Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine

by Rebuilding Alliance
Mayor Haj Sami, minaret in the shape of peace sign
Mayor Haj Sami, minaret in the shape of peace sign

The best thing I heard all year is what's happening in Al Aqaba Village. 

"Donna, three more families moved into their new homes," said Mayor Haj Sami as we traversed the street.  "Look, they painted with gold and cream, just like the first three.  Someday my whole village will be painted gold and cream, and everyone will know us a a beautiful village of Peace." 

As we finished the first three homes in the Rebuilding to Remain program, and the families moved in, some nine other families applied for building permits to the Al Aqaba Village Council.  With village-issued permits in hand, they started building their homes with their own money, with their own designs, and at their own pace.  As they neared completion, Mayor Haj Sami asked the Future for Palestine Foundation (Dr. Salam Fayyad's NGO) to help by providing finishing grants — and so three more families moved into their home!

As you may remember, we used the funds provided in this project to crowdfund construction loans to build the first three homes in the Rebuilding to Remain Program, using designs developed by award-winning architect Hani Hassan.  Our commitment was $20,000 per home but the total cost of each home was $33,000.  In the end, Rebuilding Alliance was one of the groups that helped finish the homes as well. 

Our three Rebuilding to Remain families continue to pay back their rotating construction loans, not to Rebuilding Alliance (we're not yet able to meet the PA Government's requirements to offer loans), but to the Al Aqaba Cooperative Credit Union.  Now, completion of these three new homes comes about through funding from the Future for Palestine Foundation. 

We currently have $4500 in the Rebuilding to Remain account and we would like to offer one or two finishing loans to the other houses where work is underway.  To do this Rebuilding Alliance must register a branch office in Palestine and partner with a loan-making institution who can meet the significant threshold requirements of the Palestinian Monetary Authority.  We're almost there.

Working with our law team at Ittqan Law in Ramallah, we've ready to open our branch office in Palestine as soon as we hire a general manager.  Local banks have offered to help us administer construction loans in accordance with the threshold lending requirements.  We need to raise the funds that form the basis for these loans and I believe this would be much easier if Rebuilding Alliance's construction financing qualified for Political Risk Insurance (PRI).   That way, we could give you, our donors, the sound assurance that if these lovely homes were to be demolished, there would be a way to help the families rebuild.

Rebuilding Alliance's request for PRI is going up to very high levels at the US State Department, the National Security Council and also to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (the quasi-US governmental agency that provides PRI in all other parts of the world).   If it gets stuck again (I've been working on this for more than 3 years),  our next step could be in the form of a petition asking people to sign if they are willing to commit U.S. taxpayer money to help Palestinian families rebuild their homes if their neighborhoods are demolished.

No matter what, as you can see, Mayor Haj Sami is moving forward.   His new Park for Families, just outside the Kindergarten and next door to the mosque, is attracting hundreds of people each night!   Delegations from European and Asian countries stop by daily.   He knows that the only way to save a village is to build something worthy of saving, and the only real protection against demolition is our collective ability to get policy-makers worldwide to help. What a remarkable model Al Aqaba has become!

Thank you again for supporting the construction of those first three homes and for making dreams real.

Sincerely,

Donna

Here
Here's the first of three new homes!
Here
Here's the second - and another nearing completion
Just across from Sadeq
Just across from Sadeq's House!
And here
And here's the third house!
Al Aqaba
Al Aqaba's remarkable park
Panorama of the Kindergarten Bldg & Park at night
Panorama of the Kindergarten Bldg & Park at night

Dear Friends, 

We are very proud that due to your help, Al Aqaba Village completed construction of the first three affordable homes in our signature project, Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine.   Sadeq and his bride moved-in on the night of their wedding in April.  Othman and Sara and their children moved-in just before Ramadan in June.   Teachers Nabil and Safa delayed their move to also allow Safa to finish her teaching degree program in Hebron.  They hope to move-in soon.

I'm writing now to discuss the direction of this important project.

Our next goal is bold yet simple: Help 10 more families build and move in to affordable homes on the land they own.  We want to use the revolving construction loan model Rebuilding Alliance piloted with Al Aqaba's community credit union in building these first three homes.  Revolving means that as each family repays its loans to Rebuilding Alliance's office in Ramallah, those funds become available to fund more new home construction. The first three families are already repaying their loans.

