The bucolic Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin, nestled in a lush valley on the West Bank, is known for its fruits and vegetables, honey, olive trees, and natural springs. Situated near the green line with Israel, it lies five miles southwest of Bethlehem. Wadi Foquin is also a village fighting for its very existence.
Like many other Palestinian population centers, Wadi Foquin faces an unrelenting and harsh reality: expropriation of land by the Israeli government in order to build and expand nearby settlements and settlement roads. Indeed, the settlement of Betar Illit, east of Wadi Foquin, is encroaching on the villagers' lives in every way. In addition to confiscating hundreds of acres from Wadi Foquin since 1987, settlement growth and activity have obliterated vast swaths of grazing land, trees, and park land, contaminated the natural springs, destroyed irrigation networks, and resulted in an increase of the villagers' unemployment and poverty rates. And like other Palestinian villages and towns, Wadi Foquin suffers from the lack of freedom of movement, with frequent road closures and two Israeli military checkpoints that impede travel significantly.
These were some of the facts presented at a recent briefing on Capitol Hill to an audience of congressional staffers and community members. Three Palestinian leaders discussed the dire situation in the West Bank and in their village: Ahmad Sokar (mayor of Wadi Foquin), Kifah Manasra (professor at Al-Estiklal University in Jericho, originally from Wadi Foquin), and Shukri Radaydeh (director of the Bethlehem Local Governorate). The general secretary of the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, also made remarks about her church's association with Wadi Foquin. The General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church also supports the Wadi Foquin Community Development Project, which includes youth and women's programs, a community center, and educational trips to Palestine.
The Separation Barrier
"Security for whom, and at whose expense?" Henry-Crowe posed this question when discussing the separation barrier in the West Bank, also called the apartheid wall, which the Israeli government says increases its security. The wall, projected to be well over 400 miles when completed, snakes through the West Bank near the green line, and at times a big distance from this line, meaning that additional Palestinian land has been confiscated to build it.
For Palestinians, mobility and freedom of movement are profoundly circumscribed by the wall. This barrier separates relatives from each other, children from their schools, farmers from their farmland, entire villages from hospitals and universities and each other. Daily, many of them spend many hours going around it and traveling long distances. Between the wall and Israeli checkpoints, the average Palestinian wastes hours daily just trying to get to work, school, markets, and everyday destinations.
Once the planned separation wall is built and completed on the western side of Wadi Foquin, and Betar Illit and another settlement, Tzur Hadassa, are expanded, Wadi Foquin--as well as neighboring villages Battir, Husan, Nahhalin, Al Walaja, Khallet 'Afana, Khallet Al Balluta, and Beit Sakariya -- will be completely encircled and separated from the rest of the Bethlehem governorate and from the West Bank.
Raw Sewage from the Settlements
One-third of Israeli settlements' sewage treatment facilities do not measure up to code or are not in operation, resulting in 2.2 million cubic meters per year flowing directly into waterways or cesspits of settlements. These facilities can handle the waste of only about a fourth of the settler population. Betar Illit is no exception. A resident of Wadi Foquin says that not only does the settlement's waste water overflow to his village and and its next-door neighbor, Nahalin, but that the settlers have been deliberately pumping the sewage into the Palestinians' cultivated land, compromising the crops. This situation also contaminates the ground water in the West Bank, as the untreated waste reaches the aquifer. The ramifications extend beyond the water supply and into the crops and the air, resulting in digestive and respiratory illnesses in the Palestinian population.
Most of Wadi Foquin is located in Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and security control. In fact, over 63 percent of the West Bank is in Area C, a legacy of the Oslo Accords. This includes the 125 Israeli Jewish-only settlements, considered illegal under international law, and which house over half a million settlers and contain large military closed areas. Although the settlers are governed by Israeli law and enjoy all the rights of Israeli citizens, Palestinians in Area C are under martial law and have no meaningful say in policies that affect them. Consequently, Palestinians experiencing the human rights violations discussed above have nowhere to turn, no protection. For those living in Wadi Foquin, the Israeli government has announced plans to confiscate an additional 400 acres in the northern edge of the village--at its entrance--to build an industrial zone that would serve Betar Illit and the Israeli town of Tzur Hadassa to the west. This would mean seriously limiting access to the only road to Wadi Foquin.
Professor Manasra also explained that "women suffer double" because of the checkpoints throughout the West Bank: Israeli soldiers sexually harass Palestinian women at these checkpoints, and as a result, many families do not allow them to study away from home. There are 96 fixed and hundreds of "flying" (surprise) checkpoints throughout the occupied territories. These checkpoints also impede freedom of movement and contribute to unemployment and poverty, which are serious problems in many parts of the West Bank and Gaza. Such conditions often increase violence against women. She said that the military occupation's effects are felt socially, legally, economically, and psychologically.
Wadi Foquin is just one salient example of the difficulties of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. It is an instructive one in that it illustrates so many of the unjust practices of the occupation, such as the apartheid wall, checkpoints, land confiscation, settlement building, settler violence, and inequitable allocation of resources. It also highlights the dire consequences of Israeli military occupation and settlements on the Palestinian economy, human rights, the environment, and basic life. The United Methodist Church has forthrightly spearheaded a support and awareness campaign for Wadi Foquin, but the international community must do much more. We need to find ways to tackle the larger problem of the occupation and pressure Israel to end its colonial and discriminatory policies against the indigenous Palestinians, who have been living under Israel's military occupation since 1967.