Tag Archives: Palestine

Wadi Foquin


Wadi Foquin: “On this earth ~ Ala hadhihi al-Ard”

August 17th, 2013 // 1:00 PM

Wadi Foquin village is located about eight kilometers to the west of Bethlehem and less that one kilometer from the Green Line (the internationally recognized border between Palestine and Israel). The village has approximately 1200 residents, and is famous for its grapes, almonds and olive oil, crucial to the villagers’ local economy. The semi-mountainous landscape also provides them with the land they require for grazing animals, particularly sheep.

Yesterday morning I was lucky enough to make a trip out to Wadi Foquin. In a valley between two peeks, Wadi Foquin is surrounded on the one side by the neighboring Israeli settlements, Hadar Betar and Betar Illit, and just past the Green Line on the other side lies the Israeli town of Mevo Betar. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem states: “The close location of Hadar Betar and Betar Illit to the 1949 Armistice [Green] Line and their proximity to the Israeli town Mevo Betar on the other side of the line make these settlements likely targets for formal annexation to Israel in the future.”[1] The ever-increasing rate of confiscation of villager-land by the settlements certainly supports this statement, with the settlements having already confiscated more than 12% of the villager’s territory. (In the below images you can find the depiction of continued construction of settlements encroaching on the village).

I had heard a great deal about Wadi Foquin in Sacramento, especially this past April when the “Friends of Wadi Foquin” were invited by the Lantos Human Rights Commission to submit a proposal for a briefing on the human rights abuses in Wadi Foquin. (“The mission of the Lantos Human Rights Commission is to promote, defend, and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”)[2]

A good summary of the human rights violations being committed agains the residents of Wadi Foquin daily can be found on the Change.org website (http://www.change.org/petitions/save-wadi-foquin-fukin). However, to witness striking and blatant evidence of these violations, the following one minute video (from just last month, in July 2013) records waste water from the sewage plant in Betar Illit being released onto the land of a local farmers in Wadi Fukin: http://youtu.be/4Sag2jozTPI

Walking through this land – a manifestation of the very roots of Palestinian existence on this earth – the words of Mahmoud Darwish kept cycling through my brain “On this earth, there is what deserves a life”. How could the existence of these villagers, and their heritage here – a genuine representation of all Palestinian people – be denied or negated in the face of such blaring evidence? I stood as a proud witness of this evidence: terraced hillsides constituting an agricultural system as old as time; an irrigation system based on flooding and gravity and a Roman well in the center of the agricultural territory still in use to irrigate the land; a local mosque, so old that it was in fact built upon a church constructed by Constantine’s mother, Helena, during her trip to the Holy Land in the 4th century AD, and later converted into the local masjid; an ancient Roman burial ground within the village territory, upon which no buildings are erected.

Before we departed from the village we went to visit the community center being renovated with the help of the Methodist Church’s presence in Palestine. There was no talk of human rights violations here, as young men worked energetically, piling bricks and mixing cement to construct a new wall and window for better airflow through community building. My friend, who has been working with Wadi Foquin for several years, say there is a new energy in the town now as a number of the youth of the wadi have been elected to the community council and are helping to rejuvenate and bring awareness to Wadi Foquin, both locally and internationally.


Roman cistern still in use to irrigate agricultural land, farmer adjusting the water flow for his day’s turn to water his land

Farmer’s water cisterns, sometime mixed with manure to prevent settlers from trespassing and swimming in them

Continues settlement construction over Wadi Foquin

Welcome to Wadi Foquin

Burning Palestine

Chapel, University of Bethlehem

Burning Palestine

August 14th, 2013 // 8:26 PM

It keeps getting hotter and hotter, a little bit each day. I have always been a fan of the heat, especially when given a choice between summer heat and winter chill, but I have also never before tried to stay productive in such lazy-summer, nap inducing temperatures. Luckily, being a desert climate, it gets relatively cool here in the evenings. There is only about one month remaining in my stay here, and I can’t believe the time has passed so quickly. The past two weeks have been a blur – starting two new courses at the university, conducting research for my graduate studies, trying to get things settled for repainting the signboard in manger square, and trying to get other projects off the ground. This would be a lot normally, but doing this under Palestine’s August sun has been quite the challenge.

As a refresher, I spent an evening earlier this week with friends who were kind enough to share another wonderful, home cooked meal of Maqlube (literally meaning “upside down” for the way the dish of rice and chicken or lamb is flipped over onto a plate before serving). The dinner was followed by coffee, tea and dessert, while listening to amazing stories about various experiences growing up in Palestine, the most captivating coming from my friend’s mother, a young woman during the first intifada. It is evenings such as these which bring me back to myself, and what I am really doing here in Bethlehem. The stress of homework, research, and projects all fall away in the face of such a surreal-reality. “We were children who were forced to become men and women overnight,” she said. “As important as they [our actions] were, those of us who lived through it … we don’t want that for our children. The best way for them to fight for our freedom is through their education. They will go out into the world and show who we – the Palestinians – are.” And they will come back and build Palestine. Hearing her speak, this incredible women, who (just as an example) would sew Palestinian flags during the resistance – illegal and punished through imprisonment during the first intifada – I thought of Rafeef Ziadah in her poem, “We Teach Life, Sir” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKucPh9xHtM)

