Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba

by Rebuilding Alliance
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Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine's Al Aqaba
Roba and Hisham talking through plans.
Roba and Hisham talking through plans.

Dear Friend,

In April, Rebuilding Alliance announced “Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine’s Al Aqaba”, seeking your help to get homes for eight families finished in this remarkable village. Getting those eight homes finished and the families moved in can help protect them from demolition —  this, in turn, makes the rest of the village safer for everyone. 

We mobilized because after keeping Al Aqaba safe from demolition orders for 12 years, suddenly an Israeli High Court Justice, himself a settler, approved the demolition of one young family’s unfinished home — placing all the homes in the village at risk. 

So much has happened since April. Rebuilding Alliance staff spent time on the ground, with Executive Director Donna arriving in time for the U.S. Embassy’s visit there in April.  She lived for nearly two months in Al Aqaba’s guest house, going to every home in the village, meeting all of the families and contracting with the planner from the University of Haifa to revise the village’s master plan.

Most importantly of all, because of you, six homes were completely finished and six families moved in! Two of the eight families still need your help to finish and move into their new homes.

Then, just as we feared, the Israeli Army issued demolition orders against two homes and a new road in Al Aqaba in Firing Zone 900 nearly at the same time that Israel’s High Court allowed demolitions of eight Masafer Yatta homes in the South Hebron Hills in Firing Zone 917.  Shahed, a 16 year old who joined her family in their new home, asked if she could sing to save it — our site engineer, Roba, did the filming and I’ve shared her video.

Rebuilding Alliance worked to bring the crisis in Firing Zone 900 and 917 to the attention of Congress. In conjunction with holding Zoom briefings with Congressional staff and their constituents, at the end of May, Rebuilding Alliance brought senior Congressional staff on a delegation to the West Bank and they visited Al Aqaba. RA brought a second Congressional staff delegation along with several constituents, in August, all in the hopes of  raising awareness and to continue to assure Congressional intervention for this beautiful village, a true model of peace. 

In parallel with construction and development of the new zoning plan, Al Aqaba brought their appeal to Israel’s High Court, launching two legal challenges to Israel’s demolition orders. Good news on that front;  the High Court issued an injunction, until September, that protects the village. In the words of Al Aqaba’s tireless attorney, "My message to the court has reached its destination!!  The High Court Justice ruled to delay decision on the interim injunction until she gets a full picture of the case!!"

Al Aqaba needs your help to get the remaining two homes finished and those families moved in as soon as possible. Time is of the essence — 96-hour Demolition Orders do not apply when they’ve lived in their homes more than 30 days. If this is a time when you are able to give, please give generously to bring these families to safety and to help assure Al Aqaba’s future.

 

P.S.  I was honored to stay in Al Aqaba, joining Donna there in May to meet many of the families and returning in June to help them plan their Political Risk Insurance application. I returned in August, leading the staff delegation, with senior staff from seven Congressional districts, along with several constituents.

Site engineer, Roba with Jalal's family
Site engineer, Roba with Jalal's family
Jalal's children in the kitchen
Jalal's children in the kitchen
A view of Ayed's house from outside
A view of Ayed's house from outside
Ayed's sitting area
Ayed's sitting area
Ayed's Kitchen
Ayed's Kitchen
Nedah's house
Nedah's house

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Their future home in Al Aqaba Village, West Bank
Their future home in Al Aqaba Village, West Bank

Dear Friend, 

I am proud to tell you that our Rebuilding to Remain program in Al Aqaba is thriving.  The original three families who benefited from our construction loans have consistently repaid those loans, but for the year during COVID when they were out of work.  What’s more, 18 other families built homes too — no demolition orders on any of the 21 homes that were finished!  This is a huge accomplishment. 

Rebuilding Alliance's Rebuilding to Remain program, in our last round of lending, gave finishing loans to four more homes.

Now, our program is needed more than ever.  Please take brave new steps with us to help eight families finish their homes and advocate for all twelve to be safe as they finish and move-in as soon as possible. 

You may have heard that Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq, the village’s guiding light, passed away in July, 2021. With Mayor Haj Sami gone, Israeli soldiers resumed training in houses in the village, in violation of the agreement they made in 2002 — we met with Congressional offices to ask them to intervene.

