A WINDOW OF HOPE IN WADI FOQUIN
November 12, 2013
by Christie R. House
For a thousand years, Palestinian families living in a small village just west of Bethlehem have made a living from the fruits of their land. Wadi Foquin (“Valley of Thorns” in Arabic)]—whose residents are all Muslim Palestinians—was torn apart when the State of Israel was established in 1948. After Israel took 80 percent of the village’s land, its residents were forced to evacuate to refugee camps. Now that it is part of the Occupied Territories, what remains of this Palestinian village is surrounded by Israel and cut off from the rest of the West Bank.
Since 1948, about 1300 village residents have been allowed to return; but just as many cannot return and still live as refugees today. Over the last 17 years, a new Israeli settlement called Betar Illit, which looms over Wadi Foquin from the adjacent hillside to the east, has consumed about 175 more acres of village land. Betar Illit—one of the fastest growing illegal settlements in Israel today—is now home to roughly 80,000 Jewish settlers. A recurring problem for Wadi Foquin is that, periodically, the Israeli settlement dumps waste water right down the hillside, contaminating the Palestinian fields and leaving acres of land unfit for agriculture and raising animals. Agriculture has been Wadi Foquin’s main source of income.
During the last decade, the Israeli army delivered a seizure order to Wadi Foquin and three neighboring villages about 12 miles southwest of Bethlehem, demanding an additional 189 acres of land. “The army justifies this seizure as necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and to build a security wall,” explains Ata Manasra, a Wadi Foquin resident and professional tour guide. “The order has left our small village in crisis, its very existence threatened.” The seized land is being used for a towering wall, fences, trenches, and a road for the settlement that bypasses the village, cutting it in half. The Israeli security checkpoints also cut off the village’s access to Bethlehem, the main market for Wadi Foquin’s agricultural produce.
A Lifeline in the Valley
Yet the plight of Wadi Foquin has not gone unnoticed. For the past 17 years or so, various members of the global family of United Methodists have been visiting the village during their pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Coordinated by the General Board of Global Ministries’ missionary liaison office and by the General Board of Church and Society, this long, sustained effort to bring Christian visitors to meet Palestinians has brought a new awareness to many outsiders. Taught by their churches to regard present-day Palestinians as “the living stones” of the Holy Land, the visitors see and hear first-hand about the plight of Christians and Muslims living in the Occupied Territories under Israel’s control.
The Rev. Janet Lahr Lewis—a Global Ministries’ missionary and the current liaison for The United Methodist Church in Israel/Palestine—is one of those returning visitors. Focusing on advocacy and activism, Lahr Lewis is the main contact for Volunteer-in-Mission teams and other United Methodist visitors to the Holy Land. Many wish to follow the General Conference’s recommendation that they spend a significant part of their tour time with local Palestinians.
Another returning visitor, the Rev. Michael Yoshii—pastor of Buena Vista United Methodist Church in the California-Nevada Conference—has listened, understood, and devised a plan to help the struggling residents of Wadi Foquin. He suggested that United Methodist churches fund a community development project (CDP) in the village. Buena Vista UMC is already part of a network of United Methodist community development projects in the United States. Through this church’s wider outreach, Wadi Foquin has become the first international community development project in the network.
Three United Methodist churches—Buena Vista UMC, Trinity UMC, and Berkeley UMC—have been engaged in a partnership with Wadi Foquin since August 2009. Partnership assistance, including financial aid, has also come from the California-Nevada/Israel-Palestine Task Force of The United Methodist Church, which has underwritten not only annual visits to Wadi Foquin but also projects supporting the economic survival of the village.
Ata Manasra, who helped launch the community development project in Wadi Foquin, has become the project’s director. He says that the developers started with small steps, moving slowly and cautiously because, as he explains, “We didn’t want to make promises to people and then fail to achieve those promises.”
The developers chose beekeeping for their first project, which turned out to be a great success. “Next, we rented a building in Wadi Foquin village to be our headquarters,” Manasra continued. “Then we started with the youth and young men who have no options for work and no opportunity. We are developing leadership-training courses for them, including Hebrew language classes to help them in the Israeli context.” The project also introduced basic first-aid training. The closest emergency room is in Bethlehem. At any moment, Palestinian villagers may not be able to get through to Bethlehem, so access to first aid has been vital in emergencies.
“Women,” Manasra pointed out, “have an important part to play in this community development project. Not only are they half of the community, but women have proven that they have more commitment to the community development project than the men do. The women feel that they are here to help their families—their husbands and children—who can find no opportunities on their own. So,” he concluded, “we introduced programs for embroidery and basket weaving for the women. We just finished the first phase and hope to start the next phase soon.”
Thus far, the projects in Wadi Foquin have been entirely funded by United Methodists—primarily by churches in the California-Nevada Conference. But Manasra is hopeful that more faith communities (perhaps even a Muslim NGO) might also get involved. The very fact that Protestant Christians—Methodists from the United States and Europe—have invested in the development of the all-Muslim village of Wadi Foquin has raised the consciousness and understanding of its villagers.
“This is something that really touched our hearts,” said Manasra. “For us, it means a lot, believe me. Why did a Christian organization like the Methodist Church and its Global Ministries pay attention to our little village? I think these Christians are living out the message of Jesus Christ in the right way. Being a tour guide, I know the Bible very well. And I know, when you are really full of the words of the Bible, you do exactly what your church has been doing. I think you really recognize that we are all the children of God. The words, the teachings of Jesus, are always in my mind. Jesus encouraged us to do things for others, no matter who they are or where they come from.”
The community development project in Wadi Foquin tries to provide a window of hope for farmers and for young women and men in the village. Manasra hopes this mindset will continue, with more windows of hope consistently opening to guide people safely through the desperate conditions they have long faced.
“We have our own plans,” Manasra mused. “But God also has His own plans. Usually, God’s plans work much, much better than ours.” Manasra then compared the working relationship of United Methodists and Palestinian Muslims with bees working together in a beehive colony. “Everybody is involved,” he said, “and works with one goal in mind—the good of the beehive community. We are like a global beehive, and we are all guided by God."
Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine. Ata Manasra continues his work as a tour guide in Israel/Palestine in addition to his responsibilities for the community development center in Wadi Foquin. This article originally appeared in the November-December issue of New World Outlook. Used by permission.
HOW CAN YOU HELP WADI FOQUIN?
The Rev. Michael Yoshii has several suggestions for congregations that want to protect and preserve what is left of Wadi Foquin.
• Contact your US senator and representative, along with the Secretary of State, and let them know that you are concerned about the future survival of the village of Wadi Foquin. Explain that The United Methodist Church has a partnership with the village.
• Inform your congressional representatives of the planned briefing in November 2013 and urge them to attend.
• Share this information with your pastor and local congregation through your Mission Committee and/or Church & Society Committee.
• Contact us at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org to join our advocacy campaign.
PHOTO Courtesy of Wadi Foquin CDP
A Wadi Foquin resident points out the quickly rising buildings of the Betar Illit Israeli settlement that is taking the village land by force.