It’s very difficult to not feel the pressure of the sun above and the pressure of the walls around, especially now with the “peace talks,” which appear to mask further land confiscations for settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yesterday’s release of 26 prisoners is bittersweet. Many Palestinians are not blind to this “benevolent” strategy used to appease not the Palestinians, but rather the remotely-cognisant international community, and yet another means of masking Israel’s ongoing transgressions in any peace proceedings. But just like at the end of the day, when the sun recedes and a cool breeze sneaks through the open window, the lingering hope remains that there will be an end to the sweltering heat, and that dusk is just a sunset away.

From Cremsain Valley to the Naqab

Land to be annexed by Israel in the Cremisan Valley, part of the Cremisan Winery, Salesian Convent

From Cremsain Valley to the Naqab

Land Seizures, Annexations & Violations of International Law

July 31st, 2013 // 3:55 PM

My mom started the long journey home yesterday, and so on Monday we planned our final day trip to Cremisan Winery for the last round of gifts. We hired the “family” taxi driver (whose service has been called on for two decades) to take us up to the hill tops of Beit Jala. As I looked over the valley I saw the wall curve into the cavern of the hill, forming and a long U-shape. This version of the wall was even stranger than usual, topped by a solid-canopy forming a tent-like enclosure ostensibly “protecting” Israelis from Palestinians.

Like so many villages throughout Palestine, Cremisan Valley has been the site of numerous protests against Israel’s annexation wall. Both the Salesian Sisters of Cremisan Convent and the Palestinians of Beit Jala will soon see their land annexed by the wall, which will separate more than 50 Palestinian families from their agricultural land (1) with only restricted access via an agricultural gate. These gates are controled by the Israeli authorities who often leave Palestinians waiting for hours before responding to requests for entrance, if responding at all. In addition, the the wall will separate the Salesian Convent from 75% of its land (2). The separation wall will, in fact, divide the the Salesian Convent’s territory in two parts, with the agricultural land and monastery in “Israel proper”, and the convent and primary school in the West Bank.

An appeal is being filled (after a seven year legal battle) of the recent ruling to construct the annexation wall in Cremisan Valley; however, as with many actions in Palestine, success often requires international attention and support to postpone often inevitable land seizures and violations of international law. (Petition to save Cremisan Valley: http://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-valley-in-cremisan-support-bridges-not-walls).

To further demonstrate their authority in the face of popular resistance, Israeli forces raided the Cremisan Monastery in Bethlehem just this past Sunday, July 28th. As reported by the Independent Catholic News, “Witnesses told the Palestinian News and Info Agency (WAFA) that Israeli soldiers broke into the monastery, held the people who were inside, and inspected their personal documents. The raid has been condemned as a violation of the sanctity of places of worship, and a violation of international law.”(3)

As we drove up to Cremisan Winery, located on an uppermost hill top of Beit Jala, our taxi driver pulled momentarily to the side of the road as my mother pointed out the terraced slopes which have characterized the Palestinian landscape over countless centuries, and are now so quickly disappearing with the seizure of land and the lack of agricultural space. Our driver points out the farm at the bottom of the terraced slope. “This farm is completely cut off from the rest of Beit Jala by the wall. They have no electricity, and have to bring in their water supply by truck, which costs three times what it costs the Israeli settlers on the top of that hill over there. It’s hard for them to live here because they are cut off from everything, and are often threatened by settlers. But they live here still.”

Chances are that the separation wall will go up through Cremisan, and chances are that the Palestinian’s living in this territory will see their land annexed by Israel, and again their lives will be made more difficult. However, as the drivers said to me, “I am not scared of anything. I have been attacked by settlers three times. I was shot at by soldiers and had to run away and leave my car. In the siege of Bethlehem [in 2002] my entire house was destroyed. I am no longer scared. We lived here through all that, and we will continue living here. Inshallah, one day it won’t be like this.”

This is only one man’s story. And the story of Cremisan is the story of only one valley near Bethlehem. But this happens all over Palestine. Everyday. Tomorrow Palestinians and international activists will come together for the second time in the past month to protest the Prawer Plan, which intends to evict 50,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their land in the Naqab (Negev):

“On July 15, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel along with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and regional refugee camps, held numerous demonstrations against the so-called Prawer Plan being advanced by the Israeli government. Protesters – including Palestinian Members of the Israeli Knesset, marched, blocked roads, and were violently dispersed by security services (including several arrests).This second ‘Day of Rage’ promises to be even bigger, as Palestinians assert their opposition to a plan condemned just this week by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.” (3)

To read more: http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/politics/activism/6827-palestinian-activists-call-for-day-of-rage-on-18-6827)

(1) http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=23041
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
(4) http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/politics/activism/6827-palestinian-activists-call-for-day-of-rage-on-18-6827
Beit Jala farm and terraced field [farm in lower right corner]
Agricultural land belonging to the Cremisan Winery, Salesian Convent
Cremisan Winery

“Thirsting for Justice” campaign near you!

