Oxfam Solidarity and Badil Resource Center Emergency Job Creation Project
The emergency job creation project was created to improve and rehabilitate social service infrastructure and housing conditions in the western villages of Ramallah and in refugee camps across the West Bank to mitigate the adverse effects of the economic crisis resulting from actions of the Israeli army and the construction of the Wall. Funded by Oxfam Solidarity Belgium (OSB) and implemented by Badil Resource Center, the aim was to create jobs based on a ‘cash for work’ model. Thirteen camps from the West Bank responded with proposals, alongside a small village in the Bethlehem district called al-Walajeh. In short, the project aimed to:
1. Provide temporary income to unemployed refugees and their families;
2. Strengthen refugee community organizations and restore public facilities;
3. Alleviate the needs of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank.
Badil also tried to support and empower active community-based organizations, which focus specifically on the improvement of the socio-economic situation. In total, Badil, in cooperation with the camp’s popular committees and youth activity centers, built or renovated over 70 houses and 3 community centers.
The case of Walajah: The struggle for a school
The village of al-Walajeh is situated nine kilometres south-west of Jerusalem. Although al-Walajeh is not a refugee camp, its residents are refugees in their own village. During the 1948 war, the developed residential and agricultural areas of al-Walajeh were destroyed by the Jewish-Zionist forces and the inhabitants were displaced within their village. When the Rhodes Agreement was signed by Jordan and Israel in 1949, the ‘Armistice’ or ‘Green line’ was created. “The Israeli forces came immediately within days after signing the agreement to destroy our homes and farms. All residents watched as bulldozers uprooted and demolished everything precious and dear to them.” said Abu Ali. Around 200 houses were razed in addition to the school and village mosque. About 80% of al-Walajeh’s land was occupied by Israel in the 1948 War and approximately 1,000 residents fled to their agricultural land on the remaining 20% of the village under Jordanian control, on which they rebuilt their houses. Following the 1967 war, Israel took control of the West Bank, including the Jordanian controlled area of al-Walajeh, and unilaterally declared almost 50% of the ‘new’ al-Walajeh, i.e. where residents had relocated, under the illegally annexed municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.
Since 1985, the municipality of Jerusalem assumes day-to-day authority over the area and issues demolition orders for homes built on al-Walajeh land by 1948 refugees without construction permits. Until 1985, the people of the village did not know they required building permits. Since then, however, 29 homes have been demolished, displacing over 100 persons. There are currently 39 structures (housing 61 families) with demolition orders. All people displaced and facing imminent displacement are 1948 refugees and hold UNRWA identification cards. Israel has been planning the construction of a new colony on al-Walajeh land since 2004.
Building a new Al-Walajah school
Abu Ali, a member of the school construction committee at al-Walajeh remembers, “before 1948 there was a small school in al-Walajeh village, and students were taught English there.” During that time, schools who taught English were among the most developed and prestigious. “Now, 58 years after the Nakba, we have one of the poorest schools in Palestine.”
The 2,000 residents have been receiving assistance since UNRWA’s establishment in 1951. “Under growing pressure from the residents, UNRWA promised to build a school” said Abu Ali. This was in 1968. UNRWA established a small school with 2 rooms. Two years later, UNRWA rented two other separate classrooms built by residents. “There were times when there were 50 students studying in one room that was not larger than 16 square meters” says Abu Ayman, head of the school construction committee. Ten years later, in 1980, UNRWA rented 4 other rooms. However, this time, the promise was conditional upon acquiring the necessary construction permit from the Israeli authorities. People in the village were hopeful they would be granted the required permit. However, these hopes were quickly dashed, as were several subsequent appeals.
UNRWA’s lack of protection
UNRWA justified its failure to build new rooms or a new school by stating it did not have a mandate to interfere in such matters. In other words, UNRWA would like to build a new school, but cannot demand that Israel issues the required construction permit. Despite the fact that most of the new al-Walajeh land where the school was to be built was classified as “area B” (1), the residents were forced to go through Israel, which has assumed administrative powers throughout the Jerusalem municipality.
Because of the growing number of students and the increasing restrictions of movement, residents felt that the construction of the school was a matter of urgency. Hence, they established a Construction Committee and bought a piece of land suitable for the proposed school. The Committee obtained the construction permit from the Palestinian ministry, a significant accomplishment in itself, and the residents felt that their dreams would soon come true. However, because of the lack of funding, the Committee could not start the construction as planned.
The Israeli “justice” system
In order to fund the project, UNRWA requested an official Israeli response to confirm that they had no objection to the projected plan. However, the villagers’ plans were again quickly dashed. The Israeli authorities said that the land designated for building the school had been transferred from Area(2) “B” to “C” within the “Wye River Agreement” signed in 1998 between the PLO and Israel. The school Construction Committee submitted on behalf of al-Walajeh residents a petition to the Israeli court. In 2001, the court decided not to rule on the petition; instead, the judge referred the case to the commander responsible for issuing the permit. The commander did not even bother to respond to the request of the villagers. At that point, the residents decided to take matters into their own hands and build the school themselves. They reasoned that “the risk which existed [the destruction of the school] was not as great as our need for the school” said Abu Ayman, al-Walajeh resident. The committee collected money from the families living in al-Walajeh, which was not even enough to begin working. So, they contacted the local community and NGOs. Some of those adopted a position similar to UNRWA, while others accepted to take on the case such as Badil, which contributed to the construction of the project through “The Community Emergency Project.”
A little victory
By mid-August, the Committee had completely finished the first phase of the construction of al-Walajeh school. Now, they have a building which consists of 6 classrooms, 50 square meters each. The next step is to transfer the students to the new school. Abu Ayman said: “We wanted to open the school this September, but UNRWA refused to move the staff in.” UNRWA has informed the Committee that they can not make a decision very quickly or easily; it takes time to research and calculate the risk. UNRWA, however, unofficially informed Badil in December that they agreed to move teachers and students from grade one to three to the school for the next term, beginning in January 2007.
1. Under the Oslo Accords, “Area B” indicates that the civil aspects in these parts are administered by the Palestinian Authority.
2. Under the Oslo Accords, “Area C” are entirely controlled and administered by Israel.