Rev. Neal Christie
Village life is at the heart of Wadi Foquin a community of about 1,300 people living only five miles from the bustling Palestinian city of Bethlehem in the Occupied West Bank.
Adam Manasra’s family has lived and farmed here for generations. Sponsored by Friends of Wadi Foquin since this past August, 25-year-old Manasra has taken time from his career civil engineer to visit eight United Methodist Conferences to share about community in development in his village. Manasra is the coordinator of the Narjis Community Development Project, a UMC Advance Project. This past week, has spoken at Dumbarton UMC and Capitol Hill UMC in the Baltimore-Washington Conference as well as making several Senate and House office visits to describe the impact that the growing construction of illegal Israeli aettlements are having on the land, the water, and the people. Manasra plans to itinerate again in the Baltimore-Washington Conference this November.
“The effect of Israeli government policy on the West Bank has been to create a Swiss cheese effect. We are losing many things every day up to 90 perecent of this small, quiet village. We have been enjoying living there for ages and for thousands of years. Like your small communities we depend on a clean environment,” Manasra said. The settlements in Wadi Foquin are the second largest in the West Bank. “You can imagine that you have been using this land for ages and growing your crops and your trees and everything there, and surprisingly, you will go there, and it's illegal to use your own land, since this is part of the military orders and confiscation orders.”
Wadi Foquin has served as breadbasket to for the region exporting fruits, vegetables, honey, and olives even to Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Manasra shared with the congregations, “We were well known for our crops” Now its eleven natural springs which sustained crops have been reduced to five. And we used to enjoy our life there. It was a very peaceful and quiet place and filled with nature.” Since 1967 village land has been appropriated by the Israeli government with less and less coming under the direction of the Palestinian Authority control, and more land taken by settlements or cities. “They are, of course, building their cities and towns and their illegal settlements all over, and they are trying to, as you see, to separate, to separate from us,” he said. About 60 percent of the settlement buildings remain empty even as village resources are diverted to sustain them.
The impact of the settlements is human isolation, and curtailed freedom of movement. Compounding this what has been called am apartheid road built for Palesti Manasra described: “The Israeli military is building this wall inside of and between our communities, between our cities, to separate us, and we are further isolated from our neighboring communities, and settlers take more land. One mother in the village named Jamil, moved her family to a cave to be closer to their farm and to secure their land, because they received many confiscation orders for their home and farm.”
“Christian and Muslims in Village social life, as all the Palestinian communities, we enjoy our traditions. We enjoy our celebrations. We help each other. We have different, like traditions. We give our children the chance and opportunity to enjoy their childhood and to have good memories before they grow up and realize the situation.”
Israeli settlements have continued to expand over the past twenty years. Wast from the construction now covers the east side of the village. Wastewater has contaminated the water source and water ways. Olive trees have been bulldozed. Manasra explains: “To grow and harvest olives it takes the whole family to do it, and for us, like in our traditions, we have many songs to the olives. Olive trees are very holy to us and under the cover of the army we watch them bulldoze and destroy your land. And they are going to build this industry zone there. And of course, you can imagine, after building an industrial zone, it's like filled with factories and filled with chemicals and everything. And the easiest thing is to throw their waste on our land and destroy our environment more and more.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Delegate Elenor Holmes Norten with ten other Representatives have written to the U.S State Department regarding Wadi Foquin, “The series of actions by the Israeli government over the past 18 months, would lead to the seizure and demolition of properties in Wadi Foquin, and essentially reduce the footprint of usable land while squeezing the village from the east and west. Further, these actions demonstrate lack of respect for the property and dignity of the people of Wadi Foquin, impede the potential to maintain peaceful relations, and threaten the very existence of the village. These actions are antithetical to U.S. policy, which regards the expansion of settlements and their infrastructure as a significant obstacle to securing a two-state solution. We urge the State Department to strongly communicate our concerns to the Israeli government and call for an immediate halt to all demolitions and property seizures in Wadi Foquin, including halting any planning or construction on proposed Highway 3742, military roads, and sewage infrastructure.”
Janet Lahr Lewis served for 20 years as Mission Liaison in Palestine and Israel through the General Board of Global Ministries and has helped support Wadi Foquin itinerate in the BWC. “Recognizing that the occupation is illegal under international law and needs to end is the first step. What are we doing as a denomination to pressure our government to stop oppressing another people when our tax dollars support policies that are opposed to our Social Principles and Resolutions.”
“What Manasra touches on in his presentation is the need for children to have good things in their lives, that they can remember.” Lahr Lewis shared with each congregation that she asked children in Wadi Foquin to draw whatever they chose. They drew flowers, a boat, and an olive tree. But when asked to draw what you think peace looks liked like the children drew bulldozers, helicopter gunships, their homes destroyed. “This was their image of peace. Because everything they had ever heard about the peace agreements and peace accords and promises for peace were different from their daily reality.”
In 2009 United Methodists started visiting Wadi Foquin in partnership with the General Board of Global Ministries and Conferences across the country. The village, with international support has built a soccer field, a new guest house and primary school, and initiated women’s empowerment projects. Manasra shared: “We invite people to come and plant olive trees because this will give them a connection to the land of Jesus. And of course, in this way, it's like they are growing hope for us.”
To learn more about Friends of Wadi Foquin go to https://www.friendsofwadifoquin.com
2016 UMC Resolution on Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land https://www.umc.org/en/content/book-of-resolutions-opposition-to-israeli-settlements-in-palestinian-land
2023 Baltimore-Washington Conference Resolution Indentifying and Opposing Apartheid in the Holy Land https://www.bwcumc.org/events/2023-annual-conference/2023-resolutions/