Vera Baboun is the first female mayor of Bethlehem. She has a degree in African American literature and has taught English literature at Bethlehem University, where she was also the dean of student affairs.
In this interview Ms Baboun was very frank about the financial problems facing Bethlehem.
There are numerous administrative issues facing Bethlehem such as efficiency in providing services and need for one-stop shop and for a strategic plan. However progress is being made in addressing these issues. For Bethlehem municipality waste disposal is a big challenge, and here they work with Hebron Governorate through a committee for Higher Joint Council Services for Southern Palestine.
She said: “We are in a severe financial crisis as a nation and a municipality… I am hardly able to meet my payroll obligations because estate taxes which citizens pay for the municipality go first to the state which is not giving them back to the municipality.”
There is a need for international aid to help build infrastructure and it is difficult to attract aid without personnel expert in proposal writing.
She acknowledged that she encounters significant challenges “simply because I am a woman…in the masculine community, the patriarchal community” but sees her election was important since she and her colleagues were elected by a significant majority, although she insisted that the electoral success could be due to the popularity of the coalition she headed as much as to her leadership. “Was it the leader or was it the bloc?” she said.
She was unwilling to speak on behalf of younger women regarding her position as a role matter and quoted Gandhi saying “ be the change you want to witness” . She felt that in relation to the young women it is up to them to make their own choices.
She shared her vision on twinning and the sister cities which she sees as Bethlehem’s connection to the international community given the political situation in Palestine.
She said: “Our two state solution is in jeopardy. Kerry is doing his best in order to reach a convincing resolution but this is still in the far horizon”
The Mayor looks to the twinnings as cooperation in establishing projects in Bethlehem, to create a different entity in Bethlehem.
“If you talk about who we are – we are Palestinian in Bethlehem, there are the Israelis and then there is the international community, the third party I am hoping will be to be very active in Bethlehem.
In looking to the future: “What if the two state solution does not happen? How can we in Bethlehem sustain ourselves?” This type of sustainablity addresses the international community through the twinnings. It is a matter of bringing the twinnings together so I have invited all the twinning cities in Italy to come to a conference in Bethlehem to make the relationships more manageable.
About the BDS campaign asked if she had views about that she said “yes, definitely. The UN recognition of the state of Palestine is creditable and should continue to make the state a viable state, witnessed and lived. The boycott is part and parcel of pressure on Israel. Since January since the recognition the rate of settlement builidng increased 174% the highest in the history of Israel.
The boycott should mainly relate to stopping the building of settlements. The number of citizens in Bethlehem governorate is 199 000 and the number of settlers 78 000. Strategically speaking, if we don’t act now where will we be in 10 years time?
As the Israeli Minister for Defence announced in the media two days ago the Palestinians will be the the settlers in Israel.
Interview by Jennifer Killen, Bethlehem, Palestine, 9 June 2013
Vera Baboun, speaking at Focolare Movement gathering, 25 April 2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxX9jd4YTAA
Settlements report 2012 - documenting a history of settlement building since 1967 (as well as providing a context from 1948)
Full title: Human Rights Council, Report of the independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, Twenty-second session, Agenda item 7, Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon
Ya’alon: Withdrawals Entice Enemy, Ynet news, 10 September 2009
The Palestinians’ West Bank,
Squeeze them out, Susiya, 4 May 2013
“As Jewish settlements expand, the Palestinians are being driven away”
2005 Local Election elections results in Bethlehem
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), ‘Report on Palestinian Elections for local councils: Round Two’, 2005
Overview of the 2nd Round of Local Elections (2005)
“The Oslo negotiations process in the early 1990s resulted in authorization for the Palestinians to hold presidential, legislative, and local elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Presidential and legislative elections were held in 1996, but local elections were postponed by Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat until shortly before his death in November 2004. The Ministry of Local Government, headed by Minister Jamal Shobaki, announced that elections for local government would take place in several phases from December 2004 to December 2005.”