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Sep 24, 2007

Constructing Peace Report - Summer 2007

While ICAHD: The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has been rebuilding Palestinian homes for ten years, the expansion of the organization's building program this year has been unprecedented. From the Negev Desert, Hebron, Jerusalem and villages north of Ramallah, ICAHD has employed dozens of Palestinians to rebuild homes destroyed by the Israeli government.

photo galleryslideshow video

Over the years thousands of people have contributed to ICAHD’s work, especially in funding the rebuilding of demolished Palestinian homes. This year the generosity of donors enabled us to establish a new rebuilding campaign and provided us with half a million dollars to rebuild homes. With additional funding, we hope to rebuild every home demolished during the next year, and to conduct an international educational campaign. This new project was a dramatic call to action for ICAHD and its supporters and came to be called the Constructing Peace Campaign.

A project partnership was formed between ICAHD and ICAHD-USA, an independent non-profit established in 2005, to conduct education and outreach in the United States, and to help raise funds for ICAHD’s projects in Israel. ICAHD-USA became the primary fiscal sponsor for the Constructing Peace Campaign. Contracts were signed with the stipulation that no homes were to be rebuilt that had been demolished as punishment for military or terror activities. Only homes demolished for lack of a building permit were to be rebuilt. ICAHD-UK has also provided ongoing support for the Campaign.

By the end of May 2007, funds began to arrive in Israel and the project was up and running with several staffers dedicated to its success. The first three months were a rollercoaster ride as ICAHD staff rose to the occasion and put in place new fiscal and management frameworks, hired a Project Liaison Officer, Palestinian Field Supervisors, engaged contractors, and initiated a family selection program. Homes have been built from Hebron to Jerusalem and beyond, and at the time of writing this report, 67 families have received new homes. ICAHD’s total homes rebuilt over the past ten years now stands at 101, a testament to the generosity of ICAHD’s supporters, the dedication of its staff, and the tenacity of its activists.

As ICAHD’s Chief Field Supervisor, Salim Shawamreh, likes to say, “This is the life. This is the way it should be”.

Construction Process

Many of the houses that ICAHD has built over the years have been homes of 100-150 sq. meters sq. ft.) accommodating families of 6-15 people. In order to spread the available funds of the Campaign between as many families as possible a decision was made to use as a baseline, a standard home of only 30 sq. meters (270 sq.ft.). The basic floor plan was for two bedrooms, a bathroom with shower, and a kitchen/living room. This basic house was constructed of concrete and cinder blocks, a sheet metal roof, stucco on the exterior walls, plaster on the interior, four or five windows, and one external steel door. The interiors have tile floors, wooden doors, surface-mounted electrical conduits, and full indoor plumbing. These basic homes were intended for families of up to six people. Larger homes were built for families of more than six people. The basic model home was built by ICAHD for an average construction cost of $8-10,000 each.

Many families opted to change the basic floor plan, making one room a bit larger, or moving the bathroom to change the configuration. The process allowed a certain amount of flexibility in order to help families personalize their new homes. Many are planning to add insulation to the roof and other enhancements. Keep in mind that for some families these homes are only a temporary solution to their tragedy, while a long-term solution for others. Most of the new houses were not built on the original foundations of the demolished home for several reasons. By building the new home (usually much smaller) adjacent to the demolished home the project saved money since the rubble and tangled metal ‘rebar’ of the destroyed home did not have to be removed and the new home, given its size, did not need substantial foundations. Also, it was hoped that the government might not notice the new homes since they have a much lower profile than the original houses. The families also retained the option of rebuilding their original homes on the original foundation at a later date, when it was safe, and their finances permitted. However this option was in the remote future for most families since their life savings were usually tied up in their demolished home.

Some families had available funds and opted to add their money to the Campaign’s contribution. Thus in some cases ICAHD only put in the foundation of a more substantial home, or paid for a solid concrete roof. Also, the three homes built during the summer camp of 2007 were more than 1002 meters each, drawing on organizational grants and camp participant contributions in addition to Campaign funds. In this way the Campaign funds were leveraged with additional monies.

During different phases of the Campaign the services of Palestinian Field Coordinators were utilized. They supervised the contractors, liaised with the families, and helped arrange the purchase of materials. All the coordinating field staff, contractors, tradesmen, laborers, and construction material suppliers were Palestinian. Thus the Campaign also helped the general economy of the West Bank as the wages paid to construction workers rippled through businesses where they do their family shopping.

Promoting the Campaign

Although construction of homes began in May 2007, the project was officially launched at a press conference on June 11th. Neighborhood residents, ICAHD activists and a large Press contingent gathered in the remnants of the historic Mughrabi Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. Most of the neighborhood had been destroyed on the night of June 11, 1967 when 135 Palestinian families, over 600 people, were roused from their beds in the middle of the night and witnessed their homes being demolished to create a plaza for Jewish prayer in front of the Western (Wailing) Wall. The site was chosen for the Campaign launch due to its symbolic value as the first home demolitions of the Occupation.

ICAHD activists, accompanied by Israeli, Palestinian and international press, were met in the Quarter’s sole remaining mosque by Mahmoud Masloukhi, the Mughrabi Quarter Mukhtar (civic leader), who spoke of the night 40 years ago when his home was demolished.

Jeff Halper, ICAHD’s Coordinator, told the assembled Mughrabi Quarter residents, “We come as Israelis not only to remember the night the Occupation began but to take responsibility for the actions of our government, responsibility Israel has tried to avoid all these decades.” However, ICAHD’s latest campaign, said Dr. Halper, went beyond mere acknowledgment and solidarity. It represents a further intensifying of ICAHD’s resistance to the Occupation. Meir Margalit, ICAHD’s Field Coordinator, then presented a general overview of Israel’s house demolition policy and its impact on the Palestinian population.

The assembled Israeli and International media were then taken on a tour of the Mughrabi Quarter, visiting a family home that had been recently demolished and was in process of reconstruction as part of the Constructing Peace Campaign. The launch of the Campaign resulted in television interviews of ICAHD staff on Israeli Channel 2, Saudi Arabia English language satellite TV, and CNN. The Jerusalem Post reported the event, as did numerous newspapers around the world.

ICAHD’s PR agency in Tel Aviv was commissioned to find the most efficient and cost effective way of reach the mass of the Israeli public. Initially large newspaper adverts were considered. However after careful analysis it was decided to go ahead with an intensive internet campaign in Hebrew. YNET (in English - http://www.ynetnews.com & in Hebrew - http://www.ynet.co.il), affiliated with the Israeli “Yedioth Ahronot” newspaper and magazine group, is the most visited website in Israel. During the first week in June ICAHD placed specially designed banner advertisements that was linked to the Campaign pages on ICAHD’s website. Over 5,000 people clicked thru to the ICAHD web site during the two weeks of the banner adverts. The YNET online campaign was repeated during the middle of September.

Full page advertisements were published by ICAHD-USA in the New York Times and by ICAHD-UK in the Guardian resulting in a strong response from the general public in those countries.

ICAHD’s ongoing education and advocacy for the Campaign includes a slideshow hosted on its web site and a photo gallery of homes completed during the campaign with stories about many of the families.

To help promote the campaign and to raise additional funds for rebuilding and advocacy, ICAHD has established a dedicated web page