Ten is a realizeable construction goal that offers both a big opportunity as well as real challenges.  The opportunity is this:  last summer, as the families were moving in to their new homes, Rebuilding Alliance was invited to apply for something called Political Risk Insurance.   The Managing Director, Insurance and Reinsurance at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) conveyed the invitation.  It was surprising because I've been asking OPIC for many years to give us and Al Aqaba this insurance for construction in Area C.

By August, all OPIC applications re. Palestine were put on hold.  In January, when I asked them to re-open our application, they were  happy to hear from us - but sadly, over the weekend I was informed that Palestinian construction in Area C is still too risky for OPIC to provide us with Political Risk Insurance.

Their questions however opened the possibility of forming a political risk insurance consortium instead of simply relying on OPIC as the sole insurer.  I leave for Palestine on March 9th to meet with the Development Finance Institutions (DFI’s) of other some six other countries, and also the World Bank, to explore the possibility of their insuring the Rebuilding to Remain Revolving Construction Loan program that would be administered by Rebuilding Alliance or Al Aqaba Villagers themselves.

Now the details:  If we stay with the original plan to qualify Rebuilding Alliance as the loan-maker,  Rebuilding Alliance must formally register our branch office in Ramallah and raise a significant reserve as required by the Palestinian Monetary Authority.  We'll will have time to reach the reserve requirement — and it will be especially reachable if Rebuilding Alliance secures Political Risk Insurance.

What is Political Risk Insurance (PRI)?  
Because Israeli Knesset members openly discuss demolition of Palestinian homes as a way to move them out of Area C, demolitions must now be viewed unabiguously as an act of political violence. As such, one can insure against this (if you are a government with a policy against it).   Basically, if countries join our consortium and share the risk, the DFI's would insure our construction for at least 90% of loss due to any political act.    So if Rebuilding Alliance has PRI, and  if bulldozers threatened to demolish our homes, the consortium governments (and let's hope OPIC joins in downstream) would pay to rebuild them and also seek reparations from the Government of Israel. 

PRI could a game-changer for Palestinain families in Area C.  This guarantee against demolitions would certainly make it easier for us to raise funds to build the next 10 houses.  My challenge in these upcoming discussions is to show why Al Aqaba is a good risk and why the are within their legal and moral rights per the Oslo Accords and International Law to issue their own building permits.

Rebuilding Alliance's request to you:
When you donated to this project, Rebuilding Alliance promised to use your donation for construction -- and we did, succeeding in a remarkable pilot project.  Now I ask your permission to use your donation to take the administrative steps necessary to build more affordable homes.   In the next few days, I will send you an email asking your permission to use Rebuilding to Remain funds to allow Rebuilding Alliance to seek Political Risk Insurance and also register Rebuilding Alliance in Palestine as a loan-maker so that we can raise funds and build the next 10 homes and more. 

There's no guarantee of success but if we succeed, this will be the very first time that Palestinian construction in Area C is guaranteed to remain.   Rebuilding Alliance Board Member, Paula Crow esq. is an expert in affordable housing and real estate law.  When discussing next steps with OPIC, Paula said, "If Al Aqaba Village does not deserve Political Risk Insurance, I don't know who does."  Thank you for supporting Rebuilding to Remain and for believing in Al Aqaba and in us.

Sincerely,

Donna

Links:


Attachments:
The engaged couple
The engaged couple

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Al Aqaba Village.  I am delighted to be here to invite you to celebrate Sadiq and Lema's Wedding on Friday, April 18th.  Everyone is working hard to make sure their house is finished on time. 

Their wedding plans are modest by local standards: a henna party at the Fiancee's house on Thursday, the celebration for men and women (but not the bride) on Friday at Mayor Haj Sami's house with the Rural Women's Association serving the dinner, and then the celebration just for the women, bride and groom on Saturday.  

Mayor Haj Sami invites you to this the National Wedding of Sadiq and Lema on the 18th.   In the invitation, he wrote, "Come celebrate the return of this first family of displaced citizens to their new affordable home, crowd-funded by people around the world (that's you!) and the Al Aqaba Cooperative Assembly for Housing Displaced."  

The wonderful series of photos attached to this report makes the finishing of the house look easy.  I'm happy to report that the challenges were the normal things that nearly everyone faces when building a home: the contractor wanted more money. Because the dollar fell 9.2% since we spec'd the house in 2011, the price of materials rose even more. 

