Text size

"What's the name of the street?" "City Hall Street." "No, Dura Street." "No, it's Yaffa (Jaffa) Street, here's the sign."

This confusion regarding the main street in the large town of Dura, south of Hebron (25,000 inhabitants), shouldn't be a surprise. Only a month ago the Dura Municipality completed a project of naming all the streets, and numbering all the houses. Until then, most of the streets lacked names and numbers. An agricultural village developed into a town, and the town has become almost a city, but the customs have remained those of a village. Who needs a name when everyone is familiar with the owner of the grocery story, and the large fig tree, and the moderate ascent to the square at the end of which is the first school, a massive stone building from 1930?

Some of the streets received names over the years, in a natural and logical process - School Street and Student Street, which is perpendicular to it. These names have, in fact, been preserved, and a month ago the signs were posted on the last houses on the streets. The main street, with the town hall on its eastern edge, is known by two logical names and now has a third one. The children returning from the day camp at the end of the street giggled in embarrassment when asked about the street name and started taking wild guesses. Even the workers in the garage on Jaffa Street still didn't exactly remember its name, although they have plenty of time on their hands: They repair only two cars per day, on average. People rarely use their cars. The closure is strict, and the alternate dirt roads discourage many from driving.

Under the conditions of closure, occasional curfew, and military attacks within and all around, a municipal committee found time to assemble, to examine maps (drawn by the municipality's active engineering department) and to suggest 300 names to a local panel of residents. Names were chosen from Arab and Muslim history and names of Palestinian cities, refugee camps and villages were chosen. They chose 134 names in all for the streets in the town's master plan. Of course, the name Shehada (Martyrs) Street was suggested. But no names of individual martyrs were proposed: not from this intifada, nor from the previous one, and not even from PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] history. In that way, they avoided unnecessary conflicts and competition.

In some of the instances when the municipality suggested which street would receive a particular name, the residents' committee decided on a different location. That's what happened, for example, with Dawayima, a name that arouses the same horror in Palestinians as the name Deir Yassin [where Jewish forces massacred Palestinian villagers in 1948]. Dawayima is a Palestinian village in the Hebron hills, which, according to a witness who reported what happened to the [now-defunct] socialist newspaper Al Hamishmar, was also the site of a massacre in 1948. Between 80 and 100 people, including many women and children, were killed (according to the harsh and detailed report in Al Hamishmar). Over 3,000 inhabitants of the village fled to Gaza and to the Hebron area, where they and their descendants live in refugee camps. The representatives in Dura thought that the name Dawayima Memorial should be given to a street in Dura where refugees from that area live.

Women must be included

This project, as provincial as it sounds, and as negligible as it may be in a period of news about bloody events, demonstrates that there is a reservoir of vitality, creativity and initiative that exists in various elements of Palestinian society. That is the hidden aspect of the daily confrontation with the continuing earthquake that Palestinian society has been undergoing under the conditions created since September 29, 2000.

The entire naming project cost $39,504.15: including work days, materials and equipment. This is according to the detailed document submitted by the municipality to the Norwegian and Dutch representatives in the Palestinian Authority. These two countries are among the important donors to a series of emergency initiatives for "creating sources of income."

The program for allocating emergency funding for work was formulated a short time after the outbreak of the bloody conflict in September 2000, when it became clear to what extent the unemployment created among the Palestinians - mainly because of the hermetic closure between Palestinian cities and communities - was not a temporary phenomenon.

The Norwegians, and then the Dutch, decided to introduce some new rules into the procedure for allocating donations, to learn from past mistakes, to prevent in advance, insofar as possible, new mistakes and mishaps. Among other things, they tried - consciously or subconsciously - to avoid the neo-colonialism that for years has usually accompanied the granting of donations, with the donors also determining how the money will be used (together with senior Palestinian officials). They turned to various municipalities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, informed them that a certain sum of money had been allocated for "creating sources of income," and said please, decide for yourselves what is most urgent, necessary and feasible.

The decision to work at the level of local government rather than the central government (a relevant Palestinian Authority ministry), stemmed first of all from the dictates of the situation: During the internal closure, the officials of PA ministries cannot move from place to place and thus learn about the needs of the various municipalities, decide on tasks or supervise the projects. Therefore it is easier for representatives of the two donor countries to make direct contact with the heads of local councils and municipalities. Experience has also taught that local government can be faster, less bureaucratic and more attentive to the immediate needs of the population than can representatives of the central government.