Not long after, in September 2021, the Israeli Army issued Military Order 1797 against one unfinished home on the far side of the village. This was the home Mr. Ismael was building for his large family.  Military Order 1797 gives only 96 hour (four days) to appeal before automatic demolition. The village’s brilliant attorney, Adv. Netta, filed the appeal and took the case all the way to Israel’s High Court of Justice. Not only did the settler judge, who should have recused himself for conflict of interest, rule against the family, but he ruled against them in a way that may endanger every other unfinished house in Al Aqaba – and possibly even the finished ones. The Israeli Army demolished Mr. Ismael’s house on January 28th, 2022 — a loss of their life-savings.

About training in the village, the Israeli Army replied to Adv. Netta’s letter of concern, stating that they would continue to use villagers' unfinished homes for training, and refusing to review or approve the village’s master plan.

Military Order 1797 “includes certain exceptions, whereby the inspector cannot demolish the structures immediately, but rather must issue a stop work order:

  • If 6 months have passed from the day the structure was completed;

  • If the building has been inhabited for 30 days;

  • If the structure has a valid building permit, the owner can submit a written request to cancel the order within 96 hours from receiving the order;

  • If 120 days have passed since the new order was delivered, but not executed;

  • If there is an approved master plan covering the structure.

We ask your help to implement the highlighted one. 

They are resolutely moving forward in the face of adversity — giving up is not an option because, after all this is their land, their homes, their families, and their community. Eight of the twelve at-risk families have asked the Al Aqaba Cooperative Assembly for Housing the Displaced (AACAHD) for loans to finish and move in as soon as possible (the other four don’t need a loan to finish).

Rebuilding Alliance (RA) is committed to raising the funds needed (about $140,000) as a seed grant to the AACAHD who will issue loans to the families.  RA has hired a site engineer (she started this week) to review estimates and inspect the quality of the work. 

Our advocacy campaign is also underway, bringing the voices of Al-Aqaba straight to Congress. We’re also scheduling a U.S. Embassy visit to the site, so they can see with their own eyes what promise Al-Aqaba holds, and why it is so important to intervene to protect this remarkable village.

Starting Monday Apr. 4th though Friday Apr. 7th, GlobalGiving is matching all donations up to $50 by 50%.  That means your $50 donation will become $75 total.

  • The minimum needed to get them moved in is about $75,000. That will cover floor to ceiling including tile, windows, and doors. 

  • When 1000 people each donate $50, all eight families will finish enough to move in. That’s giving homes to 56 people including children and some grandparents.

Our $50 forms their safety net. 

Thank you again for all that you do.  Please mark your calendar and donate on Monday.


P.S. At the end of 2018, we asked Palestinian banks to match Rebuilding Alliance’s crowdfund in the hope of providing $180,000 in financing for Al Aqaba villagers to build new homes. In our meeting, the Palestinian Banking Association explained that as much as they wanted to, there would be no way they could move forward. Even though Area C is defined as temporary in the Oslo documents, the Palestinian banks realized that any investment they made in Area C would trigger Israel’s shut-down of their bank’s operations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Al Aqaba families built anway, little by little. In November, 2021 Rebuilding Alliance helped four families complete construction at $7,000 each. Our Rebuilding to Remain program inspired 18 families to build their homes and move in — and up until just recently no one was served  demolition orders.

Because the risks are high, I'm going to Al Aqaba and my team and I are working to bring our next Congressional staff delegation there as soon as possible. 

Finishing and moving them in is the best way now
Finishing and moving them in is the best way now
Home is where your heart is, in Al Aqaba
Home is where your heart is, in Al Aqaba
This is their future, here they will grow up
This is their future, here they will grow up
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A family chats outside home they seek to finish
A family chats outside home they seek to finish

Dear Friend,

You subscribed to email updates from Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine by Rebuilding Alliance, a project on GlobalGiving. Here's the unedited update from the field: 

Making Dreams Real
By Donna Baranski-Walker - Founder & Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance

Dear Friend,

It has long been Mayor Haj Sami's and his village's dream to bring their families home.  If you’ve been following Rebuilding Alliance and our work for a while, you know that we've been working hard to create a finance program to help families build affordable homes in their Palestinian communities in the West Bank's so-called Area C.  We started with the remarkable village of Al Aqaba where, with your help, we completed 3 homes. Families then finished four more and now there are sixteen more in construction. 

