WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society was among sponsors of a congressional briefing last month to describe the plight of Wadi Foquin, a Palestinian farming village threatened with extinction. The briefing in the Capitol Visitors Center was attended by more than 100 persons representing 50 congressional offices.
The briefing was organized through the efforts of the Friends of Wadi Foquin, persons within the United Methodist California-Nevada Conference who have been working to protect the small Palestinian village they contend is a microcosm of the situation in the West Bank. According to them, Israel and an illegal settlement above Wadi Foquin are virtually conspiring to push the centuries-old village into extinction.
Wadi Foquin's economy has been strangled due to the theft of 94% of the village’s land.
“Wadi Foquin is a small West Bank Palestinian village of approximately 1,200 residents near Bethlehem,” said the Rev. Michael Yoshii, pastor of Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif., and chair of Friends of Wadi Foquin. “Our church and a few others in the California-Nevada Conference have been in partnership with the village since August 2009.”
Wadi Foquin's economy has been strangled due to the theft of 94% of the village’s land under the occupation, according to Yoshii. The Buena Vista congregation and others in California-Nevada have stepped up to help develop alternative means economically for survival through efforts such as a beehive project. But the village’s sense of impending displacement exacerbated concern, leading to launch of an advocacy campaign in the spring of 2012.
The so-called separation wall
Proposed construction of the so-called separation wall threatens communities such as Wadi Foquin, whose residents not only lose more land, but find their movement restricted. Persons in Wadi Foquin find themselves cut off from neighboring villages, thus hindering commerce as well as access to jobs, schools and medical facilities.
The congressional briefing featured persons from the Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin and their Israeli neighbors in Tsur Hadassa. They described how their situation is unsustainable both for Israelis and Palestinians.
Speakers included the following:
- Fahmi Manasra, director of Outreach, Wadi Foquin CDP
- Ahmad Sukar, Wadi Foquin Village Council president
- Raed Samara, West Bethlehem District coordinator of Mayors & Village Councils
- Dr. Dudy Tzfati, genetics professor, Hebrew University & Resident of Israeli village of Tsur Hadassa
Speakers emphasized that although peace talks between Israel and Palestine have resumed, members of Congress may be unaware of the daily struggles of those whose lives urgently depend upon a resolution to the conflict. Wadi Foquin’s residential and agricultural land is being increasingly expropriated for expanding settlement construction. Farmland has been damaged by wastewater from a nearby settlement, Beitar Illit, which sits above Wadi Foquin.
Tzfati, a resident of the Israeli village of Tsur Hadassa, said he is troubled by what is happening to Wadi Foquin. “It doesn’t seem right,” he said.
A lot of work needs to be done, according to Tzfati. He said he joined the delegation because education is an important part of the solution. “The United States has a Constitution,” he said. “We don’t need to teach Americans about human rights because there is a strong history in human-rights movements. It is important to let Americans know what is happening and that it’s not just Palestinians, but also Israelis who object.”
Microcosm of larger issue
Manasra pointed out that Israel depends on the United States more than any other country. “When Israel does bad things, people accuse the Americans for it as well,” he said. “Wadi Foquin is a microcosm of the larger issue, and the urgency to solve the problem is critical.”
The separation wall, which already surrounds Bethlehem, is planned for expansion around Wadi Foquin. “The village will be suffocated completely,” Manasra declared. “We always have hope the peace talks will work, but these conditions should not continue while people talk peace. We always pray and hope because what are the other options for our future.”
Samara said he wanted to come to find out how U.S. people think about his country, and “its just cause.” Samara explained that he works with agencies to find projects that will make life better for Palestinians.
“Things are getting worse in the West Bank,” Samara said, “and it negatively affects all aspects of life. This is a bad occupation that makes life unsupportable.”
Many obstacles are being imposed by the Israeli authorities. For example, in addition to roads being closed, the Israelis manage Palestinian water supplies, according to him. “We have very little access to our own water resources,” he said. “It is managed by Israel, taken by Israel, and we have to buy the very little amount that they allow.”
Sukar, Wadi Foquin Village Council president, pleaded for help. “We have so many dreams,” he said. “We have the right to natural human rights. We have only dreams that are realities in other countries.”
As mayor, Sukar said he is always trying to make plans to develop the town’s infrastructure, but is thwarted by the occupation that prevents going forward.
“That’s why it’s mostly impossible to talk about development our country under the occupation,” Sukar said. “On a daily basis, our farmers — 50% of our population — just trying to reach their own fields are threatened by the settlers and the soldiers.”
Sukar said farmers are suffering because of the restrictions, renovation of building facilities discouraged, and periodically sewage from the settlement floods the farm land. “This contaminates our farm land and harms our good reputation in markets,” he said, adding that the sewage is supposed to be pumped to a treatment facility.
In 1948 when Israel was formed, Wadi Foquin consisted of 3,000 acres, according to Sukar. After the 1967 war, he said its boundaries shrunk to barely 900 acres.
The General Board of Church & Society was joined as sponsors of the briefing by Churches for Middle East Peace, Arab American Institute, Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace and Americans for Peace Now.
Editor's note: Wadi Foquin is a community development site supported by the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). You can read about the village in “A Window of Hope in Wadi Foquin,” New World Outlook, (November/December 2013).
You can hear an audio recording of the Capitol Hill briefing at Mondoweiss.
Learn more about Friends of Wadi Foquin.