Due to your wonderful support, we successfully launched our program, Rebuild to Remain! Before I say anything else, I want to thank you again for your donation — that made this program possible. I am writing to you as founding donors to convey both good news and challenges... sometimes the good news leads, sometimes the dance begins with a challenge.
- Good news: We’ve transferred the first grant of $15,000 to start construction of three homes in our Rebuilding to Remain Program in the Village of Al Aqaba.
Bad News: As construction begins, the risks of demolition get higher.
- Good news: Brigadier General Moti Almoz came to meet with Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq (see Appendix below) in a remarkable meeting at Al Aqaba Village.
Bad News: Challenge Coming Up on Jan. 6th. New demolitions orders were issued for 3 homes plus five animal shelters in Al Aqaba Village (not the ones we’re constructing, but others at the outskirts of the village) stating petitions must be filed prior to Jan. 6th when demolitions will begin.
- Really Bad News: Al Aqaba is not the only one. According to the U.N. OCHA-oPt, dozens of Palestinian homes in Area C (that 60% of the West Bank solely controlled by Israel) have been issued demolition orders, all with the dates of demolition set for Jan. 6, 2012. In Al Aqaba, the demolition orders have scared 21 people, mostly children. In the region, they impact hundreds of people throughout Area C, again mostly children.
- Good News: Lawyers with both Palestinian and Israeli Non-Governmental Organizations are scrambling to file petitions in time to stop these demolitions. UNOCHA and the Displacement Working Group has requested diplomatic assistance at many levels and are in direct contact with the Israeli Army to urge the demolition orders be frozen. Rebuilding Alliance role in this first test under the Rebuilding to Remain Program is to ask our U.S. Senators and Representatives to intervene on our behalf as constituents.
As one of the very first donors in our Rebuilding to Remain program, would you like to join us in making calls to your Senators and Representative this Tuesday, Jan. 3rd? We'll have calling scripts and follow-up email templates ready by Sunday night at http://rebuildingalliance.org/get-involved/how-to-call-congress/ Please feel free to call me on my cell at 1 650 440-9667 if you have questions or would like encouragement.
Here is what we have do so far:
We went to Washington DC in early December anticipating our homes would be at risk as building begins. We needed to talk with sister organizations and friendly congressional staff to figure out next steps. At the same time that the Rebuilding Alliance team went to Washington D.C. to walk the halls of Congress and press for State Department assistance, UNOCHA brought embassy staff from the 17 embassies who invested in Al Aqaba to stay overnight to experience for themselves the challenges these villagers face.
Seeds are being planted – your call or email will help them take root and grow.
Here’s how your call helps:
- How your call helps the State Department: The State Department needs to know Congress cares about this issue, making it easier for consular officials to raise this as an American priority. Congress’ calls give them leverage in speaking with the Israeli government. Congress calls, because you call Congress.
- How your call helps You! Congressional staffers really do call you back. You’ll begin to establish or renew an important relationship with your congressional staffers. Their feedback will help you in bringing about change. When we visited Washington DC in early December, we heard from staffers that “it would help us sign-on to a public letter if we knew constituents care about this.”
- How it helps the Village. That’s easy: they get a better chance of survival. Congresswoman Speier’s letter was on the desk of the Israeli Civil Administrator who issues demolition orders when we met with him this summer. It got there because Atty. Katie Carlin and I asked, as constituents, for her help.
- Israel and Palestine. Both get good neighbors who believe in peace, an opportunity to build trust, and an opportunity to support moderate voices.
Thank you again for your support and confidence. It makes a big difference.
Appendix A: Question of Authority — Israeli General Meets with Palestinian Mayor in Al Aqaba Village
It was nearly Christmas Eve. Families were gathered to celebrate the eight nights of Chanukah. On this Friday morning my time, the mayor of the West Bank Palestinian village of Al Aqaba, Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq Sbaih, gave me permission “to write about what happened if you think it will do some good.” In fact, the Mayor’s decision to bring this forward is itself an act of heroism. As some have told him, if he were anyone else, he would be put into Palestinian prison for the letter he wrote on Sept. 17th to Israeli Brigadier General Moti Almoz.