Rebuilding Alliance is truly the only group able to finance home construction in Area C.  In February, 2018, I brought a board member and an expert in affordable housing with me to explore next steps.  Our Rebuilding to Remain program was wonderfully well-received by the Palestinian Monetary Authority who assured us that by partnering with Al Aqaba's Housing Cooperative to allow them to issue loans to their members, our program is in full compliance with Palestinian law.  

We hoped to attract seed funding from Palestinian banks, but we learned that funding from them for even these small amounts would put their banks at risk of retaliation. That's because all transactions in the Palestinian economy are in shekels and must be processed through Israeli banks.  Since our home construction financing in Area C would not wait for approval by the Israeli Army (they have not been approving Palestinian master plans), this financing program would be a risk the Palestinian banks cannot take — but we can.

The villagers in Al Aqaba have continued to build and many have nearly finished their new homes.  New demolition orders have not been issued.  Remarkably, recently, Mayor Haj Sami was also successful in evicting a settler group who moved in nearby.   

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar, near Jerusalem, is at the center of Israel's political crisis. The village is offering to move their village a few hundred meters in accordance with the wonderful master plan they've developed.  They will need financing to build the eco-friendly, traditional homes they dream of, and also the stables for their sheep and goats.  They are visiting Al Aqaba and we'll work with them to set-up their Cooperative Housing Association too.

Instead of waiting for banks and other large orgs to provide funding for our Rebuilding to Remain program, I ask your help to draw upon the safest form of investment: one another.  Please chip-in what you can afford — we'll leverage your donation, move Rebuilding to Remain forward, and expand to include more families and more villages.

Thank you for believing in us.

Sincerely,

Donna

P.S.  Here's the proposal we're presented in our discussions.  Thank you again for all that you do.



REBUILDING TO REMAIN OVERVIEW

A Proposal

Rebuilding to Remain (RTR) is a precedent-setting joint venture between Rebuilding Alliance (RA), a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation headquartered in Burlingame, California and the Al Aqaba Cooperative Assembly for Housing the Displaced (Housing Cooperative), a Palestinian cooperative organized by the villagers of Al Aqaba in Tubas Governorate.

RTR will be focused on two activities:
  1. Providing the Housing Cooperative with the funding needed to provide long-term affordable financing for the construction and/or completion of homes in Al Aqaba Village in the so-called Area C of the West Bank; and

  2. Continuing and expanding RA’s advocacy program in the United States to further develop the grassroots, elected official, and diplomatic engagement needed to keep Al Aqaba Village safe from demolition and ultimately to secure Palestinian planning and building rights. 

The purpose of RTR is promoting peace in the so-called Area C of the West Bank through economic development and civil rights for Palestinians living there. When people have basic rights to own land, build homes, educate their children, invest in factories, plan their communities and issue building permits, in other words, are afforded the basic rights of people in civil society, they have a reason to be hopeful and with hope, peace may follow.

Our methods are: (i) financing construction that will support economic development and stability for Palestinian communities in so-called Area C; and (ii) advocacy in the US to keep the construction standing by informing American politicians and people of the facts of the conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and engaging politicians through constituent requests for intervention.

We request the amount of $180,000 USD to provide financing for the completion of the construction of homes in the village of Al Aqaba and to support political advocacy in the U.S. As described in more detail in the remainder of this paper, $120,00 will be used by the Housing Cooperative for ten (10) loans to complete ten (10) homes in the center of Al Aqaba and $60,000 will be used to continue and increase RA’s advocacy work on behalf of planning and building rights in Al Aqaba and other villages in the West Bank.

The Village.  The village of Al Aqaba is a remarkable model of peace and stability in a troubled part of the world.  Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq Sbaih is a dedicated leader who believes in the right of his village to exist, deeply believes in peace, and welcomes all who wish to help to come to Al Aqaba – this, despite the Mayor becoming a paraplegic victim 45 years ago of Israeli live fire military training in the village.

