IOCC Expands Program in the West Bank

Jerusalem/West Bank (Feb. 12, 2002) – International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is responding to the “man-made disaster” in the West Bank with a comprehensive program of rural development that is designed to create jobs, improve public health, clean up the environment and expand community services for Palestinians.

The two-year, $2.6 million program, funded primarily by the U.S. Agency for International Development, builds on an IOCC rural assistance project currently under way with the support of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The new program expands the reach of IOCC’s humanitarian assistance from four villages to 24 villages in the troubled regions surrounding Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah – 12 villages in the first year and an additional 12 in the second year.

“We are focusing on remote villages that have almost nothing, no presence of international organizations,” said Nora Kort, IOCC’s country representative for Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza. “We’re helping the poorest of the poor communities.”

The agreement with U.S. AID was signed on Feb. 12 in Jerusalem. “The people of Palestine have suffered great hardship,” said Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. “The Orthodox Church in the United States, having its roots in Jerusalem, is pleased that IOCC is helping to alleviate this suffering on a long-term basis.”

Ms. Kort said the program will address the No. 1 problem in the West Bank – unemployment – by creating more than 3,200 jobs. Unemployment in the West Bank is at 37 percent, and an estimated 46 percent of all Palestinians live below the poverty line. The average monthly income of a family of five is $400, Ms. Kort said.

The problem is worsened by the heightened level of hostilities between Palestinians and Israel over the past 16 months, she said. The closure of many Palestinian communities by the Israeli army has led to the loss of jobs and further economic hardship.

Most of the 24 villages, while in areas of Palestinian control under the Oslo agreements, are “isolated” because they are surrounded by settlements under Israeli control, Ms. Kort said. Many of them lack essential community services such as sanitation, kindergartens, women’s and youth centers, public health education and job training programs.

“Who takes care of these people? No one,” she said, noting that the IOCC program targets women, children and young people.

Many Palestinian village women have had little formal education beyond the sixth grade, Ms. Kort said. In the project, women will receive opportunities for community education, vocational training and marketing their skills for extra family income.

The project also will engage women in home-based agricultural production and in the production and marketing of traditional crafts. The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation in Silver Spring, Md., has agreed to market those products in the United States through the Melia Art Center in Jerusalem.

Most of the jobs generated by the project will be in the construction trades, for the improvement of the infrastructure in vulnerable rural areas, Ms. Kort said. Labor is needed especially for:

  • building retaining walls, hedging and fencing for agricultural purposes;
  • building and repairing agricultural roads;
  • renovating and repairing community centers for women and young people;
  • repairing schools and health clinics;
  • cleaning up debris and garbage from public areas; and
  • planting seedlings and trees.

“The main goal of the project is emergency employment generation that will see a long-term impact,” Ms. Kort said. “The impact is long-term because you’re helping to upgrade something that will be used for years to come.” Such projects will enable Palestinians to take better control of their lives and their future, she said. “This is a man-made disaster. Many women, because of the closures, cannot even get medicines for their kids, and they cannot reach hospitals. When they have a clinic in their own villages, it makes their lives easier.”

IOCC already has begun hiring local people to do the work and will provide on-the-job vocational training.

Ms. Kort said IOCC will work with an extensive network of local partners, including non-governmental organizations, engineers, contractors and village committees, to implement all aspects of the project.

“In accord with our mission to respond to the call of Jesus, IOCC will bring long-term assistance, hope and love to generations of Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian,” said IOCC Chairman Charles Ajalat.

IOCC also continues to provide short-term, humanitarian assistance to an estimated 5,000 people most affected by the violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

IOCC, founded in 1992, is the official humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians in the United States and works in cooperation with the Orthodox Church worldwide. Its international headquarters are in Baltimore, MD, and its Jerusalem office opened in 1997.