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26 December 2011

Palestinian Towns - Between a Wasted Past and a precarious Future

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A storm of change seems to have struck the Palestinian cities and villages; one whose presence is felt everywhere and whose source is rooted to the municipalities’ interest in strategic planning and development.

Municipalities’ attention to investment projects, along with the initiatives from villages’ and cities’ communities to roll the wheel of development in their homeland has left its mark everywhere in the streets and buildings, and took the municipalities’ roles to a higher level than just offering water and electricity supplies.

All this wouldn’t have happened before when those municipalities were suffering deficiencies and lacked community involvement in their work. Lack of financial resources and the political situation were the main reasons for the fragility of the Palestinian towns, as the occupation has had its toll on them from attacking the infrastructure to restricting education, and the financial situation has paralyzed any attempts for developing recreation and clubs for people or even developing  better water and electricity systems for towns.

What lifted municipalities towards their big change is The Municipal Development and Lending Fund, which supported municipalities and village councils to issue development plans and strategic ones to study the status quo of those towns, identify their needs and collect their potentials to upgrade all levels and extend the effect to reach to a real progress on a national level .

The Municipal Development and Lending Fund has structured a 4-year plan in which a real change in the policy of municipalities can be felt, and during which a comprehensive community involvement would reach its highest level in cooperation with the municipalities, and that would allow it to be the basis of creating a strategic plan for the future.

And in an interview with the CEO of ABC Consulting- Associates in Building Capacity, Waddah Abdulsalam, he emphasized the importance of the community involvement from Palestinian cities and villages that the Municipal Development and Lending Fund is applying by saying:  “Community involvement is important to include the needs and priorities of the citizen into the priorities and attention of the municipalities”, and added “This involvement does not only concern the citizen’s involvement in examining the needs, it exceeds that to reach the phases of planning, designing, monitoring and evaluation. Moreover, community involvement helps reduce the corruption inside the community, since the projects that get executed would be the ideas of the citizens who get engaged in every phase of the project, which would add to the transparency and accountability in the community. This also increases the feeling of ownership to the citizen, who would be filled with joy and pride if the project gets executed as it was his/her idea in the beginning, and that would motivate him/her to keep the project going and take good care of it”.

One of the most effective community involvement methods is that which the city of Jenin applied through establishing a Facebook page for the city, which received a remarkable attention from the city inhabitants and recorded high numbers of subscribers. This echoes the citizens’ interest in engaging all categories of the community in making decisions to develop their city, and sends a message that the municipality and the council are not the only decision makers.

In addition to that, the city of Jenin was active in promoting this idea through spreading posters in the streets that support community involvement and invites citizens to get into that sort of engagement to build better strategic plans to develop the city. There was also an important role played by Kofr Ra’I village to found a coordination committee with the men and women of the village to serve the same reason. The village of Seilt Al-Thaher followed up with an invitation for the citizens through mosques minarets to also get involved.  And the Village of Jaba’ held a meeting for its university students to discuss this idea and the meeting was attended by 500 students. Finally, the village of Seilt Al-Haretheyeh used water bills to promote this idea through advertisements and encouraging mottos on the back of the bills.

It has to be admitted that the strategic planning has had remarkable positive effects on the cities and villages it reached; it lifted the municipalities up and helped to form stronger relations with the private sector to build a real cooperation to develop their projects. This whole idea also has stressed out the fact that the citizen is the real core for development, and with better understanding from citizens to their needs and responsibilities in all aspects, from commitment to face consequences in order to achieve development, to paying water and electricity bills in the right time, eventually all this will bear worthy fruits for the individual, community and nation in general.

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