   The Israeli military agreed in 2002 to end its 30 years of live-fire training in Al Aqaba.  In 2003 - 2004 RA helped Al Aqaba build a state-of-the art kindergarten that served as a catalyst for investment by some 20 countries, which has led to the establishment of a goat cheese and yogurt factory, a tea factory, elementary and secondary schools, a guesthouse for 30 guests, a new park, and a small store.

   Award-winning Palestinian architect Hani Hassan designed plans for homes in Al Aqaba during an eight-day architectural design charrette with the residents of Al Aqaba sponsored by RA.   In 2014 three (3) of the Hani Hassan designed homes were completed with 90% financial support provided by RA through loans from the Housing Cooperative.  To date, twenty (20) other families commenced construction on homes without RA financing, some using the Hani Hassan design. Four (4) of those families have completed construction and moved into their homes, while sixteen (16) are currently under construction in the finishing stage.  Of note, even now, nearly three years after construction, no demolition orders have been issued to any of these twenty-three (23) homes, however stop work orders have been issued to three of the sixteen still under construction. These three homes are located outside the center of the village (see Appendix A for map). The owners of the homes that were issued stop orders are challenging them in the Israeli court system.

Phase 1. The initial project of theRTR joint venture (Phase 1) is an offering of sixteen (16) loans for an average of $10,000 USD each for the completion of construction of 16 homes in Al Aqaba (Completion Loan Program) plus the advocacy to keep them all safe and standing. [For a table of the historical costs for finishing construction in Al Aqaba please see, Appendix B] Of these sixteen homes:
  • Ten (10) are located within the perimeter designated as within the center of the village as noted by the High Court of Israel on April 17, 2008, an area which the court said, “would remain standing for the time being.”

  • Six (6) are just outside the arbitrary village center defined by the court, and therefore may face more risk of demolition. They are however within the village’s master plan, hold village-issued, building permits, and clear title to their land..

   Within the framework of Phase 1, RA is independently raising funds for the completion loans for the six “riskier” homes outside the village center plus funds to cover U.S. advocacy. In support of this fundraising effort and the overall advocacy effort, RA will hold a U.S. speaking tour with Mayor Haj Sami beginning in October 2017 to raise the funds needed. RA has utilized speaking tours in the past for advocacy, in order to build U.S. political understanding and support for the right of Al Aqaba and all villages in Area C to plan, permit, and build (among other advocacy issues). Additional information about RA advocacy initiatives and successes is included below.
  1.    Phase 1 is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2017. Upon completion of construction of the 16 homes, RTR will provide financing, through the Housing Cooperative, for the construction of fifteen (15) new homes (Phase 2) in Al Aqaba (New Construction Loan Program) at a cost of approximately $38,000 per unit. In Phase 3, RTR project will add two more villages in so-called Area C and build a further five (5) units in each of these villages & in Al Aqaba; thus totaling fifteen (15) units for Phase 3.

The Homes and the Families.  All seven (7) completed homes, as well as the sixteen (16) still under construction, received Village Council-issued building permits prior to the start of construction.  All construction completed to date has been done and inspected in conformance with Palestinian building codes.  

   The three (3) homes financed by RA were completed in 2014. The three families who built these homes signed loan agreements pursuant to which they have been making monthly repayments to the Housing Cooperative. To date, the default rate on these three home loans is zero.

   The completion of construction for the ten (10) homes to be completed with the grant requested will be provided to the families in a form that requires repayment of the amounts advanced by the Housing Cooperative to each family for construction costs. The families have requested Islamic-compliant financing. This type of financing will be accomplished with either a sale/leaseback or loan structure. In either case, the cost to each family will be the cost of the construction plus reimbursement of fees incurred by the Housing Cooperative in administering the loan program. The repayment term is expected to be 240 months in Phases 3 and 4 but may be fewer months in Phase 1. It is expected that credit support in the form of personal guarantees from families who are members of the Housing Cooperative will be provided for each loan.

     From each loan payment made by a borrowing family the portion of the payment representing construction costs advanced by the Housing Cooperative will be returned to the pool for re-lending by the Housing Cooperative to other families in Phase 2 and Phase 3, creating a multiplicative impact over time. In this way, RTR will achieve a level of sustainability in the long-term.

