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Palestinians bring plight of Wadi Foquin to Capitol Hill audience

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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A small Palestinian flag attached to a fence fluttering outside the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. (Photo: AFP)

A small Palestinian flag attached to a fence fluttering outside the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. (Photo: AFP)

While Israel’s right-wing Economy Minister was telling American audiences that the occupation doesn’t exist, a Palestinian coordinator for the district of Bethlehem was preparing to utter statements of a much different sort.

On November 19th, the coordinator, Raed Samarra, joined three others–two Palestinians from the village of Wadi Foquin and one Israeli–at a briefing in Washington, D.C. to talk about the village near Bethlehem that is beset by settlement expansion and the separation barrier. The talk was held in cooperation with Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office, and was sponsored by the Arab-American Institute, Americans for Peace Now, Churches for Middle East Peace and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.

In addition to Samarra, the talk featured Fahmi Manasra, director of outreach for for the Wadi Foquin Community Development Project; Ahmad Sukor, President of the Village Council; and Dudy Tzfati, a resident of the neighboring Israeli town just over the Green Line. Congressional staffers and others attended to hear testimony largely missing from the American discourse on the conflict.

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has not produced results, Samarra somberly noted in an interview a few days after he testified.  “20 years of waiting with no results on the ground. On the contrary, things are getting worse,” he said in a phone call from Washington, D.C. “Life is not normal.”

The November 19th briefing (you can listen to it here) was a tour de force on how exactly negotiations have failed. The speakers detailed how the settlement of Beitar Illit was gobbling up Wadi Foquin’s land; how the separation barrier was affecting their lives; and how sewage from the settlement was killing their agricultural fields. All of this has continued to happen as peace talks grind on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The village’s plight has been taken up by United Methodists in California, who have formed the Friends of Wadi Foquin. Through their efforts, Wadi Foquin has come to the attention of at least some legislators.

Mondoweiss obtained a letter about the village that was sent to a constituent from Congressman Joe Courtney, who represents a district in Connecticut. The Congressman acknowledged that the “Israeli government has issued land confiscation orders” to expand the settlement and that the village’s situation has been brought to the attention of the State Department, who “issued a statement acknowledging the importance of ensuring access to clean water for the villagers of Wadi Foquin.”

That news would be music to Manasra’s ears, who told the audience at the briefing that “we are trying to bring the reality to you to be aware of this situation..If we lose this land, ladies and gentlemen, we lose our existence.” To untrained ears, Manasra’s dire predictions would sound hyperbolic.  But Wadi Foquin has been losing its land and livelihood for decades.  In fact, Wadi Foquin, which sits right over the Green Line separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, already lost the vast majority of its land at the end of the 1948 war.  The village was blown up by the Israeli army in 1954.  In 1973, in a rare feat, the villagers were allowed to go back to Wadi Foquin. 1,200 people live there today.

Today, Wadi Foquin’s troubles stem from the settlement of Beitar Illit.  Founded in the early 1980s, it has one of the fastest population growth rates, and about 35,000 settlers live there on land confiscated from Wadi Foquin.

Many villagers of Wadi Foquin rely on farming to make a living–or at least they used to. The settlement has put a large dent in that lifestyle, causing high unemployment and forcing residents to work by constructing the very same settlement gobbling up their land.  Sewage from Beitar Illit has damaged fertile soil and water supplies. At the Capitol Hill briefing, Manasra said that this was killing their land and economy. Dudy Tzfati, an Israeli from Tsur Haddassa–an Israeli town where residents have supported Wadi Foquin in its struggle to hold on to their land–noted that rubble from the construction of settlements was also damaging the land. “The village is under existential threat,” said Tzfati.

The separation barrier that has de facto annexed Beitar Illit makes access to Bethlehem onerous.  When it was first being built, the route of the separation barrier would have encircled the village and damaged the flow of spring water in the village.  But villagers from Wadi Foquin, with help from residents of Tsur Hadassa, stopped the plan–for now. Still, the Israeli army could always decide to build that section of the separation wall, and meanwhile Beitar Illit continues to chew up Wadi Foquin’s land.  For all these reasons, the speakers said the U.S. should step in and take action.

“The U.S. has always told the world that the building of settlements on Palestinian land forms a real obstacle to making peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Samarra at the briefing. “It feels strange that the U.S. vetoes anything that asks Israel to respect international law, human rights or realizing Palestinian freedom.”

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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5 Responses

  1. Steve Macklevore
    Steve Macklevore
    November 22, 2013, 3:12 pm

    A few years ago some Palestinians gave a presentation and Q & A on the occupation to Senator Joseph Lieberman – at that time a Democrat for Connecticut. At the end he declared that he was ‘troubled’ by what he’d been shown.

    And then he did nothing but support Israel.

    Sadly, I suspect this presentation will have the exact same effect on the US politicians who attend it.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      November 22, 2013, 3:45 pm

      “At the end he declared that he was ‘troubled’ by what he’d been shown.

      And then he did nothing but support Israel. ”

      It’s the “liberal” zionist two-step. First, pretend to be a decent human. Second, support the Apartheid state anyway.

      • lobewyper
        November 22, 2013, 6:12 pm

        You can be a decent human as much as you like, but if you speak out against Israeli policy, you will definitely not have a long career as an elected representative of the USA. Say that you are a caring, concerned congressperson, and you know you are better than the competition. To preserve your own elected position, you have to betray your belief that land theft and many other injustices should be strongly opposed everywhere, and especially in countries that are our “friends.” Furthermore, if you chose to speak out against the Israelis, your own constituents would vote you out of office, given the impact of the mass media’s pro-Israel bias. So, Woody, what would you do if you were in congress?

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        November 24, 2013, 5:04 am

        I would put my principles before myself. I’d tell the truth about the israelis crimes, vote accordingly and offer legislation in that vein. and if the don’t elect me again than so be it.

  2. annie
    November 23, 2013, 3:48 am

    The village’s plight has been taken up by United Methodists in California,

    there’s a little extra history about Reverend Michael Yoshii, Senior Pastor of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, California and how that plight was taken up…

    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.

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