Congress members advocate for the Palestinian village of Wadi Fuqin

Michael Yoshii

Mondoweiss  /  August 5, 2023

Members of Congress are calling on the State Department for an “immediate halt to all demolitions and property seizures in Wadi Fuqin,” a West Bank village under threat by the expansion of the illegal Israeli settlement of Betar Illit.

On July 25, twelve members of Congress issued a letter to the State Department calling for an “immediate halt to all demolitions and property seizures in Wadi Fuqin.”  The members include Reps. Barbara Lee (CA); Jan Schkowsky (IL); Rashida Tlaib (MI); Ilhan Omar (MN); Lloyd Doggett (TX); Mark Pocan (WI); Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC); Greg Casar (TX); Judy Chu (CA); James McGovern (MA); Raul Grijalva (AR); Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL).

Wadi Fuqin is a small agricultural village located in the Bethlehem district of the West Bank. Known in the region for excellent produce marketed in Bethlehem, the village has been under threat by the gradual development and expansion of the illegal settlement of Betar Illit.  Betar Illit is one of the largest settlements in the West Bank, boasting a population of 60,000 with plans to expand to 100,000. This is in contrast to the 1,300 population of the village. The village is located on the Green Line, the internationally recognized boundary between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Yet, the boundary has been completely ignored as settlement infrastructure has been developed in a contiguous expanding Israeli footprint encroaching upon Wadi Fuqin land, as well as the land of neighboring villages of Husan and Nahalin. 

This recent Congressional advocacy was initiated in 2021 when the village learned of plans to confiscate farm properties for constructing an Israeli road through the village as part of the settlement transportation infrastructure. Road construction always precedes housing development. So this road is a critical domino in the expansion of settlement activity not only near Wadi Fuqin but throughout the entire Gush Etzion settlement bloc.  A letter was sent by members of Congress to the State Department in October 2021 to address the proposed road and the potential loss of farmland for the village. While the road construction has been delayed for the time being, since that time, a series of aggressive actions increasing the land takeover and property demolitions in Wadi Foquin has taken place since that time.  

On March 22, 2022 an Israeli bulldozer accompanied by the Israeli military uprooted 30 olive trees belonging to an agricultural family. On May 17, 2022, confiscation orders were issued claiming land for the State of Israel on 50 dunams or approximately 12 acres. On December 21, 2022, Israeli bulldozers uprooted trees, crops and demolished agricultural facilities on 15 acres belonging to one farm family. On December 28, 2022, land seizure orders were issued for 84 dunams of land that run along the route of the proposed road towards the village of Al-Jaba’a to the south of Wadi Fuqin. This land has been designated for constructing a military road along the same corridor as the proposed road for settlement support.   With these planned roads, the Israeli settlement of Gavaot near the village of Al-Jaba’a is also primed for expansion. The letter to the State Department states that these collective actions “threaten the very existence of the village.”  In reference to the expansion of settlements and their infrastructure, it further states that this is “antithetical to U.S. policy.” 

The Friends of Wadi Foquin, a United Methodist-based partnership with this Muslim village has initiated this advocacy campaign. The Friends of Wadi Foquin supports community development projects in the village, annual pilgrimages to the Holy Land/Palestine, and advocacy work. Janet Lahr Lewis, now retired from her role as the United Methodist Church Liaison to Palestine and Israel, was the key consultant in establishing the partnership in 2009 between United Methodist congregations and the village of Wadi Fuqin. In her encouragement of congregational engagement, Lewis has always asserted that Wadi Fuqin was a “microcosm of the systemic oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank.”   This theme was amplified in a recent webinar hosted by Friends of Wadi Foquin featuring the Rev. Don Wagner, a long-time Palestinian advocate and author. 

In the webinar titled “Crisis in the Unholy Land: Wadi Foquin – A Microcosm of the Critical Moment for Palestine,” Rev. Wagner vividly described how we are in the latter stages of the Zionist settler-colonial goal to replace the indigenous Palestinians from their homeland. He further cited the ascension of the Ultra National Religious Zionists within the Israeli Knesset and the “unholy” alliance between Christian Zionists and the settler colonial enterprise where religious beliefs and biblical mandate justify the full annexation of Palestinian land. It is no coincidence that settlers recruited to live in the settlement taking land from the village of Wadi Fuqin come from this sector of the theological diversity in Judaism. The full annexation of Palestinian land is a policy advocated by the current coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu utilizing these “unholy” alliances.   The critical moment for Wadi Foquin is a microcosm of the critical moment for all of Palestine.   

The Friends of Wadi Foquin partnership has been inspired by the life of Yusef Manasra,  a sheikh well respected in the village for his historic leadership and his devout adherence to his Muslim faith. Manasra nurtured our interfaith relationship by always encouraging us to follow God, no matter how small or large our activities, and to trust that God was with us. He shared his blessings for us in a rare gesture in 2014, about five years into our partnership. On our trip to the village that year, he greeted our delegation at his son’s home, took off his abaya (cloak), and proceeded to place it upon me. Quite surprised and somewhat taken aback by this gesture, I asked his family members what this meant – and they interpreted this to be a sign of trust and a blessing for our partnership – one between a Muslim village and Christians based in the U.S.   The passing of the abaya followed his gift to me of valuable and precious prayer beads signifying our interfaith bonds.  

We were the people who were from a faith and a country highly responsible for their systemic oppression, and their trust in us was not automatically given but needed to be earned. Five years into the partnership, that trust had finally been realized through our faithful actions. Manasra passed away three years later at the age of 94, with throngs of people coming to his funeral to give honor and tribute to his life. Pictured in the photo above, Manasra is standing in front of his home in the village, looking across at the illegal settlement of Betar Illit on the opposite hillside. His cane is raised in the air in a display of defiance and resistance to the takeover of his home and his village, which he vowed to never allow happen. We continue to honor his legacy and feel his ancestral spirit present with us in all that we do.  

Twelve members of Congress have initiated a small gesture from their social and political context. We invite persons of all faiths and secular contexts to do what they can to amplify their voices to your Congressional representatives and the White House. But just as important, we invite you to also amplify the voices of the people of Wadi Fuqin, and all Palestinians, in whatever ways you are able – big or small.  

Rev. Michael Yoshii is a United Methodist clergy, retired in 2020 from congregational service, and now serving as the Co-Chair of the Friends of Wadi Foquin