   The village identified the families who started construction on the 16 homes to be finished in Phase 1 with the Completion Loan Program and those who will be first in line to apply to build/purchase the 15 homes of Phase 2, the New Construction Loan Program.  To pre-qualify for either the Phase 1 or Phase 2 housing program, these families have completed income surveys and they have also each contributed 2,000 – 3,000 JD ($2800 - $4200 USD) to the Housing Cooperative to fund the infrastructure needed for the 31 homes.  With these funds, the Housing Cooperative has completed the subdivision of the land into individual lots, wired electricity to each lot, installed underground water cisterns for water storage for each lot and connected each lot to the municipal water system. The Palestinian National Authority and the UN Development Program have built roads.

   Advocacy. Rebuilding Alliance’s advocacy for Al Aqaba has demonstrated that advocacy in the U.S .is key in ensuring the safety of Palestinian villages. RA learned how to walk the halls of the U.S. Congress in 2008 when the High Court of Israel was set to hear Al Aqaba’s petition to freeze demolition orders against its kindergarten and homes. Our efforts succeeded and Al Aqaba not only avoided demolition but continued to grow and thrive. Now is the time to increase this vital constituent ‘Contact Congress’ effort.

Many are surprised to learn that even conservative members of the U.S. Congress will make calls on their constituents’ behalf in support of Al Aqaba and other Palestinian villages to speak up for what is right. We give constituents all the tools they need to enlist the aid of their members of Congress, whose job description includes assisting constituents in resolving any urgent issue that involves a U.S. Agency. At the request of constituents, Congressional senior staff for foreign policy makes calls or writes letters to the U.S. State Department and to the Israeli Embassy in the U.S. to express concern on behalf of their constituency. Now is the time to increase this vital constituent ‘Contact Congress’ effort. Unless constituents learn to tell their members of Congress about the facts of occupation in the West Bank and ask for help, nothing will change. Advocacy to promote the efforts of peace through economic development in so-called Area C is something all supporters of human rights can be proud of. The goals of economic development are fair, just, and resolutely non-violent.

Rebuilding Alliance’s advocacy usually begins with an action alert that is sent out to supporters via state of the art online advocacy tools. This consists of accurate information about a crisis, such as a Palestinian village in danger of demolition, as well as prewritten email that is sent directly to the supporter’s members of Congress after they input their information. After these emails have gone out, the Rebuilding Alliance advocacy team analyzes which offices have received requests for action. Using this analysis, 30-minute conference call briefings are scheduled with the senior foreign policy staff at these offices. The constituents that sent letters to that office are asked to join the call. This is why offices that do not represent the district or state in which the Rebuilding Alliance office is located are willing to schedule a call. Also included on the call are residents of the village(s) concerned, as well as experts and lawyers. Designed to work in tandem with this process, Rebuilding Alliance has filed a patent for our mobile app, “Evincible” (available on Android and coming soon to iPhone). We are designing Evincible to make citizen advocacy and Congressional engagement easy and accessible. Featuring monthly advocacy challenges designed to keep Palestinian villages standing, each challenge include a pre-written email and a calling script, and shows a sum of the number of constituents taking action on a map of their Congressional district.

During 2015-2017 alone, RA held over 192 individual briefings, as well as twice-annual Congressional briefings each year since 2003. In September 2017, RA conducted our third annual Congressional briefing featuring a Palestinian child from Susiya in Washington, DC for International Peace Day, sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders. In our experience, many members of the US Congress are hungry for this information and cannot easily get it from other sources. The perspective of children on this issue is particularly compelling, and these briefings are highly effective in prompting action.

Over the years, RA has witnessed several successes in our advocacy efforts, including:

-       Pressed Google to add 236 previously omitted Palestinian Villages in so-called Area C to their maps, by staging a run from Apple to Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, with Palestinian running club, Right to Movement and by advocating directly with representatives from Google;

-       In 2016, a senior Senator published five letters of correspondence between herself and PM Netanyahu, urging him to protect the Palestinian village of Susiya from demolition. In 2017, four Senators signed a letter to the U.S. State Department seeking intervention for Susiya, and a Congresswoman has notified Rebuilding Alliance that she will soon ask colleagues to join her in signing a similar ‘Dear Colleague’ letter from the House of Representatives;

-       The kindergarten built by RA in Al Aqaba is still standing and growing after 15+ years, despite demolition orders, due to the inspiring leadership of Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq and RA’s frequent communication with Congress, lawyers, human rights defenders, and ICA.

As this project with the Housing Cooperative unfolds, RA will continue to advocate for Israel’s approval of the master plans filed by 121 Palestinian communities in so-called Area C, the recognition of building permits issued by village councils in accordance with those master plans, and for the lifting of the demolition orders. Al Aqaba’s experience provides an important model for the region. RA’s experience in using citizen engagement to request Congressional intervention to keep Al Aqaba standing provides a vital way to secure Palestinian planning and building rights in this challenging time.

    The Future.  There are other villages in so-called Area C like Al Aqaba.  With continued success in Al Aqaba RA will scale this program to other Palestinian communities and in this way support fair housing, justice, and peace by supporting economic opportunity and security.

   In Summary. Sixteen more of Al Aqaba’s villagers are already taking the brave step of investing their life savings to build their new homes on their land and move back to live in their remarkable village. Phase 1 of Rebuilding to Remain will help all sixteen families finish their homes and ramp-up the advocacy so necessary to keep them safe and standing. Rebuilding Alliance is already raising funds to help the six homes just outside the center finish. Rebuilding Alliance and the Al Aqaba Village Housing Cooperative are seeking a commitment of grant funds in the amount of $180,000 to fund the completion of 10 homes in Al Aqaba’s center, and to continue the U.S. advocacy that will keep them safe and help secure planning and building rights.
The kindergarten is the center of the village
The kindergarten is the center of the village
The entrance to Al Aqaba Village
The entrance to Al Aqaba Village
Another lovely home under construction
Another lovely home under construction
Altogether, 16 families are finishing new homes!
Altogether, 16 families are finishing new homes!
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Core Team of Rebuilding to Remain Joint Venture
Core Team of Rebuilding to Remain Joint Venture

Dear Friend,

First, to all who have made this project take shape, I thank you for your wonderful support through these many years.

I am writing to decribe and frankly, to celebrate the progression of Rebuilding to Remain from pilot project to program.  In June, 2017, I closed the successful pilot project Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine and opened its sequel, Phase 1: Rebuild to Remain in Palestine

This week, the GlobalGiving Bonus Day will give Bonus grants on Thursday, Oct. 5th.  Sixteen families are in construction and need help to finish.  Let's start by funding the revolving, affordable finishing loans to the six families who are building just outside the center of the village.  They most need us - you, me, and hundreds more - to share their risk and join the advocacy to keep their houses standing.

Please use this link to make a donation on Thursday, Oct. 5th.  GlobalGiving is matching all donations all day, up to $1000 per donor.  With your help, Rebuilding to Remain will win a bonus prize for most donations and/or most donors!

Our new program, Rebuild to Remain, is so positive that after 15 years of good work, Rebuilding Alliance (RA) is formally opening a branch office in Palestine!  That photo above shows Rasha Mahmoud, RA's Program and Philanthropy Manager, Mayor Haj Sami - Mayor, head of Al Aqaba's Housing Association, and our partner in the Joint Venture, me (RA's E.D), and Aws Alnabulsi, Technology and Operations Director.   Below is a recap of how we got here and where we're going.

Early History: Building the Kindergarten in Al Aqaba
It all started in 2002 with a $10,000 donation from a family foundation that asked RA to build a school with the caveat: don’t let it get demolished! The mayor of Jenin said,  "Consider a village called Al Aqaba. They want to build a kindergarten."   But no outsider could travel there. In 2003,  I presented my paper, “Rebuilding Homes: A Social Venture Plan to Finance and Rebuild Palestinian Neighborhoods”, at a UN conference in Geneva.  That paper laid the foundation of what we seek to do now, 15 years later, including a revolving loan program and insurance.   There I met the UNRWA team who said they would get me to Al Aqaba — and they did.

