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25 Apr, 2014

US NGO helps Palestinian newlyweds rebuild their home in an occupied, divided land

By: Jameel Dababat

TUBAS, April 20, 2014 (WAFA) –  In any part of the Middle East, Sadeq Subeih’s wedding day would have been just very normal, but with an international intervention, this young Palestinian man’s wedding became more as an international battle.

Sadeq, 27, is one of dozens of people who live in Al-Aqaba, a village located on the northeastern West Bank hillsides and has been the focus of media coverage in light of the Israeli army repeated threats to demolish it.

Standing in front of a small apartment recently built with the help of an international safety network headed by a US NGO, the youth, few hours before his wedding, explains how hundreds of internationals contributed to building his house.

Sadeq is one of 30 people whose houses are being reconstructed through the Rebuilding Alliance headed by US activist Donna Baranski, with the help of local residents.

“Everything is almost done. The house is built, and tomorrow my wife and I will spend our first days there,” said Sadeq.

Al-Aqaba, surrounded by rocky mountains and encircled by valleys and Israeli checkpoints, was evacuated of its original residents in 1967 when the Israel forces attacked it and expelled them out. Nevertheless, a decade ago, some of them started to return and reconstruct their houses while still under the ongoing threat of being demolished by Israeli forces.

Therefore, when Sadeq’s family sought to build a house for their son to live in after getting married, they encountered a lot of risks. Nonetheless, an international intervention led by Baranski made that possible.

The Rebuilding Alliance, under international support, seeks to impose new facts on the ground in Area  C, under full Israeli control, by reconstructing houses of people who were expelled in 1967.

In the evening, the sounds of visitors who speak a multitude of languages in a small rural village could be heard, yet at night, the sounds of music and the Palestinian Dabka dominate.

Israel prohibits Palestinians to build in the village, and has demolished houses in the area and razed the roads which link it to the nearby communities. But the reconstruction pioneers bore the risks of possible demolition of these homes.

Baranski herself, whose work is based in San Francisco, recently arrived in the area to have the final touches of the building done. And Sadeq, who works at the border crossings, is the first to benefit from the reconstruction activities in Area C.

“This is a story that should be written with tears. Al-Aqaba became a story known throughout the world,” said Baranski.

Standing at a foothill overlooking a hollow span of land, an area which Israel seeks to evacuate it from its Palestinian inhabitants, Baranski was able to brief the visitors on her future plan of mobilizing international support to build more homes, almost reaching 30 homes.

From the rooftop of Sadeq’s 140-square-meter home, the village seems to be shrinking, small and calm, but also shows the wide geographic depth where construction is denied by Israel.

“We bear the risk of construction. There is no guarantee to prevent the Israelis from demolishing it … but at least there is no demolition notification so far,” said Baranski, a matter agreed on by Sadeq.

The idea of construction and imposing facts on the ground in the village began in 2003 when international organizations and the local villagers launched the building of a kindergarten. Baranski, looking at a magnificent building, said “from the very moment when we sought building a kindergarten, we dreamt about this day.”

Today, tens of villagers gathered in the village, along with others who accepted an invitation to participate in this ‘national wedding’, as described in the invitation letters which were published on the internet. “That was a dream, but now it is a reality,” said Baranski.

“This is the first house that was built to stay. This is the first Palestinian wedding happening this way … no, this is the first wedding in the world happening this way. More than 1000 people from all over the world participated in preparing for this day,” she added in reference to the international support provided by international donors to contribute in building the house.

Yesterday was the Night of Henna (a ceremony equivalent to bridal showers). Donna and other international visitors participated with Sadeq’s family in the wedding celebrations.

“We carried the Henna, a paste to draw designs on the hands of the bride and groom, crossed the checkpoint, and passed through the historical area of al-Maleh heading towards the bride’s home.”

“I come from Area C and so does the bride. Since Oslo Accords, Israel prevents the Palestinians from building and from constructing infrastructure in Area C.

The Rebuilding Alliance seeks to push other international organizations towards participating in similar constructions in Area C. Baranski, who has been traveling from Al-Aqaba to San Francisco and vice versa during the past few years, is attempting to encourage the US government to perform constructions in the these areas.

However, for the newlyweds, Sadeq and Lima, as well as for the villagers of al-Aqaba, who were denied construction for long years, the dreams are bigger than the political wishes. “Life became more rosy, dreams are coming true,” said Sadeq while pointing at the light brown paint of his home.

Nonetheless, any real guarantee to ensure this dream is uncertain; Israeli forces may one day threaten to demolish the homes of dreams in the vicinity of the village, which has been witnessing a conflict with the occupying forces for over a decade in the Israeli courts to determine the building areas.

The thundering of missile explosions are overwhelmingly heard in the surroundings of the village following Israeli army exercises.

Sami Sadeq, head of al-Aqaba village council, appears sitting on a wheelchair after he sustained hemiplegia after bullets penetrated his body during an Israeli army exercise in the 1970s.

Together with Baranski and other Western representative offices, Sami established a semi safety network in the village which sometimes saved its houses from Israeli demolition. “This is not only a wedding; it is the will to live.”

Several youths from the village surrounded Sami waiting for the DJ technician to start the Dabka. Baranski’s smile would appear as soon as the electrical technicians corrected the light tracks inside the Dabka yard. “Oh! The dream is near, it is finally coming true with the help of international support,” she said.