Rebuilding Alliance founding board member Ghassan Abdullah joined me for a walk-through with the Rebuilding to Remain families and a good discussion with Mayor Haj Sami.  Next our award-winning architect, Hani Hassan, visited and joined us for a discussion with the families, Mayor Haj Sami and me, thoroughly reviewing the contract.   When Mayor Haj Sami and I spoke with the contractor the next day, we were able to reach a fair agreement re. extra costs for this home.  Finishing of the next two homes will see the Al Aqaba Community Assembly for Housing Displaced seeking bids and contracting directly with each craftsman instead of working with a general contractor.

Rebuilding Alliance board met on Monday night California time (5am here) to elect two new board members and then elect officers.  A big welcome to Rebuilding Alliance's new Board Chair Nadia Cooper, Secretary Kali Rubaii, Treasurer Carin Pacifico and new board members Jeremy McCain and Akber Malik.   The board carefully reviewed and approved my request to transfer the remaining funds due plus $3773 in additional charges needed to finish, bringing the total cost of this first home to $37,073.  The families agreed to ammend their mortgage agreement with the Al Aqaba Cooperative Assembly for Housing Displaced  to include the finishing costs, thus extending their mortgage to a total of 24 years at a monthly payment of $150/mo.  We all hope this revolving mortgage loan fund will be used to help build many more homes.

Lastly, you may be wondering what's happening with the overall status of our Rebuilding to Remain homes vis a vis the Israeli Army.   Last week, Mayor Haj Sami Sadek posted urgent photos on his Facebook page when the Israeli Army held spring training exercises all around, and over the village.  Thankfully, the Israeli Army held to their agreement, as brokered by the Israeli High Court, and did not use live fire inside the village.

Our Rebuilding to Remain homes have received their building permits from the Al Aqaba Village Council, the first Palestinian-issued building permits in Area C.  Our homes are being build inside a red line drawn by the Israeli High Court in 2008 when they said, "For the time being the center of the village can remain standing."  So far, thankfully, no demolition orders.  I hope the world will find Rebuilding to Remain as inspiring as we do — please hold our homes, these families, and this project in the light.  If possible, please forward this message to your senators and representative to ask them to be ready to make calls for us if needed.   But first, very soon, let's celebrate a wedding.

Thanks again,
Donna

P.S.   Please mark your calendar for May 7th, the next GlobalGiving Bonus Day Match.  Let's use that 30% match that day to fund completion of the next two homes, and once those are done, let's raise enough to provide mortgage loans to the other seven famiies who've started building inside that circle, all with building permits issued by the Village Council.

The open kitchen in Sadeq
The open kitchen in Sadeq's new house
Sadeq
Sadeq's nephew's birthday party
RA Adviser Ghassan, with homeowners Othman & Sadeq
RA Adviser Ghassan, with homeowners Othman & Sadeq
Doors, Windows and Window Grates are all in!
Doors, Windows and Window Grates are all in!
Everything is ready for painting, starting Sunday
Everything is ready for painting, starting Sunday
Sadeq installed the tile field & septic on his own
Sadeq installed the tile field & septic on his own
Sadeq and friend plastering the porch he added on
Sadeq and friend plastering the porch he added on
Sadiq showing Nadia a picture of his Fiancee
Sadiq showing Nadia a picture of his Fiancee
Solar tiles and water heater, installed on roof
Solar tiles and water heater, installed on roof
Sadiq
Sadiq's house is painted!
View from the yard
View from the yard
Porch talk with Mayor Haj Sami, Sadiq, visitors
Porch talk with Mayor Haj Sami, Sadiq, visitors
Sadiq at home in his new home
Sadiq at home in his new home
You are invited (English)
You are invited (English)
You are invited (Arabic)
You are invited (Arabic)

Links:

Nabil and Safa eagerly wait for their home
Nabil and Safa eagerly wait for their home

Dear Friend,

I am happy to tell you that work has resumed to finish our first three Rebuilding to Remain homes in Palestine. 

Nearly 700 donors like you helped Rebuilding Alliance meet our Rebuilding to Remain fund raising goal, and we built the first 3 homes as promised in Al Aqaba Village in the Jordan Valley. This is one of the areas of the West Bank that is currently under demolition orders by the Israeli Army, Area C.  We worked directly with the families to design energy efficient homes, together daring to draft Palestinian Building Permits where none existed, and created the first mortgage loan program for Area C.

