WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of the United Methodist California-Nevada Conference made calls on Capitol Hill recently to persuade Congress to take steps to protect a small Palestinian village that they contend is a microcosm of the situation in the West Bank. According to them, Israel and an illegal settlement above Wadi Foquin are virtually conspiring to push the centuries-old village into extinction.
Primary goal of the visits on Capitol Hill was to persuade the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Congress to hold a hearing on the situation of the Palestinian village of approximately 1,200 residents who live under Israeli military control.
“Wadi Foquin is a small West Bank Palestinian village near Bethlehem,” said Michael Yoshii, pastor of Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif. “Our church and a few others in the Cal-Nevada Conference have been in partnership with the village since August 2009.”
Bad to worse
Wadi Foquin is the site of the General Board of Global Ministries’ first Community Development Program project outside the United States. Global Ministries missionary Janet Lahr Lewis, United Methodist Liaison to Israel & the Occupied Palestinian Territories, accompanied the delegation to Capitol Hill.
The situation there has gone from bad to worse, and we’d rather not see the village become extinct.
“All the groups we host on visits to the Holy Land — study teams, seminarians, Volunteers in Mission — are routed to Wadi Foquin,” Lahr said, adding that she has been scheduling the visits for years. “The situation there has gone from bad to worse, and we’d rather not see the village become extinct.”
Wadi Foquin's economy has been strangled due to the theft of 94% of the village’s land under the occupation, according to Yoshii, who chairs “Friends of Wadi Foquin.” The Buena Vista congregation and others in California-Nevada have stepped up to help develop alternative means economically for survival through efforts such as a beehive project. But the village’s sense of impending displacement has exacerbated concern.
The sense of displacement is caused by a combination of abuses by the illegal Israeli settlement, Betar Illit, on the heights above Wadi Foquin, and the ghetto isolation created by the separation wall being erected by Israel on Palestinian land.
"Over the years, Betar Illit has grown from 10,000 to 40,000 people," Yoshii said. "It has encroached on Palestinian land, sewage has seeped in from Betar Illit, and construction debris also has hurt by drying up water springs." As a result, he said much of the village's agricultural land has been damaged.
Construction of the so-called separation wall has likewise harmed communities such as Wadi Foquin, whose residents not only lose more land, but find their movement restricted. Persons in Wadi Foquin find themselves cut off from neighboring villages, thus hindering commerce as well as access to jobs, schools and medical facilities.
Campaign to Save Wadi Foquin
Yoshii and his compatriots began the “Campaign to Save Wadi Foquin” this past June. The delegation to Washington, D.C., was organized to meet with congressional representatives and staff of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a non-partisan effort within Congress to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms as embodied primarily in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Our request has been submitted,” Yoshii said, “we now need grassroots support. Given the urgency of the situation, we request the hearing be scheduled in the first quarter of 2013.”
The “Friends of Wadi Foquin” has started a campaign to solicit signatures through an online petition to undergird its request for a hearing. The petition is available at Wadi Foquin.
Friends of Wadi Foquin is not limiting its efforts to help from the Lantos Human Rights Commission, though.
"We're also leaning toward a hearing with the United Nations Human Rights Council," Yoshii said in describing other advocacy efforts. “I was in Geneva this summer at the at the invitation of Levi Bautista to address the Philippine Human Rights issues and was able to meet someone there who will help us bring this concern to the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
Bautista, who heads the General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) U.N. & International Affairs office, will continue to resource on the U.N. approach., according to Yoshii.
Similarly, Yoshii said Mark Harrison, who directs GBCS’s Peace with Justice work area, and Jim Winkler, the agency’s chief executive, facilitated the trip to Washington, D.C.
California-Nevada unanimous resolution
Other venues being addressed by the Wadi Foquin advocates include getting a resolution passed unanimously at the California-Nevada Annual Conference session this June that called for a letter to be sent to the U.S. State Dept. and President Obama urging an immediate investigation, remediation and protection for the villagers and the village of Wadi Foquin.
The resolution, submitted by the conference’s Israel/Palestine Task Force, is in accordance with the mandate set forth by the General Conference, The United Methodist Church’s highest policy-setting body, through the resolution “Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land.” The California-Nevada resolution urges all its congregations to contact their congressional representatives to write a letter as well.
“We are beginning to ask for organizational endorsements for our campaign,” Yoshii said. “Our first endorsements are United Methodist Kairos Reponse, Friends of Sabeel North America and Northern California Friends of Sabeel.”
A return trip to Washington, D.C., in January is being planned to follow up on the fall meetings, which also included a visit at the State Dept.
Friends of Wadi Foquin are trying to be faithful to God, according to Yoshii. "It's a human-to-human thing," he said. "These people are victims with no voice.”
Yoshii described it as quite heart-wrenching when you see the conditions under which the people are living. “Our focus is on them," he said. Editor's note: The Friends of Wadi Foquin offers links to resources for more information: