Silwan Community Dialogue

Emergency Services in the Storm of the Century – MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks Join Forces

December 12 – 15, 2013. More than a foot of snow falls on Jerusalem over 2 days. It’s the worst December snow storm in Jerusalem since weather conditions began being recorded more than 100 years ago. Trees were down, electricity and telephone lines were knocked out, roads were blocked – all over Jerusalem. Residents were without electricity and telephone service for days. In a region where one snowstorm is considered unusual (Before the snowstorm in January 2013, the previous last snowstorm to hit Jerusalem was in 2008.), a storm of this magnitude had the potential of being devastating and disastrous, especially for the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, where physical infrastructures lag far behind other areas of Jerusalem and Israel.

We are proud to have 2 programs – MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks – that took leading rolls in helping the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem weather the storm, again. It can even be said that in the chaos that the storm brought, the networks we cultivated (MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks, see below) were the only ones that actually functioned. Not only did they function, they joined together to help residents weather the storm.

MiniActive set up virtual and real ‘situation rooms’ that coordinated the onslaught of reports and problems from the field, via its hundreds of volunteers throughout East Jerusalem. Those in the situation rooms were in constant contact with the appropriate service providers – from the electric, telephone and gas companies, with the Emergency Response Networks to try and clear roads and deliver vital goods to stranded families, to the municipality, reporting fallen trees – to report damages and find solutions to these and other urgent problems. Updates were uploaded to the MiniActive Facebook page.

Special cars used to help residents

Special cars used to help residents

The Emergency Response Networks that had been organized in a number of Palestinian neighborhoods and villages in and around Jerusalem were as ready as they could be. The populations of these areas had already been mapped (to know where all the doctors, nurses, social workers, contractors, owners of tractors and 4X4 vehicles were, etc. See here for more information). Practice drills had already taken place. So when the snow began to fall, the Networks knew what to do. They worked throughout East Jerusalem, from Jebel Mukaber and Sur Baher in the south to Silwan, and Sheikh Jarrach to Beit Hanina and Shuafat in the north, and even extended beyond the security fence to Kufr Aqeb. They succeeded in recruiting all the local 4×4 vehicles, tractors and other heavy machinery to clear away snow and provide aid to individuals in need. They cleared snow and alerted others to hazards. They helped go door to door to deliver emergency assistance to those in need.

Besides the immediate emergency relief, both programs cultivated communication between residents, and between residents and service providers. Residents gained confidence in their ability to take care of themselves. The end result – community solidarity toward improving their everyday future, together.

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Neighbors as Your Safety Net: Community Empowerment toward Emergency Readiness

Neighbors can be problematic (click here for a recent post about such neighbors), but they can also save your life, especially in an emergency. In the Emergency Response Networks program in east Jerusalem, we are helping bottom-up grassroots initiatives of residents to build the skills and capacity for emergency preparedness.

Imagine an earthquake. Especially in an area such as east Jerusalem, where infrastructure is poor – roads are narrow and poorly kept on good days, many buildings and additions did not take into consideration building codes and safety standards.

There is no time. Buildings have crumbled. Pipes and gas lines might have burst, power lines might be down. People might be trapped, and time is not on your side. All around the world, experts say that for the first few days – the community cannot hope for rescue teams to come from somewhere else. The formal rescue teams are going to be busy, very busy.

The best solution for these first few days is a team of local volunteers, who are responsible for the Emergency Response Network of the neighborhood. This team is trained in advance. As a part of their preparation, they create a detailed plan to have in place. All relevant infrastructure and equipment in the neighborhood will have been mapped – the schools and other public buildings, the health clinics, ambulances and other medical equipment, bulldozers, trucks and other heavy machinery, everything possible in the neighborhood that might help in an emergency. All relevant professionals in the neighborhood will also have been mapped and coordinated – from nurses and doctors to social workers to construction workers and engineers. They will have been organized into clusters by a number of resident-cluster heads. The Israeli police and other rescue workers will also have been notified, so that they know who from the neighborhood is in charge and so that rescue efforts can be streamlined.

We’ve been working to develop such Emergency Response Networks for the past 3 years, and currently there are trained teams in the neighborhoods of Jabel El-Mukaber and Silwan, Abu-Tor and Sur Baher, covering tens of thousands of east Jerusalem residents (out of 300,000 residents in East Jerusalem). Today they undergo practice simulation exercises like those described above. An earthquake is just one example of such an emergency to be prepared for. The concept of local team based on residents is novel. Usually in Israel these “local teams” are based on professionals who work in the community. But many of them reside outside the community, and it might be that in an emergency such as an earthquake, they will find it hard to come. The intensive mapping of resources is also unique to East Jerusalem – in neighborhoods that were originally villages of a few large families, where most people knew each other anyway, mapping and recruitment of community members that have expertise and tools (As bulldozers) is easier.