When I first met Al Aqaba’s mayor, Haj Sami Sadeq, that summer he conveyed his clear and gentle vision: bring his village home (— they were driven out by Israeli live-fire training exercises), first by building a kindergarten, and then building homes, all the while launching enterprises that offer jobs, so families could afford to stay. When Rebuilding Alliance started, we thought we were simply adding a roof to the existing building. Just a month later, when I brought Cindy and Craig Corrie to visit, Mayor Haj Sami was digging a new foundation! I quietly (and nervously) reminded him that the small grant was just enough for a new roof, and he explained that because the roof would be poured concrete, a new foundation would be required. He was right.  He said, “Don’t worry, just keep asking for donations, and we’ll keep building.” And that’s what we did!

When an international director from Habitat for Humanity flew in to say we might be the most important peace project in the Middle East, we dotted the i's and crossed the t's to register as a nonprofit organization. Cindy and Craig Corrie were among our founding board members.

Rebuilding Alliance helped Al Aqaba build their state-of-the-art kindergarten — but the building includes so much more! The three-story(!) building also houses the mayor’s small office, the conference center, the Ibn Rush’d Library, part of the Al Aqaba Tea Factory, and soon, the Guest House expansion.  That vibrant building brought some 20 countries to invest in Al Aqaba, thus bringing 20 diplomatic corps, including the U.S., to advocate for this village.

Demolition Orders — and learning how to ask Congress to help
In 2004, while we were building the kindergarten, the whole village came under demolition orders. I reached out to a U.S. Consulate official named Prem Kumar.  A few weeks later, that consular official stopped the bulldozers in Al Aqaba as RA rushed forward to help the village hire a lawyer. As their case went to the Israeli High Court in 2008, Robb Ketron, a remarkable Rotary past district governor from Baltimore, taught us how to walk the halls of Congress to get Congressional staff to make private calls to the State Department and the Israeli Embassy to keep the village standing — and it worked!

Later in 2008, Mayor Haj Sami and the Rural Women’s Association Director Raheya, along with a founding board member of Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, visited Congress at RA's invitation. This Contact Congress initiative became the basis for Rebuilding Alliance’s advocacy program that now includes the villages of Susiya, Umm Al Kheir, and Khan al Ahmar so far. We also took everything we learned and codified it into our patent-pending mobile app, Evincible (coming out on iPhones soon). Now we are ramping-up our Contact Congress actions because these are dangerous times — we must do more to stop the ongoing crisis of demolitions.

Political Risk Insurance Recap — when will they let us apply?
I first asked to apply for the U.S. Political Risk Insurance (PRI) program in 2006 to protect against the risk of demolition, while Mayor Haj Sami organized the village credit union. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC, a U.S. agency under the purview of the State Department), offers this program to small American companies to encourage U.S. business overseas by protecting against loss from acts of politically-motivated violence or expropriation.  Seems applicable.

Here's a recap of why they blocked our application:
  • 2006: OPIC phase 1. "Can't apply because they don't have building permits" 

  • 2012: Our response:  Al Aqaba issued their own building permits =)

  • 2013:  OPIC phase 2. “Against (unwritten) U.S. policy”

  • 2015: Members of Congress advised us to learn more about that unwritten U.S. policy because no one has ever heard of it before.  As a result of our inquiry, The State Department sent me a letter encouraging me to ask OPIC again. 

  • 2016: OPIC phase 3: "Clear to apply for any West Bank Area C project no matter the size"
    Our application was nearly ready in Jan, 2017 but then,

  • 2017 January:  OPIC phase 3. “First we need to partner with Palestinian bank to offer loans.”
    This seemed like a Catch-22, as the banks had all said they needed risk insurance before they would join us.  Then a breakthrough: a Palestinian bank signed an Letter of Intent with Rebuilding Alliance in April, 2017.   OPIC asked us to provide an executive summary of Phase 1 (finish 15 homes) and Phase 2 (build 15 new homes) of our Rebuilding to Remain revolving affordable home construction loan program. They got back to us in June.

