Rebuilding a Future in Palestine: It Starts With You

Imagine a roof over your head and a respectable job, providing for your family and building your community — and a sense of relief in your family home, knowing no risk of eviction and no threat of demolition. Al Aqaba Village, one of the 149 Palestinian villages in the West Bank Jordan Valley now facing demolition orders, is determined to make this peaceful vision real and invites all the world make that dream real too.

With President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu now butting heads over the West Bank Jordan Valley, this is an especially critical time — a watershed moment — for the Palestinian villages there. 150,000 Palestinians live in that 60% of the West Bank controlled solely by Israel. The Government of Israel has blanketed all 149 Palestinian villages with demolition orders while continuing to issue permits to build Israeli-only settlements on land that belongs to Palestinian families.  Instead of providing planning and building permits, Israel prohibits Palestinians from building on their own land by refusing them building permits, sending bulldozers to demolish their homes when they build anyway.

Al Aqaba seeks to change the conversation from destruction to construction.  The village is asking the world’s help to bring architects, engineers, local banks, guarantors, and media together to meet with the village council and future homeowners this July in a three week design collaborative.  They call their charrette, “Rebuilding a Future in Palestine!”  Their goal: to plan affordable, eco-sustainable homes with dignity.   This Wednesday, for exactly 24 hours is offering to match all donations to help launch this project.  You support will be deeply appreciated!

I first came to know Al Aqaba in 2003, when Mr. Haj Sami Sadeq, head of the Al Aqaba Village Council, invited Rebuilding Alliance, the U.S. nonprofit organization that I founded, to help them build a kindergarten.   We had received a grant from a family foundation to build a school that would not be demolished.  We thought Al Aqaba our safest choice because the village was far from borders and settlements and Israel’s High Court of Justice had just ruled in favor of the village, requiring the Israeli Army to remove its training camp and cease all training exercises in the village.  The villagers were ready to move home and they needed a kindergarten.

As we were building the kindergarten, the Israeli Army placed the whole village under demolition orders, including the mosque, the medical clinic, our kindergarten, and nearly all the homes.   Rebuilding Alliance helped the village hire a lawyer to petition the High Court to lift the demolition orders.   As the court date approached, Al Aqaba’s children made Pinwheels for Peace, wrote down what peace means, and drew what peace looks like as a way to hold on to hope.   Rebuilding Alliance walked the halls of Congress to ask elected representatives to call the U.S. State Department and the Israeli Embassy to express their concern for the kindergarten on our behalf.

Al Aqaba now wants to show the world what peace looks like. Film teams and news agencies will document this process for other villages in the West Bank and also in Gaza to show how this inclusive design process works and why it is important to bring people together to plan their future.  Independent producer Maurice Jacobsen notes, “This project can create housing that is built to code, designed to world-class standards, with community involvement. There will be nothing in the design that anyone can find fault with.  Having such a design in place can be a very important tool to help all of Palestine rebuild.”

Palestinians are entitled to their collective right to plan towns and issue building permits on the land they own — just like towns anywhere in the world.  Haj Sami Sadeq explains to (many) visitors that 17 countries, U.N. agencies, and non-governmental organizations have visited and liked what they saw enough to invest.  Share his dream — invest in their future, invest in peace!

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