The Meedan Blog Archive

Homes with Dignity

This article was translated into Arabic by Rania ElMaraghy as a part of Meedan's translation services. The Arabic translation was published on WAFA, the Palestinian News and Information Agency.


This may not be my largest project but it is my most important one. During the hottest weeks of summer, I was Lead Architect in an international effort to help a Palestinian village design affordable eco-friendly homes and create a detailed town plan as the best way to assure their village a sound future. Although the Israeli Army holds demolition orders against 97% of this village, in a few days time the Al Aqaba Village Council will issue building permits and, with the help of generous people around the world, the first three families will start building their new Homes with Dignity.

Al Aqaba is a small village located in the Jordan Valley near Tubas, in that 62% of the Occupied West Bank administered solely by Israel known as “Area C.” This village has a history of peacefulness despite undergoing terrifying duress: In 1967, the Israeli Army built three bases in and near Al Aqaba and, from 1971-2002, conducted live-fire military training in the unarmed village —12 residents were killed and 38 injured. The mayor, confined to a wheelchair for 40 years, was the first victim. To escape danger, 700 villagers left their land and moved to nearby towns, leaving Al Aqaba with a population of 300.

In 2001, the village won a historic victory when the Israeli High Court ordered the Israeli Army to remove one of its military bases and cease using village homes for training. Al Aqaba, together with the American nonprofit Rebuilding Alliance, built a thriving kindergarten for the children of both current and returning residents. While construction was underway, the Israeli Army issued demolition orders against nearly all the homes, the mosque, the medical clinic, and the kindergarten. The village petitioned the Israeli High Court with limited success. Now displaced villagers fear if they wait any longer to return home, their whole village may disappear.

Authentic architecture must reflect the power of human relations. It’s about People, Nature and Climate, in an ongoing effort of civilizations decade after decade, century after century to cross new borders of knowledge to achieve beauty, comfort, resiliency, economic, and environmental value. Over the course of 8 days, we joined in an architectural design charrette in Al Aqaba, working with the first three returning families, and Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq Sbaih, the village council, and the Rural Women’s Association to understand their housing and community development needs. While simple and economic solutions are challenging and difficult to achieve, when we succeeded in delivering solutions to this needy community, it was a moment of joy!

Architecture enables us to transform design ideas into places and spaces that serve us and generations yet unborn. The families require 3 bedroom, 119 square meter homes, expandable someday to include a 2nd floor for their son’s future family — but the construction cost of $33,300 exceeds their ability to repay a mortgage loan, if one could even be found. Though Al Aqaba’s families hold undisputed title to their land, Israel’s policy of denying building permits to Palestinians in Area C means that banks will not provide home financing to Palestinians living there.

With creativity borne of necessity, we found a way to fund construction by both spreading out and reducing the risk of demolition across many donors and many advocates. Donations provide a $5,000 down payment, a $15,000 mortgage loan, and $4,000 to coordinate worldwide outreach to affirm the village’s right to issue building permits. Unlike a bank loan, Rebuilding Alliance’s Crowdsource Financing forgives the remaining mortgage loan if the home is demolished. Al Aqaba’s families will help with construction. The villagers even formed a cooperative fund to match worldwide contributions and then the Palestinian Government offered to fill the gap to meet the villagers' $33,300 goal.

Architecture above all is the expression of peace, love, and humankind development, and should help lead us to a better life as we continue to learn from people and nature. What then is expressed by Israel’s policy of demolition? While issuing tenders to build Israeli settlements on land they do not own, the Israeli Army delivers demolition orders to Palestinians who build on their own land. Detailed Israeli Army maps recently received by the Israeli human rights group BIMKOM: Planners for Planning Rights show over 12,500 demolition orders issued to Palestinian homes, schools, and shops in Area C.

I believe Architecture is a language of villages, cities, and nations, poor and rich individuals and communities, expressed through their structures. Al Aqaba Village, a model of neighborliness, hopes that their colorful, loveable homes will grow in value. Villagers want to give their town a future and provide a constructive and reassuring example of what peace looks like. Their success can end Israel's policy of demolishing of Palestinianhomes and begin to meet the needs of the 150,000 Palestinians who live in Area C. In Al Aqaba, our mission is architecture making peace.

Palestinian-Colombian Architect Hani Hassan lives and works in Palestine. Mr. Hassan won the European Center & The Chicago Atheneum 2010 International Architecture Award for his energy-efficient Desert House in Jericho.