Beit Jala in Aramaic means “green carpet,” a fitting name for a city long known for its abundance of olive trees and fertile lands.
Despite the desirable landscape, the people of Beit Jala have faced many difficulties over the years due to poverty, conflict and occupation. When Anera started working in the town, residents were grappling with a long list of issues:
- Untreated wastewater threatening public health and the environment
- Lack of employment opportunities for workers and artisans
- A dilapidated government hospital
- No government preschools, and only 5 private kindergartens
- Lack of equipment to restore land and pursue farming work
- Since Anera first reached out to Beit Jala some 30 years ago, many of these problems have been eased through our sustainable development work in health, education and economic development.
Beit Jala Agriculture
Because of its reputation for rich farming land, it was no surprise that Anera’s earliest interventions in Beit Jala in the 1980s were agricultural.
Anera’s first project helped 750 farmers of the Beit Jala cooperative by providing two tractors and 12 agricultural machines. It was implemented in partnership with 32 cooperatives across the West Bank, originally aimed at maintaining the economic viability of Palestinian agriculture by increasing land efficiency, lowering production costs and generating jobs for the impoverished and unemployed. The project reached more than 4,000 Palestinian farmers and provided them the opportunity to rent the new agricultural machines, some of which were introduced to the region for the first time.
An additional grant was allocated to the Beit Jala Olive Press Cooperative to purchase a bulldozer to facilitate the work of its member farmers. The bulldozer helped clear vast acres of land in preparation for land reclamation. The project was also implemented at six other West Bank cooperatives.
Urban Planning for Economic Development
As agriculture developed, the town itself underwent rapid and often haphazard urban growth. Light industrial shops were sporadically scattered among residential areas in the heart of the city, which resulted in congested streets and noisy residential neighborhoods.
So, the Beit Jala Municipality welcomed Anera’s proposal of establishing a new light industrial complex on the outskirts of the city to relieve congestion in more populated areas. The complex initially housed 46 work units. Today, the Beit Jala light industry zone houses 57 workshops, which directly benefit hundreds of Palestinians and also contribute to the municipality’s income.
MEET A BLACKSMITH WORKING IN THE LIGHT INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Investing in Health & Hospital Infrastructure
Anera’s work also encompasses projects aimed at improving public health services and has reached out repeatedly to the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation (BASR) which helps people with physical, intellectual, or sensory disabilities. For over 20 years, Anera has provided to BASR dozens of wheelchairs, hearing aids and other supplies including medicines and disposables. The partnership continues to this day, with medical supplies and other aid.
In 2009 Anera addressed the dire conditions of Beit Jala Hospital, which was established in 1908 and remained the only government hospital in the entire Bethlehem district. Serving 170,000 people in the area, the hospital was in desperate need of a major rehabilitation.
Under the Anera-implemented Emergency Water & Sanitation & Other Infrastructure Program (EWAS II), and thanks to a generous USAID grant, Anera succeeded in rehabilitating the hospital’s major sections, including the emergency unit, surgery theaters, the outpatient clinic and x-ray department. The areas were remodeled, the ventilation system overhauled and maintenance improved. The project also created great job opportunities for local workers.
A year later, the EWAS II team was back in Beit Jala to remodel a municipality space to create a mother-child care clinic. The facility includes two examination rooms, a specialists’ room, vaccination unit, laboratory, pharmacy archive room, sanitation units and a storage area.
Ending Water Pollution in Cremisan
Organizations like BASR and surrounding communities in the Cremisan area of Beit Jala have also benefited from a sewage water network carried out by Anera, under EWAS II.
Because of the municipality’s limited financial resources, Cremisan was not connected to the main sewage network. Before Anera’s intervention in 2011, thousands of residents there had suffered from drinking water pollution and sanitary problems caused by wastewater infiltration from the water tanks. Anera put an end to water-borne illnesses and environmental pollution by installing 4,250 meters of sewage pipelines and connecting them to the Jerusalem sewage network.
Empowering Palestinian Youth and Children
In 2009, Anera reached out to another organization in Beit Jala to help empower the disabled. Through its in-kind program, Anera delivered 80 wheelchairs to Life Gate, an organization that helps physically disabled, deaf and mute children and youth become productive members of society. The organization offers social, physical and occupational therapy, medical care and various training workshops.
Preschoolers in particular have had a fair share of Anera’s care and attention too. With the launch of its early childhood development program (ECD) in the West Bank in 2009, Anera’s team of childhood and education experts have worked tirelessly to transform the lives of young children through:
- Improving school infrastructure
- Training teachers in best practices
- Encouraging emerging literacy skills
- Expanding expressive arts and activities
- Educating and involving parents and the wider community in child development
Beit Jala’s Ahmad Ben Hanbal preschool was one of Anera’s pilot projects, which targeted two preschools in Bethlehem and two in Nablus in 2010. After long days of learning and hard work, Beit Jala children and their families also now enjoy some a fun at the Anera-constructed family park, known as, Al-Bayyara.