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Letter from Al Aqaba on the ‘Rebuilding to Remain’ campaign

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I can’t recall when my radar first picked up on Al Aqaba, a small peaceful village nestled in the Jordan Valley. Whether it was letters from Al Aqaba’ Mayor Haj Sami Sadiq, the surreal video Hundreds of Israeli soldiers show up in village targeted for demolition, one of Phil’s several trips to the village or following the diary of an American girl in Palestine, but by now I’ve developed somewhat of an attachment to the place.

Israel continually uses Al Aqaba as a military training ground but somehow, even with demolition orders on the mosque, kindergarten and health clinic looming, the determined citizens just keep on struggling to remain.

Safa's Letter

Safa’s Letter

A few days ago in conversation with Donna Baranski-Walker, director of Rebuilding Alliance, about their program in Al Aqaba, Rebuilding to Remain*, curious about the families in the video above, I asked how the other families were doing, waiting for their homes.

Donna has a determined insistent passion for what she does and stated their project is constructive resistance. (I love that!) She sent along a photo of Safa and Nabil Sbaih, both originally from Al Aqaba and mentioned they were waiting out their days in Hebron. I mentioned how we’d love to hear from them in their own words and yesterday she sent along this letter and photo with a note mentioning “Our guest from Ramallah, Faten Toubasi, interviewed Safa by phone and transcribed her letter accordingly.  We then translated it.


Dear People Everywhere,

I’m writing you this letter to express what it means to be able to move into my new house in my village of Al Aqaba.  My husband, Nabil, our children and I are living in Al Khalil (Hebron). Hebron is located in the south of the West Bank, very far from my village.  We can visit our family and friends only twice a year.  I miss out on the wonderful community events in Al Aqaba and my children don’t get to play with their cousins.   In Al Aqaba, we have lots of space for children to play, but because Al Khalil (Hebron) is a big city, there are no parks for children, no safe places to play.

There are so many reasons why we want to have our own home.  Our landlord does not want to rent anymore.  My husband, Nabil, plans to finish his education outside of the West Bank but he is postponing his studies because our new house is not ready yet.  It is next to impossible for a woman from a village to live in the city alone without her husband. For this reason, my husband cannot leave me here to go study abroad.  I myself am studying now for my MA in Arabic Language Education and I really want to work after I graduate. The only way I could possibly do this is if my family takes care of my children, including the new baby coming in June.  Lastly, it is also important to me that my children attend the kindergarten in Al Aqaba where I will be working.

I will paint my house beige inside because it will be bright and spacious. My daughter’s room, I will paint pink because it is her favorite and my son’s room will be green because he really likes this color. For the outside, I will paint it off-white and bordeaux because those are my favorite colors and they will go especially well with the greenery outside. Mine will be an open kitchen so that I can keep an eye on my children while I am cooking.

InshaAllah, Rebuilding Alliance will raise enough to finish all three homes, but if this does not happen yet, I want Sadeq’s house to be completed first so that he can marry.  They’ve been waiting such a long time to start their life together.

Thank you, dear ones, for all you are doing to make it possible for us to move into our homes in Al Aqaba Village.


Safa Sbaih


* Today (Wednesday), Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine will receive a 30% bonus for all  donations thanks to Global Giving’s Bonus Day competition.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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21 Responses

  1. Eva Smagacz
    Eva Smagacz
    February 12, 2014, 2:21 pm

    Donated again. This project really does touch my heart.

  2. RebuildingAll
    February 12, 2014, 2:53 pm

    I first met Phil Weiss when I brought the Mayor of Al Aqaba, Haj Sami Sadeq, to speak at a Brooklyn for Peace event in 2008. It was the opening week at the U.N., the stock market was crashing around us and the hotel that assured us access for people with disabilities was sadly wrong. What a challenge to find accessible accommodations when all of NYC is full — the dynamic mayor of Al Aqaba is paraplegic. He was the first victim back when the Israeli Army routinely used this village for live-fire training exercises.

    Many will wonder why this mayor, these villagers, and Rebuilding Alliance have worked so hard to finish these homes. Coming home has been their dream as long as I’ve known them. We started with a kindergarten in 2003 and my promise was to build a school that would not be demolished; today it serves 160 children. That Kindergarten attracted 20 other countries to invest in Al Aqaba too, ignoring demolition orders that are currently frozen in the Israeli court system.

    They deserve the right, as do all families, to live on their land, to plan their future, to educate their children, to have a job. Thank you for making this possible.

    • annie
      February 12, 2014, 3:41 pm

      thanks for everything. 8th place? that’s great. i couldn’t give much but i did give a little. hope it helps. it’s so important to preserve this village in the jordan valley, a place Israel has made persistent efforts to ethnically cleanse. i reviewed that video up there again. the stories of how they were forced out. just one by one.

      • RebuildingAll
        February 12, 2014, 4:07 pm

        Now 7th place! We’ve raised a total of $7,093 so far including $1637 in matching funds. With $3000 more, we can finish Sadeq’s home. With $23,000 more, we can finish all three homes.

        The competition lasts until midnight, Eastern time and GlobalGiving still has $29,000 to give away.

    • tree
      February 12, 2014, 4:03 pm

      Yes, many thanks to you and to Phil and Annie for bringing us this hopeful story. I’ve contributed what I can now, knowing that the extra 30% today will help as well. This is a great project and I hope to be able to make a recurring donation later.

      Best wishes for the families and their new homes. I know what a joy it can be to own your own home in the place that you want to be. May all the families’ dreams come true!

      On edit: I think my company will match one for one so I’ll pursue that as well!