  • 2017 June: OPIC phase 4. “Too political and too risky.”  But, after all, isn't that what  “Political Risk Insurance” is for? We did our best to prepare with the PRI team and anticipate the screening committee's every inquiry and concern but we learned that someone at the State Department told OPIC this is not a priority right now, and in addition, the PRI team noted, "This is too risky because there is a conflict of jurisdiction."   That should have been easily resolved by referencing international law, recognizing Al Aqaba's right to issue their own building permits and plan their future. 
Sixteen Homes in Al Aqaba
The good news is that when I brought the Palestinian bank to meet with Mayor Haj Sami, fifteen families in Al Aqaba were already constructing new homes!  A sixteenth started soon after. They all need small loans to finish and move in. The bank was impressed by the mayor, the village's credit union, and the whole village (Al Aqaba welcomes all who come in peace, they have a great park, a guest house, three factories, and are entirely handicapped accessible) and by Rebuilding Alliance's advocacy and long-term commitment.  The bank pledged to manage the affordable revolving loans and to match our investment by co-investing — but on further reflection, the bank's board chair realized that any direct participation would leave them open to retaliation by the Israeli banking authorities.  Thankfully, due to a fortuitous introduction by the Rotary Club of Ramallah, a director from the Palestinian Monetary Authority joined us at the meeting with the board chair.  

The PMA noted that Al Aqaba's Housing Association is already fully qualified to issue loans to its members. We need not wait for a bank.  Rebuilding Alliance and the Al Aqaba Housing Association can get stared!  Now things are moving fast:
  1. RA needs a branch office to legally sign the agreement with the Housing Association so after nearly 15 years as a grant-maker in Palestine and Israel and an advocate for peace and justice, Rebuilding Alliance is opening a branch office in the West Bank!   All good: Our paperwork was validated in the State of California in accordance with Palestinian National Authority procedures, and our lawyers filed with the relevant Palestinian ministries in August only to learn that they changed the rules.  Non profit branch offices are no longer allowed to register. So instead, I'm in Palestine this week to sign a fiscal sponsorship agreement with a Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization.

  2. In late May 2017, our team met with key members of Congress, visited the Palestinian Ambassador’s office, and met with the Political Risk Insurance Director at OPIC. In September, we brought a child from Palestine and human rights defenders to speak to Congress at the #ICareAboutPeace Congressional briefing.   We also met with the State Department and we have everyone's positive attention;

  3. This week, our team is negotiating the agreement that will define the roles and responsibilities in the Rebuild to Remain program, describing how the Housing Association and Rebuilding Alliance will move forward;

  4. We have raised $16,810 toward our $87,000 Phase 1 goal to finish six of the sixteen homes. We want to get those families moved in soon.

    Please mark your calendar for Thursday morning October 5th, if possible at 6am Pacific, and and give to Rebuild to Remain in Palestine. That’s GlobalGiving’s next Bonus Day, and your donation - up to $1000 - will be matched all through the day until the competition closes at 9:00pm Pacific. Please ask your friends to give too.

  5. I’m now in Palestine.  If you have questions or suggestions, please call me at +1 650 440-9667 or locally at +970 568 351822.

  6. We are ramping-up our advocacy program.   Susiya and Khan Al Ahmar are facing very real danger as the Minister of Defense in Israel is stating they will be forceably removed by April.  It is up to all of us — you, me, and hundreds more — to press our members of Congress to intervene to keep these villages safe and standing.
Thank you for believing in us and for holding on to hope. I look forward to updating you soon, as our Rebuild to Remain in Palestine program - Phase 1 takes shape and gets wings.

Sincerely,

Donna

P.S. Did you know that you can now find Al Aqaba Village on Google Maps? In April, in response to Rebuilding Alliance’s repeated and ever-more-creative requests, Google added the 236 Palestinian villages in Area C to Google Maps! Type Al Aqaba, Palestine into Google Maps to see =) Now our Mapping Engineer will be heading to Google next week for the Geo for Good Summit - and soon, our intern will be holding a Mapping Palestine Mapathon in Palo Alto CA  using  Open Street Map.  If you and your friends would like to hold a mapathon, please be in touch!
Five of the 16 homes currently in construction
Five of the 16 homes currently in construction
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Organization Information

Rebuilding Alliance

Location: Redwood City, CA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @RebuildAll
Project Leader:
Donna Baranski-walker
Executive Director
Redwood City, CA United States
$94,683 raised of $209,684 goal
 
677 donations
$115,001 to go
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