But we were frustrated…. The current training model enabled us to cover just 10% of East Jerusalem over 3 years. So now, based on what we’ve learnt so far, we are improving our pace. Utilizing a ‘Train the Trainers’ methodology, we are on the brink of training teams in all east Jerusalem neighborhoods over the next 2 years. Starting next week, on May 20, we are supervising the training of 12 Emergency Response Network trainers. These leaders had been trained before to be in their own local emergency team; now we are training them to train others. When these trainers complete the 40 hour course by the middle of July, they will then be able to organize and train volunteers in each of the neighborhoods, and survey the physical and human infrastructure in the neighborhoods. That work will take time (albeit, much less than in our previous model), but the results will be well worth the wait.

What is fascinating about this project is that neighborhoods do not only learn to save lives and save their neighborhoods in the case of an emergency. They also get to know one another and pool local resources. They are been empowered to help their community, whether they are doctors, social workers, teachers or construction workers. They are their own safety net. In the week of flood this winter (that ended with a full-blown snowstorm), these teams helped a lot in solving local problems of closed roads etc., whenever the citywide limited resources could not get in. This week showed the importance of these networks, even without major emergency situation.

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Silwan Well-Baby Clinic (Mother and Baby Centre) – March 2011 – Success!!

Be aware, this is a proud blog entry! The persistent efforts we made since the beginning of 2009 to re-open the Silwan Well-Baby clinic was for us a symbol for our unique work approach in Jerusalem. And now, that these efforts were successful, we feel that it helps us make the case for our approach. During this period of time, we have seen more successful examples for our way, but still, the success with this clinic is for us a milestone.

And now – to the details.

When we began our first steps with the community leadership of Silwan in the beginning of 2009, the issue of the Well-Baby Clinic was central. This critical service had been closed at the end of 2008 and some 100,000 people (including 15,000 babies and toddlers aged 0 – 5) were left without any way to receive in their neighborhood immunizations, track the children’s growth or development, check up on parents’ functioning, etc. Israel is very proud of its well-baby clinic system, in which 97% of all babies in Israel aged 0 – 5 are served. In east Jerusalem, only one-third of all children get to the few Israeli government operated Well-Baby Clinics. Another third receives vaccinations at alternative institutions such as the Red Crescent, UNWRA, etc., and no one knows what happens to the remaining third. After the Well-Baby Clinic was closed in 2008, due to budgetary cutbacks and after a problematic implementation, the densely-populated area of Silwan was left without any type of preventative health service for young children – not public, not alternative – a difficult setback for the health and development of small children in the area. Some of the parents were taking the infants to clinics outside the neighborhood, but many did not…

Following this development, it was only natural that we come into the picture. We described our work model in east Jerusalem in a short article. It is based on the principle of finding paths to dialogue based on enabling both residents of east Jerusalem and the bodies responsible for the relevant services to achieve tangible results. The JICC is not an advocate of the residents, nor are we are a PR company for the institutions. Our assumption is that, in many cases, more than are usually obvious, all sides are interested in finding solutions, and different obstacles (cultural gaps, political/social tensions, etc.) prevent both sides from finding a solution. Our job is to bridge these gaps and overcome these obstacles.

At the beginning of 2009, we turned to the professionals in the Municipality, who are responsible for Well-Baby Clinics in the city, and they agreed immediately in principle that the Well-Baby Clinic should be re-introduced. At the same time they also pointed out a long list of difficulties: from funding, which is supposed to come from the Israel Ministry of Health; finding a suitable place in Silwan, one that is both the right size and in the right location, that does not infringe on any building codes, and whose owners are willing to rent to the Jerusalem Municipality (no small challenge); successful marketing the service, since poor marketing in which many of the residents were put off from using the service was one of the main reasons the old clinic had been closed. On the other hand, the Silwan Valley Leadership Committee, which we helped to establish and mentor, expressed much interest in helping the process move forward.

We were on the cusp of success in late 2009 as the Well-Baby Clinic was placed in the 2010 municipal budget, thanks to a process that included all the relevant professionals as well as politicians in the Municipality, and community professionals and institutions. Unfortunately, in the last few days of 2009, right before the 2010 budget was approved, it was taken out, to our grave disappointment. We described our disappointment here in this blog. This reaction rippled into an article in Ha’aretz newspaper, which is quoted in the blog entry from 2009.

Yet, as we noted even then, we continued to work toward the goal that was common to all partners. Throughout an entire year, we made sure that the process was progressing – the Municipality turned to the Ministry of Health, the residents strengthened the request with a letter of their own, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reminded the Municipality and the Ministry of Health of their legal obligations. As a result, budgets were retained from the Ministry of Health, and the residents and the Municipality set out to find a suitable location in the neighborhood. Such a place was found, all the legal and technical aspects were worked out, and last Thursday, on 10 March 2011 a lease was signed between the building owners and the Municipality, and today the process of adapting it to the needs of the Well-Baby Clinic has begun.

We are celebrating with our many partners on the lease signing. In addition to the leaders from East Jerusalemand the professionals at the municipality and the relevant NGOs, this success could not be achieved without the help of the Goldman Fund and the Jerusalem Foundation. Our work requires precise application of efforts made by our staff to facilitate these unique processes in the city of Jerusalem – and thanks to these funding organizations, we can do it well.

