-I, a Israeli non-governmental organization that stands at the forefront of the struggle for human rights — the right to health care particularly — in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
“You give us energy to continue to do what we do, showing us that our goal is much bigger, held far beyond a small group of Israeli activists. We speak for many people. Your energy gives us fuel to continue.” — Ran Goldstein
Visas. Here are some amazing, and deeply frustrating, stories about working to get visas and leaving permits for friends in need and our delegations:
— When I heard that Dr. Mona Al Farra was prevented from leaving Gaza, I volunteered and joined the team at Middle East Children’s Alliance to press for diplomatic intervention. We were successfully, but it took 3 months… this was hardest visa problem I’ve ever negotiated.
— Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei got his U.S. Visa on the day of his interview, but his leaving permit was a challenge. The day before our speaking tour, and just 30 minutes before Erez Crossing would close, the call came: his permit to leave was ready. Without time to go home to kiss his family goodbye or pick-up his luggage, he raced to the checkpoint, crossing Erez into Israel, and then Allenby into Jordan — once there, we bought his ticket. Three hours later he was on his way to Seattle to start the #OpenGaza: Trauma and Hope Speaking Tour.
— Fatma’s interview at the U.S. Consulate, along with her son Hamoudy and nephew Aysar, was a small miracle! Amazing – I was ground support and encouraging everyone to keep going. The U.S. Consulate’s decision to stay open after hours was deeply appreciated, and a remarkable coincidence allowed Fatma and the children to get to the Consulate, while their passports were delivered separately by friends carrying them across the Bethlehem checkpoint. A surprise came when, after Aysar’s visa was denied, my appeal reversed the decision! Aysar was given a 3 year visa stating that he can come in September with Rebuilding Alliance — and so we begin planning his next visit for International Peace Day 2016!
I got into to Gaza— and so did our 3,888 backpack kits! Only 2 weeks ago, I was in Gaza, my first visit in 10 years (and 5th overall). Joy at seeing old friends, relief to see signs of recovery, thankfulness for all the help I had — the Gaza Community Mental Health team helped me successfully deliver 3,888 backpack kits to children in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, and we overcame very real constraints to make this happen. There was hope too — people also responded positively to the sample solar lights I brought with me. Our goal with all this is to learn and engage allies at all levels to push open the blockade more and more. I think we're close to an important breakthrough — Rebuilding Alliance and Gaza Community Mental Health Programme have found a way to send donations through the blockade directly to Gaza's NGOs, something no one knew was possible. More on this soon.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Let's do more in 2016.
P.S. These past 3 months were an intense time of travel... also a challenging time for Rebuilding Alliance, because we lost our lease (rent doubled), so we moved to an office building in Burlingame. Looking forward to holding an opening house party soon.
DC was surprising - Rep. Pelosi sent 2 staff
Writing down what Peace means in Susiya
Gently rolling back each corner to form pinwheel
So that they turn in the wind - and help us all
Writing and drawing what peace means
Picnic near the Capitol Bldg, w S. Hebron families
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