Instead of waiting for the finishing grants promised by the Palestinian National Authority (its been over one year now), the families have agreed to extend their mortgage loan and Rebuilding Alliance is raising the funds caused by that shortfall to buy the doors, windows, tiles, and plumbing to finish so they can move in.  Thanks to recent donations we are transferring $7000 this month in extended mortgage loans and will transfer additional loans each month as soon as donations arrive. 

If only a small amount is raised each month, the families have decided to finish the homes one by one instead of finishing all simultaneously.  They declined to draw straws to choose which home is finished first.  Instead, Nabil, Safah, Othman and Sara all decided that Sadeq’s house should be finished first because Sadeq’s wedding waits for the day he can bring his bride home.

As you can see in the attached itemized budget, the total finishing costs for all three homes is $38,862.   The families will be doing the painting, reducing the total to $33,417.   With our transfer of $7000, we just need $26,417 to finish. 

If we could finish all three at the same time it would be both safer and also, newsworthy as the village will hold a grand homecoming celebration that will be truly inspiring.   All three homes could be finished in early March if all of us make a one-time donation of $50.    Let’s make this happen.

If you would like to join me for that Homecoming celebration  (and maybe even Sadeq’s wedding), please consider travelling with me on Rebuilding Alliance’s first-ever study tour, February 24-March 6th.   Please give me a call if you would like to discuss a major donation or would like more information about the study tour.  My cellphone is 650 440 9667.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,
Donna

Future home for Sadeq and his bride
Future home for Sadeq and his bride
Sophia at Othman & Sara
Sophia at Othman & Sara's home - they visit daily

Attachments:
A home for Sadeq and his family
A home for Sadeq and his family

Dear Friend,

Thank you for your wonderful support for our Rebuilding to Remain project.   We dreamed of building 30 homes and stared by designing and funding three homes.   We met great milestones: 

  • We're really the only group planning affordable housing in the West Bank.  And Al Aqaba became the first village in Area C to issue its own building permits;

  • Rebuilding Alliance was the first to provide mortgage financing in Area C, creating a rotating mortgage fund starting with these three homes;

  • We met our funding commitment, raised and sent at total of $20,000 per home for construction ($5000 downpayment grant and $15,000 revolving mortgage loan)

  • Construction using our funds is completed.

Here's the problem:  the families chose to design a home that is exactly what they need but bigger than what they could afford.  Each home is 125 sq meters for 3 bedrooms.  Mayor Haj Sami turned to the Palestinian National Authority Government and received their promise of an additional $13,000 per home — the amont needed to finish each homes. This was a promise the PNA government did not keep. 

It is so hard for all of us to see these homes empty when the families and all of us, long for them to move in.

During my and Sophia's recent visit to Palestine, the families and Mayor Haj Sami agreed to extend their mortgage loans to borrow an additional $10,000 if Rebuilding Alliance can raise the funds to finish their homes.   Sophia and I returned home and wrote a grant proposal to the Lantern Fund to ask their help in raising $30,000 (for three homes) for such good things:  floor tiles, doors and windows, painting, bathroom plumbing and the kitchen sink.  Our proposal was accepted and is scheduled for January 2014.

Meanwhile, we submitted an elegant proposal to build 10 more homes to the Paletinian Housing Fund, Coca-Cola Palestine and also the largets construction company in the Arab World all of whom could help.   So far, no replies — so frustrating because these dreams are so close to being realized.

Thank you for your support for this wonderful project.   GlobalGiving.org provides their next mathing grant on Wednesday Oct. 9th, starting at midnight Eastern time.  If you would like to, please consider giving once again and we'll get the families moved in.

As always, please call if you have questions or suggestions.  My cellpone is 650 440 9667.

Sincerely,

Donna

Two Rebuilding to Remain homes near kindergarten
Two Rebuilding to Remain homes near kindergarten
Safa and Nabil
Safa and Nabil's house
Here
Here's Sophia in front of Othman & Sara's home
Nabil
Nabil's father comes to show us water from cistern
Nearly ready for the family to move in!
Nearly ready for the family to move in!

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Organization Information

Rebuilding Alliance

Location: Burlingame, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.RebuildingAlliance.org
Project Leader:
Donna Baranski-walker
Executive Director
San Mateo, California Palestine