Here’s what happened:
- On Sunday, Dec. 18th, a high-ranking Israeli officer from the DCO office in Salem entered Al Aqaba village and met with Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq in the kindergarten building. That meeting, held in Arabic, was overall positive;
- The next morning, Monday, Dec. 19th, the same two Israeli Civil Administration officials who speak with pride of their job issuing demolition orders to Al Aqaba over the past 15 years, posted new demolition orders on eight structures, including 3 homes and 5 animal barracks, on the outskirts of the village. When I spoke to Mayor Haj Sami, he was resolute, calling both Israeli and Palestinian human rights lawyers to petition the Israeli High Court to freeze demolition orders before the Jan. 5th demolition date. That night, Mayor Haj Sami notified Palestinian officials to tell Brigadier General Moti Almoz that he will no longer meet with soldiers who speak of peace only to issue demolition orders the next morning.
- On Tuesday evening, Dec. 20st, the first night of Chanukah, Brigadier General Moti Almoz traveled to the West Bank Palestinian Village of Al Aqaba to meet Governor Marwan Toubassi of the Tubas Governorate, Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq, and the Al Aqaba Village Council. The Brigadier General reportedly said he came in response to Mayor Haj Sami’s September 17th letter, and he came to find a way forward.
In that meeting, Governor Toubassi presented the urgent concerns of other Palestinian villages and hundreds of family groups in the Jordan Valley also facing imminent demolition much like Al Aqaba. Over 12,500 demolition orders are pending on Palestinian structures built on their own land in Area C and the Israeli Army has issued a sudden rash of new demolition orders. Mayor Haj Sami, surrounded by the posters of Rebuilding to Remain home designs and village plans, described Al Aqaba Village’s efforts to remain on the land they own and assure its own right to issue building permits.
Mayor Haj Sami recounted:
Mayor: Why are you demolishing our homes? Why are you demolishing Peace Street?
Brig. General: There is no Town Plan for Al Aqaba.
Mayor: But we gave you three Town Plans! In August, we filed Town Plan #3 — but no answer. Now our village council has approved our building permits in accordance with our Town Plan. We are starting construction in the center of Al Aqaba village. We call it “Rebuilding to Remain.”
Brig. General: Wait until we approve your Town Plan.
Mayor: You tell me to wait, but for more than 10 years we have worked tirelessly to petition for the fair application of law. How long must we wait to build our homes on our own land within our own community? We believe in peace and are determined to be good neighbors. Why do you send demolition orders to make our families abandon our homes and our own land?
[Note: the Mayor speaks from a wheelchair because he was the first victim when the Israeli Army used the village for unprovoked live-fire training exercises. Over 30 years, 12 villagers were killed and 36 wounded. This ended only in 2002 when the Israeli High Court ruled in favor of the village and the Israeli Army complied in 2003, destroyed its own training camp, and stopped using Al Aqaba Village for training. That's when Rebuilding Alliance helped build the kindergarten & families planned to return home.]
Brig. General: You must have a Town Plan.
Mayor: Each time you issue a demolition order to a family, they must pay 3000-4000 NIS to petition the court to freeze that order.
Brig. General: I know, I know.
Mayor: They are very poor families: they herd sheep to live. Do you know how hard it is for them to pay for the surveyor and to pay all the fees?
Brig. General: I know.
Mayor: Why do you block Israeli people from visiting Al Aqaba? This is Area C, yet your soldiers turn them back at the checkpoint next to the village when they can see our mosque up ahead. Why?
The Brigadier General promised to consider all this. He gave the mayor his cell phone number, but he did not reverse the demolition orders. His staff said a report would be completed on Dec. 27th. When I called the International Relations Department of the Israeli Civil Administration, they said the report is internal only and that the Brigadier General must raise Al Aqaba's future with "higher ups." I asked who is higher than the Brig. General — sounds like the report will reach the Minister of Defense.