Congress: intervene for Palestinian speakers' visa approval!
Al Aqaba is an extraordinary Palestinian village in the West Bank. Despite being the site of Israeli Army live-fire training exercises for many years, and being threatened with demolitions frequently, the village has managed to grow into a thriving community that is beating the odds. The village now includes a kindergarten, a women's center, a tea and cheese factory, and a guesthouse for any visitor that comes in peace. Much of this progress is thanks to Al Aqaba's remarkable mayor, Haj Sami Sadeq Sbaih, who spoke at the Israeli Knesset last year. His commitment to peace has helped the village grow, but it is largely due to American advocacy and intervention from Congress that it has remained standing. Calls to the Israeli Embassy and to the U.S. State Department from members of Congress can have a big impact, and can often stop the bulldozers. Last year, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) published the letters that she traded with Israeli PM Netanyahu, in which she urged him to not permit the army to demolish the village of Susiya. The village is still standing today!
For the past two years, Rebuilding Alliance has brought children and their parents from Area C (the 62% of the West Bank controlled entirely by Israel) villages at risk of demolition to Washington, DC to speak at a Congressional briefing on International Peace Day. This year, in addition to a child from the village of Susiya, we have invited Mayor Haj Sami and a child from Gaza, Tia Alqudwa.But we need your help: write to your members of Congress and ask them to call the State Department and the Israeli Embassy to ensure that the speakers' visas are approved.
Mayor Haj Sami in Al Aqaba's village greenhouse.Last year, the extraordinary village of Al Aqaba was not represented in our briefing because Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq's visa had not been approved. Now, over a year after he first applied, his application remains in "administrative processing" without any explanation. Furthermore, a child from Al Aqaba was unable to join for lack of a chaperone, and we will face a similar challenge this year. Al Aqaba is the village where Rebuilding Alliance’s “Rebuilding to Remain” program will first be implemented, to provide construction loans to families so they are able to build affordable homes on the land they own. As it has largely been because of Mayor Haj Sami’s outstanding leadership and dedication to peace that Al Aqaba remains standing and continues to grow and thrive, his participation in this delegation is invaluable.
Additionally, in response to the electricity crisis in Gaza, we have invited Tia Alqudwa, a child from Gaza, and her father to join the delegation. Both have already obtained US visas and were recently granted Jordanian transit visas (these were approved with the help of both the US Consul General in Jordan and a Jordanian princess). This is a small miracle! In the past, Jordanian transit visas have been a major stumbling block, but now that they are approved, the chances are improved of Israeli transit visas being approved.
With all the uncertainty that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are facing, it is more important than ever to speak out and engage Congress. Thank you for your support.