Reverend Michael Yoshii, Senior Pastor of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, California, is heading off to Washington DC today to meet with the House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Rev. Yoshii is meeting with US officials on behalf of the Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin near Bethlehem. Wadi Foquin’s economy has been strangled due to the theft of 94% of their village land and the occupation. Rev. Yoshi and the Buena Vista United Methodist Church congregation stepped in to make a difference and soon thereafter other local churches and Bay Area residents joined in. More on how below, first…
“We’re looking for the Lantos Commission to set up a hearing about the human rights violations,” said Yoshii, who also eyes a potential trip to New York at an unspecified time. “We’re also leaning toward a hearing with the United Nations Human Rights Council.”
“Over the years, Betar Illit has grown from 10,000 to 40,000 people,” Yoshii said. “It has encroached on Palestinian land, sewage has seeped in from Betar Illit, and construction debris also has hurt by drying up water springs.”
As a result, Yoshii and fellow Wadi Foquin advocates contend, much of the village’s agricultural land has been damaged. Construction of separation walls also has hampered communities such as Wadi Foquin, whose residents not only lose more land, but find their movement restricted. Subjected to random checkpoints, those living in Wadi Foquin find themselves cut off from neighboring villages and important roads, thus hampering commerce as well as access to jobs, schools and medical facilities.
Support for Palestinian villages such as Wadi Foquin often stirs controversy. But advocates look at the matter beyond any political or demographic considerations.
“It’s a human-to-human thing,” Yoshii said. “It’s quite heart-wrenching when you see the conditions under which the people are living. Our focus is on them.”
Three years ago, Wadi Foquin advocates (known as “Friends of Wadi Foquin”) began the Beehive Project, which purchased beehives for the village to use in the production of honey as a means to a livelihood. In addition, the Friends of Wadi Foquin set up a community center in the village from a house that had been abandoned.
“Some things are better because (Wadi Foquin residents) are getting help, but in the bigger picture, things are worse,” Yoshii said. “They would like to have a regular life like you and me. We want for them what we want for ourselves.”—
In August 09 the Buena Vista United Methodist Church entered into a Sister Village Partnership with Wadi Foquin through the Wadi Foquin Bee Hive Project. The congregation kicked off their project with “Bee Hive Sunday” which included a prayer ritual where participants wrote messages on origami bees for the people of Wadi Foquin. Their project provides beehives to the village for the cultivation of honey. It has since grown to include other local churches and Bay Area residents.
Although I do not know Rev. Yoshii personally I know of him as he is a popular, well loved person in the Bay Area. I was in attendance when he led a prayer on the first anniversary of the 08-09 Gaza Massacre in memory of all who died in that tragedy. He is a cherished and respected citizen and his work on human rights issues has won him awards and accolades over the years.
May the force be with you Rev. Yoshi.