But we are of course not resting. We need to make sure that it won’t take a long time to ready the building for use, to hire professional staff, that the service starts on the right foot with successful marketing efforts augmented by the residents, and more. In parallel, we need to begin the process of opening an additional Well-Baby Clinic in northeast Jerusalem, which is also in desperate need. Fortunately, we are more familiar with the process and with our partners, who will be happy to help us in this endeavor.

And of course, the Silwan Valley Leadership Committee, that can celebrate its success on this issue, continues to work on many different and varied issues in which municipal and national services need to be improved – garbage removal, road improvement, planning and construction, and more. Despite the political question as to the future of Jerusalem, east Jerusalem residents must have adequate municipal services. The alternative is unthinkable

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The Jerusalem Foundation’s quarterly publication (December 2010) focuses on the JICC

We at the Jerusalem Intercultural Center have had a very close and fruitful relationship with the Jerusalem Foundation since day 1. Indeed, they were among our founding partners and continue to be one of our important strategic partners today. In 2003, in recognition of our expertise and experience, we and the Jerusalem Foundation formulated a strategy that responds to the diversity challenges in the city. A critical element includes leading new initiatives that seek to train strong leaders and agents of change, who will be able to lead widening circles of children, youth and adults – each in their own context – toward a livable future in Jerusalem, regardless of future political realities. This has included training grassroots and project leaders, providing language and communication skills and acting as a resource for all. This past summer the Jerusalem Foundation also renovated our historic building on Mt. Zion, enabling participants in our programs to enjoy our special facility with modern comforts and safety.

Jerusalem Foundation Windows December 2010 - Cover

Jerusalem Foundation Windows December 2010 – Cover

This December’s edition of the Jerusalem Foundation’s quarterly publication, Windows, featured its leading coexistence projects, nearly all of them under the leadership of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center. The articles focus on our community work in East Jerusalem, our Cultural Competence in Health Program and our annual Speaking Arts Conference. These are, of course, are just a few examples of the work of the JICC in Jerusalem. On the cover, there is a picture of our building, newly-renovated by the Jerusalem Foundation through the generous support of Professor Dr. Jan-Philipp Reemtsma, the Hamburg Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture.

We appreciate this partnership with the Jerusalem Partnership and are excited to see it grow.

Link to the Windows publication (Acrobat – PDF) – click here.

For Acrobat 5 compatible version of the publication (in case the above does not open properly) – click here.

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Silwan Mother and Baby Centre – December 2009

In an article we published recently, we described our model for resident participation in decision making in East Jerusalem. This model aims to respond to the anomalous relations between Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the Israeli establishment. We focused on our special role as a non-partisan liaison agent who facilitates the dialogue between the two sides. At the end of the article, we pointed to one of the issues we have been working on – the Silwan Mother and Baby Center, that was shut down in December 2008, creating a void of baby care (including immunizations, growth control, etc.) for around 100,000 residents.

Indeed, last year, we received a request from residents in Silwan to help them in this case. We contacted the Jerusalem municipality and created a dialogue channel that involved all professional levels at the municipality, as well as all relevant portfolio holders at the Municipality Council. As a result the two sides achieved the following understanding: the municipality will fund the reopening of the center in 2010, while the residents will help in overcoming obstacles such as finding an appropriate location for the clinic in the village and spreading the word about the renewal of the service.

However, a week ago we found out that at the final stages of approving the municipal budget for 2010, the funding for the Silwan Mother and Baby Clinic was cut out. This story was covered on Haaretz Newspaper, December 20, 2009, in Hebrew and in English. Here are two citations from the article:

Professional workers in the municipality’s community authority recently recommended to the mayor that a well-baby clinic be opened in Silwan, which would also serve the residents of adjacent Arab neighborhoods such as the Old City, Ras al-Amud and Abu Tor. The recommendation came in the wake of discussions they had held with residents of Silwan under the aegis of the Inter-Cultural Center in Jerusalem [emphasis added]. It was suggested that a clinic be opened in the Jewish Quarter at the same time.

Haggai Agmon, director of the Inter-Cultural Center [emphasis added], a non-profit organization that works to assist the city’s different ethnic groups become involved in communal life, says that “the urgent need to open a well-baby clinic in Silwan was agreed upon by both sides but to my great surprise, someone took it off the budget at the last minute.”

In the following week, we helped the residents and the municipality officials in their efforts to retrieve the budget. In between, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), sent a letter to the Mayor, reminding him that there is a Supreme Court decision from 2001 demanding adding more Mother and Baby Centers in East Jerusalem. Nevertheless, so far the budget item has not been restored.

This is very disappointing, and maybe typical of the situation in Jerusalem. However, as a non-partisan organization that identifies issues that are important to all sides – we will continue to work in the coming weeks and months, with the residents and with municipality officials, towards the reopening of this important service for babies. In the course of last week, we found out how much support we have on all sides for our actions, and although we haven’t completed the mission yet, we feel that we are on the right track.

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