  3. mcohen
    February 12, 2014, 4:17 pm

    where exactly is al aqaba on the map

    • annie
      February 12, 2014, 4:34 pm

      thanks for asking, you can find a map here:

      Surrounded by two Israeli military bases and a ‘virtual wall’ of checkpoints, Al-Aqaba’s connections to neighboring communities, markets and the Jordan Valley have been gradually severed: since 1967, al-Aqaba’s population has decreased by 85%, dropping from around 2,000 to 300 today. While many al-Aqaba residents no longer live in the village itself, they still hope to return to their land, and still send their children to the local school. [1]


      For 36 years, Aqabah was the site of an Israeli military camp. The IDF conducted live training exercises inside the village, causing the death of 8 villagers and wounding more than 50 residents.[5]

      85%? i’d call that ethnic cleansing.

      i guess having their village used for “training” exercises took it’s toll on the locals. especially when they use live bullets on live citizens residents one too many times.

      hey, let’s use those peaceful villagers to practice killing ‘terrorists’, that way our young soldiers won’t be at risk. everything in the name of ‘security’ if you know what i mean.

    • RebuildingAll
      February 12, 2014, 4:53 pm

      The easiest way to see Al Aqaba, is to google nearby Tayasir, then look east, just up the road. Specifically, Al Aqaba is at Latitude 32°20’12.09″N, Longitude 35°25’5.20″— looks good on GoogleEarth.

      Your question raises a bigger question — why isn’t Al Aqaba on the map? And what about the other 149 Palestinian villages in Area C also facing demolition orders?

      A group of us are planning a visit to Google’s mapping group very soon to ask them to include them all. I’ll be happy to take a Google mapping rep with me when I travel there in March (maybe for Sadeq’s wedding, yes?)

      For more on Al Aqaba, see

  4. DICKERSON3870
    February 12, 2014, 6:44 pm

    Thanks for the reminder. I made a donation in memory of the wonderful actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

    P.S. Here is an interesting portrait of Philip Seymour Hoffman that affects a “daguerreotype” or a “tintype” from the 1800s. It was taken by photographer Victoria Will at the Sundance Film Festival two weeks prior to Hoffman’s death on February 2nd.


  5. RebuildingAll
    February 12, 2014, 11:22 pm

    ‘Rebuilding to Remain’ is in 3rd place with about 35 min to go. Good news: we’ve raised enough to finish Sadeq’s house — they’ll be able to get married in March!

  6. RebuildingAll
    February 13, 2014, 2:30 am

    A big Thank You to everyone who gave today. ‘Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine’ reached 4th place by most donations, and 3rd place by most donors!

    With the $12,765 we raised, Sadeq’s home will be finished very soon and work will begin on the next ‘Rebuilding to Remain’ home too!

    Thank you again,

  7. mcohen
    February 13, 2014, 6:50 am

    Live fire training on residents…….seriously soldiers go to the village and train while residents walk around.looking at the village from google maps all the surrounding fields are being worked,the houses all appear lived in,do i have the right place aqaba between zababida and tubas ?
    when was the live fire exercise ?
    says in the link it has a double story kinder
    maybe i could open a coffee shop,do some art out the back on the weekends
    Sounds like a great place to live.

    • eljay
      February 13, 2014, 7:50 am

      >> … looking at the village from google maps all the surrounding fields are being worked,the houses all appear lived in … Sounds like a great place to live.

      Same goes for Ashkelon and Sderot, despite the occasional allegations of an impending anti-Semitic Holocaust from Gaza.

    • RebuildingAll
      February 13, 2014, 4:27 pm

      Try again. To find Al Aqaba, google Tayasir and look east to where the road forks. Latitude: 32°20’12.09″N, 35°25’5.20″E in GoogleEarth.

      You’ve been looking at a nearby town called Akaba, a much bigger place in Area A. Many people confuse Akaba Town with tiny Al Aqaba Village which does not appear on GoogleMaps:

      – When the UN helped me first visit Al Aqaba, even they got confused and went to the wrong place.

      – In 2012, US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro made that same mistake when he responded to an inquiry from Representative Eshoo at my request. Ambassador Shapiro was surprised when Mayor Haj Sami explained that the $437,000 USAID provided for equipment to the town’s primary health clinic, rainwater collection cistems and water supply trucks was only for Akaba Town in Area A, not Al Aqaba Village in Area C.

      That said, Al Aqaba is also a great place for a coffee shop and they’ve just opened one near the guest house! Please do go visit, they welcome everyone. Here’s a link to Al Aqaba’s Guest House to help you plan your visit.

      • MahaneYehude1
        February 13, 2014, 4:46 pm

        …was only for Akaba Town in Area A, not Al Aqaba Village in Area C.

        I am little confused. There is a city in Jordan called Akaba but I didn’t find Akaba in area A, maybe you mean “Akabat Jaber”? (written in Arabic “Akaba Jaber”).

  8. MahaneYehude1
    February 13, 2014, 12:48 pm

    Maybe little OTP, but in 0:29 he says (and the translator missed):

    “The land I inherited from my father and he inherited it from his father, and he inherited it from his grand father, and he from his grand -grand father until we reach Othman Ben-Affan…(smile).

    Othman Ben-Affan was the third Caliph in the beginning of Islam in the 7th century.

    • RebuildingAll
      February 13, 2014, 3:53 pm

      Thank you, good to hear this translation.

      Worth noting is that Al Aqaba’s villagers hold very clear title to their land and this has never been in dispute. The filing of title documentation was especially rigorous in the northern part of the West Bank.

      Also worth noting is that just outside the windows of Al Aqaba’s kindergarten is a track of land extending for 22,000 dunums (5336 acres) that belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. That land was purchased by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the 1930’s, at the request of the landowners of the area.

      Al Aqaba is exploring the possibility of leasing the Patriarchate’s land to build a Rehabilitation Hospital — a green, restorative, and inspiring response to the harm that military training has caused.

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