The Norwegians and the Dutch were aware of the negative connotations of working directly with the local councils: That's what the Israeli occupation government always did, they were told, and it tried to strengthen local rulers at the expense of the national leadership. Therefore, emphasize Martin Gischler of Holland and Elin Eikeland of Norway, from the development departments of their delegations in Ramallah, there is no bypassing here. The agreement is with the PA, the signature on the project contract is that of the Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. But everything is carried out on the local level.

From the start, the representatives of the two donor countries, who decided to divide the administration of the project between them, chose seven municipalities (Rafiah, Khan Yunis, Dura, Jericho, Salfit, Nablus and Jenin) that have proved they administer their budgets properly. This idea was not to waste time on administrative guidance. The sum of money to be donated was determined. From the start, there was agreement as to the purposes of the donation: to find projects demanding a large amount of manpower for a limited period. The salary: $8 for an eight-hour work day in the Gaza Strip, between $10 and $12 in the West Bank.

The workers would be employed for one-month periods. Allowing women to participate was mandatory. Raw materials and products should be bought as far as possible only from the local market, in order to encourage additional economic activity. The projects should be varied, in order to attract the widest possible array of unemployed people (manual laborers and professionals). Projects that would encourage additional employment should be examined. For that purpose, the municipalities held public meetings with the residents, during which proposals for projects were made. Popular-local committees were chosen, and they were the ones who chose the projects.

The Dura Municipality and about 50 villages in its district were especially creative in their choice of projects. For the first stage in Dura, which ended about a month ago, Norway and Holland allocated no more than $1 million, which was divided among 40 different projects. Dura allocated $120,000 for the projects from its limited budget (NIS 12-13 million per year, deficit: NIS 9 million) and 24 dunams. One thousand of the residents of the area worked, earning about one month's salary. Not enough, but in a situation where over 50 percent of the residents are unemployed and all the municipality's sources of income are paralyzed (mainly because there is no private construction, which brings in property taxes), the series of projects revived the local market to some extent.

Some of the projects, mainly in infrastructure and the construction of schools, involved the completion of previous projects funded by other countries. Some of the 49 projects are the flagships of Dura and its villages: It was decided to allow about 100 women in their twenties and thirties, who had married and started a family without managing to complete high school, to study and to take the matriculation exams this year. For this purpose, $15,000 was allocated for salaries for eight teachers, who taught the women for about half a year. About 50 of the women passed all the exams this year, some of them with honors. Several dozen other women participated in sewing courses. They sewed 6,000 school uniforms for very poor children, whose parents cannot afford to buy the clothes.

With money from Italy, the municipality is building its first public park with play equipment for children, trees and benches. Now, in the context of the Dutch-Norwegian project, a cafeteria will be opened on the site and leased to a local resident.

Gischler and Eikeland asked in a meeting a year ago to hear the people's evaluations, their reservations, their criticism. There was praise for the project, but criticism as well: Why isn't there an equal allocation of money among the various villages? Why were previous construction projects neglected rather than being completed?

There are projects that were supposed to reach Dura - and the roads are difficult - but now that we have succeeded in our matriculation exams, we want to study at university and need to think of projects that will help us continue to study. Everything was written down.

Through the back door, remarks Gischler, this project is also contributing to the strengthening of proper government administration: the municipality must give an open accounting to the public.

The mayor of Dura, Mohammed Abu Atwan, spoke frankly in front of an audience of about 50 men and women, who came to city on the dirt roads from all the surrounding villages: "Before this project we were like dead people. There were initiatives, there were plans, but there wasn't any money to carry them out. During the period of destruction and closure we, as a municipality, were like dead people. We only waited and asked what did they shell today, what did they break today? - in order to write a report on the damages. But with the projects we have begun to live again. We have returned to life."

The smiles of the women who completed the matriculation exams, the smiles of the residents from the tiny village of Beit al-Roush whose children will for the first time be attending a school in their village and the pride of the carpenter who made the doors for the cultural center and for the clinic in the village of Kresi, testify to the fact that this wasn't just empty words.