I want my village to have the right to issue valid building permits to secure the future of Al Aqaba. With this right, a glaring oversight of the Oslo Accords will be overturned, showing our villagers and the world that peace and justice are achievable through peaceful means.- Haj Sami Sadeq
Mayor of Al Aqaba
Al Aqaba is a small village that sits on the western edge of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. Most of its residents depend on agriculture and animal herding for their livelihood. When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, the army built three bases around Al Aqaba and began conducting live-fire military training exercises, often within the village itself. 112 residents were killed and 38 wounded as a result of these exercises. Among those wounded is the mayor of Al Aqaba, Haj Sami Sadeq, who has been confined to a wheelchair since 1971 when, at the age of 16, he was shot three times while working the fields with his parents. Due to the unsafe conditions, over the years 700 villagers have left Al Aqaba, leaving it with its current population of 300.
It is important to note that the villagers never retaliated. In 2001, the village won a historic victory when the Israeli High Court ordered the Israeli army to remove one of its military bases from village land and cease using the village for training exercises. 2 The village hoped the reduced military presence would allow the 700 exiled villagers to return. In anticipation of this, Al Aqaba asked the Rebuilding Alliance for help with building a kindergarten that could accommodate the children of both the current and returning residents. That kindergarten now serves 130 children who live both in and outside the village, and has inspired investment by 17 embassies, UN agencies, and NGOs.
Despite the court victory, in 2004 Al Aqaba’s very existence was threatened when nearly the entire village was issued demolition orders by the Israeli army. The official reason given was a lack of building permits. Because it resides in Area C of the West Bank, Israel is in full control of military and civilian administration, including the issuance of building permits. 3,4
These demolition orders ignored the fact that in 1998, Al Aqaba submitted a master plan to the Israeli Civil Administration in order to attain building permits for construction. The Civil Administration never responded, 5 following a pattern of Israeli refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians in Area C while allowing Israeli settlements to expand.6 The village again submitted a land-use plan in 2006 only to have it ignored once more.
In 2008, the Israeli High Court rejected Al Aqaba’s petition to have the demolition order voided, citing the village’s lack of building permits, the very same permits which the village had previously applied for and been denied. 7 Rebuilding Alliance helped Al Aqaba hire an Israeli lawyer to petition that case, then brought mayor Haj Sami Sadeq and the Israel architect Shmuel Groag, co-founder of the Israeli human rights group BIMKDM: Planners for Planning Rights, to speak to the U.S. Congress. For a timeline of Rebuilding Alliance’s involvement with the town of Al Aqaba click here.