“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” could well be the motto of the Beit Doqu Development Society. From humble beginnings in 1988, the organization has developed to offer a multitude of services for its 2000 village residents.
EAPPI met with the Ikrina Rayan, the director of the Beit Doqu Development Society in early March, to learn more about the village, to learn some of their challenges, and to explore opportunities for ways that EAPPI may assist the villagers.
Beit Doqu is a small agricultural village of about 2000 inhabitants, nestled among terraced hills and scenic valleys, northwest of the Old City of Jerusalem.
In days gone by, the village enjoyed prosperity from its agricultural exports to the Gulf States and its close proximity to Jerusalem. However, the Israeli closure policy in the West Bank that began in the mid 1990’s have led to a severe restriction of movement, impeding exports and access to jobs and resulting in the diminishment of the village economy. In addition, the rapid expansion of Israeli settlements, the building of the road network to support the settlements, and the building of the Separation Barrier have all resulted in the loss of large tracts of agricultural land, resulting in a loss of income, as well as further impeding villagers ability to reach their workplace, schools and medical services.
Beit Doqu Development Society is a non-profit charitable organization that was started by young people from the village in 1988 to provide cultural¸ social, agricultural and health services in the community. The goals of the organization are to create new job opportunities, assist in the development of local infrastructure, and work in the field of childhood development.
Although Beit Doqu is located only 13km from the Old City, the journey to get there was lengthy. Given the presence of the Separation Barrier and the need to pass through the Qalandiya checkpoint, a direct route was impossible and so the trip took almost one hour. As we drew closer to the village, the rich agricultural potential of the land became obvious.
Mr Rayan welcomed us warmly to his office, and began to tell us about the village and the area. With the Separation Barrier surrounding the area on 3 sides, there is now only 1 road into the village. For the last 3 or 4 months, the Israeli army has been holding flying checkpoints (checkpoints without permanent infrastructure that consist of army vehicles stopping all passersby and checking ID) along this road on a twice daily basis, morning and afternoon. With these flying checkpoints creating delays of 1-3 hours and with no option for an alternate route, village residents are frustrated that they are late for work, school and appointments. These checkpoints do not involve crossing the Separation Barrier, but rather are blocking travel within the West Bank.
Another major issue of late has been the arrest of young men ages 18-24. These men are being charged with alleged offences dating back 10 years or more, including the usual charge of stone throwing. The men are usually beaten while in interrogation until they eventually confess. They are commonly held in detention for weeks to months, must go through military court, are fined 4000-6000 NIS ($1500-$2000 Canadian) and then released. Since January of 2012, 64 young men have been arrested. The cumulative fines, combined with lost wages from time served in detention, have created economic hardship within the village.
There are only 2 farmers from the village with land on the other side of the barrier. Both are unable to go to that land as they have been blacklisted by the Israeli’s, making it impossible for them to get permits to access their land. Other farmers from surrounding communities who have land on the other side of the barrier must apply for permits to go to their land (which may or may not be granted), and then cross to their land at agricultural gates that are open certain times of the day during certain times of the year. Their inability to access their land on a regular basis has led to a diminished productivity of the land. This, in combination with the fact that many of the farmers have been unable to get permits for harvest has led many of them to give that land up as it is not economically viable to continue to farm it.
Another challenge has been the selling of the produce. Traditionally, farmers harvest their fruit and vegetables in the early morning, taking it directly to market. With the limited hours of the agricultural gate, farmers with permits could enter their fields in the morning but then the gate was closed until it was opened again in the late afternoon, making it impossible to get the harvested produce to market that day. The next day, the produce had diminished in quality and did not sell well at market. This is an area where the Development Society has been able to help. They were able to build refrigeration and processing facilities, and now buy the produce directly from the farmers, hire local people to do the processing, and market the final product in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The Development Society also seeks to enhance the status and role of women through their Women’s Center, which was established in 1996. In 2010, they partnered with the Jerusalem based fair trade organization Sunbala, and began a jewellery making project. The project aims to provide an income generating opportunity for young women from the village while helping to preserve the traditional artisan heritage of Palestine. While touring through the facility, we saw many of the beautiful jewellery pieces the women have created. Their works are sold through Sunbala, at outlets in Jerusalem.
One of the major issues facing villagers has been a lack of water. Each house has a rainwater cistern, and additional water is purchased through the Israeli water company Mekerot. Villagers were finding that the Mekerot water supply was fine during the winter months but that it was unreliable during the summer. During the months of April through to the end of November, Mekerot was shutting the water off totally for all but one day every 2 weeks, and for that one day the water pressure was very weak. Through a partnership with the Japanese government, the Development Society was able to oversee a project that installed an additional 80 water cisterns, each holding 1000 cubic metres of water, in the village. These cisterns collect rainwater during the winter months that is used later for household consumption. An additional 60 water cisterns have been installed for field use, enabling the villagers to grow higher valued crops that require more water (eg. tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beans and peppers), leading to an enhanced village economy.
The Beit Doqu Development Society are exemplary in their work to assist residents deal with the burdens imposed by the Israeli occupation. It is, however, a difficult and tiring journey for villagers to walk. Towards the end of our discussions, Mr Rayan said rather wearily, “You have been working for years, but on the ground there is no change. People are losing hope.” He expressed a reality that we see all too often. The weight and burden of this occupation is wearing people down. 46 years of oppression has taken a toll. It is unavoidable.
After some discussion, the only role Mr Rayan could see EAPPI having was to supplement the presence of other organizations such as ICRC, OCHA and UNDP at the agricultural gate during the harvest season in June, July and early August. He felt similar assistance would be helpful in October for the olive harvest. We have passed on this request to the EAPPI office, and hope that future Jerusalem teams will be able to assist in this way.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,