Sadeq and his fiancé are ready to marry. He has a job — check. He can support a wife and family — check. As soon as their house is finished — pending, they can get married. Sadeq’s family, his neighbors, and the American nonprofit called Rebuilding Alliance are building him an affordable 3 bedroom home on the land his family owns in their Village of Al Aqaba (near Tubas), in the West Bank’s Area C, Jordan Valley. His home is the first of three in a program called, ‘Rebuilding to Remain.’
If enough of us pitch-in to finish those first three homes next Wednesday February 12th, Sadeq will celebrate his wedding in March! Why Wednesday? That’s when GlobalGiving.org provides a 30% matching bonus for each donation to ‘Rebuilding to Remain.’ All that’s needed are doors, windows, tile, plumbing and paint.
Building a house on the land you own is a noble goal but because these are in Area C, Al Aqaba and Rebuilding Alliance were on our own to forge a whole new way of financing. Area C makes up 62% of the West Bank and contains most of the West Bank’s natural resources and open spaces. Palestinians are barred from using 99% of Area C, and the few who remain there are cut off from services available to those living in Areas A and B, including access to water (they are even prohibited from drilling wells), building permits, and home mortgage loans.
The 1993 Oslo Accords temporarily gave Israel the right to administer Area C with the Palestinian Authority given jurisdiction to issue building permits within 18 months of election of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Though the Legislative Council was elected in 1996, that right to issue building permits was never realized. Instead, the Israeli Army’s Civil Administration issued over 12,500 demolition orders to Palestinian families who built on their own land in Area C — while it simultaneously issued building permits and tenders for construction to Israeli settlers on land they do not even own. Demolition bulldozers soon followed.
On Jan. 31st, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator James W. Rawley expressed concern about “the ongoing displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in Area C, particularly along the Jordan Valley, where the number of structures demolished more than doubled in the last year. The destruction of Palestinian-owned property and forced eviction of Palestinians must be brought to an immediate halt until Palestinians have access to a fair planning and zoning regime that meets their needs.”
That’s what makes Sadeq’s and Al Aqaba Village’s decisions all the more significant: they have asserted their right to live, build, and farm on the land they own. Al Aqaba’s Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq Sbaih invited Rebuilding Alliance’s team of architects and engineers to work directly with Al Aqaba’s future homeowners to design affordable, energy efficient houses. And working with the families, architect Hani Hassan designed energy efficient homes that can be expanded to 2 stories, a good way to care for aging parents someday.
Together we drafted Palestinian Building Permits where none before existed, and saw them ratified by Al Aqaba’s Village Council, the Governorate of Tubas, and the Palestinian Authority’s Ministries. The villagers created their own credit union, pooling their life savings to install water cisterns on 20 lots and also provide electrical hook ups. Rebuilding Alliance created the first and only mortgage loan program for families in Area C, and crowd-sourced the first round of financing and construction through hundreds of donations on GlobalGiving.org.
Home construction financing was harder than it should have been because somehow my government, the United States of America, made it our policy to deny mortgage insurance to Palestinian families living in Area C. According to a recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), described as a quasi U.S. Government agency, along with Palestine Investment Fund “have committed to lend $485 million to the Affordable Mortgage and Loan Company (AMAL) to support mortgages for low- and medium-income borrowers in the West Bank.” When I asked Palestinian banks to back Al Aqaba’s mortgages, the urged me to call OPIC. At first OPIC officials said they could not guarantee Al Aqaba’s mortgages until the families had building permits. When I showed them the building permits issued by Al Aqaba’s Village Council (after all building permits are what towns in a democracy do), they told me it is U.S. policy not to guarantee mortgage loans in Area C. Why not?
‘Rebuilding to Remain’ is built on an unprecedented mortgage loan. First, our Islamic-compliant mortgage loan program is revolving, set up to finance more new homes as payments are received. Uniquely, Rebuilding Alliance’s Mortgage Loan Agreement states that if their home is demolished, the owner stops repayment until occupancy is restored, something banks would be hard-pressed to do.
In addition, to keep the homes standing, we ask donors large and small to protect their crowd-funding investment whenever bulldozers come near by calling their senators and representative to intervene. Those calls keep Al Aqaba’s kindergarten and village standing despite demolition orders. Your calls will keep Sadeq’s home safe too.
So what will it take for Sadeq to get married? Set aside your worry that it’s not worth building homes at risk of demolition, because without building, without investment, without the attention of people who care, demolition bulldozers are sure to prevail. Instead, share the risk that Sadeq faces by donating to ‘Rebuilding to Remain’ next Wednesday and help win GlobalGiving’s Bonus. The key that opens the door to Sadeq’s future is in your hands.