Palestinian vs. Israeli water use and access

“Thirsting for Justice”

July 19th, 2013 // 3:38 PM

This past Tuesday night I went to the Alternative Information Center, AIC Cafe (http://www.alternativenews.org) for the first time. This venue, for international, Palestinian, and Israeli activists, is engaged in disseminating information about the occupation, and puts on weekly talks and events. I have been meaning to it check since I arrived (better late than never!).

Tuesday evening’s talk with Nadi Farraj addressed the the impact of the Oslo agreements on water access, particularly with regards to Israeli water confiscation and Palestinian water consumption. Mr. Farraj worked with the Thirsting for Justice campaign (http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/) to help farmers and herders in Area C to construct wells (which is illegal under Israeli law) to sustain their families and livestock. Their wells have been destroyed by settlers and the government repeatedly, however, in another example of Palestinian “samud” (steadfastness) they continue to build and rebuild.

For more information about Thirsting for Justice (and how to organize a presentation) visit: http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/

Some important facts….

Under International Law

“Under international law it is illegal for Israel to expropriate the water of the Occupied Palestinian Territories for use by its own citizens, and doubly illegal to expropriate it for use by illegal Israeli settlers.” [http://www.Oxfam.org (November 2003)].

The Truth about the Wall

“Many of the most important underground wellsprings in the West Bank are located just to the east of the Green Line dividing Israel from Palestine. Israel has built the Wall not only to annex land but also to annex many of these wells in order to divert water to Israel and illegal West Bank settlements.” [www.ifamericansknew.com (July 2013)]

Average Palestinian vs. Israeli water consumption

“Average Palestinian daily consumption of water is about 70 liters per person, well below the 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to cover domestic and public service needs. In contrast, the average Israeli daily per capita consumption is about four times the Palestinian average (300 liters)[ii]. This is in contrast to European levels where for example the average daily water consumption in the UK is 149 liters per person while in France it is 287 liters per person[iii]. [http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/ (July 2013)]

Who “Owns” the Water?

Israeli policies and practices limit Palestinians’ access to the water they are entitled to under international law. Israel controls all sources of freshwater in the West Bank. Palestinians are only allowed, according to the Oslo Accords, to take 20 percent of the “estimated potential” of the Mountain Aquifer underneath the West Bank; Israel extracts the balance[iv]. As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank are forced to purchase over half of their water from Israel. Israel takes this water from the Mountain Aquifer over which Palestinians have rights to an equitable share[v].

In Gaza, 90 to 95 percent of the Coastal Aquifer, on which Gaza inhabitants are dependent for water, is contaminated due to over extraction and sewage contamination, making it unfit for human consumption. Palestinians in Gaza have hardly any other sources of water available to them. The aquifer is depleted and in danger of collapse[vi]. Restrictions imposed by Israel as part of its ongoing blockade make the rehabilitation of the aquifer and the search for alternatives extremely difficult. Palestinians in Gaza are not allowed to access water from the Mountain Aquifer. Israel also limits the entry of construction materials for construction, repair and rehabilitation of infrastructure that would allow for improved water management. Mass desalination of seawater as an alternative is too costly and unsustainable within the current context given frequent electricity shortages in Gaza associated with Israel’s blockade. [http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/ (July 2013)]

For more information about Thirsting for Justice (and how to organize a presentation) visit: http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/

Water rights, water wrongs


Water Rights, Water Wrongs

July 13th, 2013 // 10:17 PM

The dreaded day finally arrived. We ran out of water (and I don’t mean bottled water). We have been very lucky so far. There is a shared well (controlled by an electric water pump) which the four surrounding houses use, not to mention their relatives and friends, from which we get our fresh drinking water. As for running water for washing dishes, showers, washing, etc., this all comes from the cisterns on top of each home. The West Bank has no direct water access, and the issue of water rights is of course a critical problem here. Even knowing this, however, we weren’t as careful with our water consumption as we should have been. Therefore, on Wednesday morning when only a weak trickle came out of the shower faucet, it was time for me to tie my hair back into a tight bun, rather than washing it, and go next door to my aunt’s doorstep to confess water abuse. “This is our problem here,” said my aunt apologetically. “Every summer it’s like this with the water. We always run out and have to be very careful,” and she repeats, “this is our problem here,” as if she has something to be ashamed of for there not being water. I ask naively, “when will the next shipment of water come?” even though I know the answer – no one knows. “It could be a day, it could be a week, it could be a month.” It costs about 100 US dollars to fill the cistern, but besides the cost, the real problem is that there is no certainty when it will arrive.

The gap in water consumption between Israelis and Palestinians is a well documented problem followed by human rights organizations, such as B’tselem, which provide specific statistics. For a broad understanding of the consumption ration, B’tselem reports that the “per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank” (for more information visit http://www.btselem.org/water/consumption_gap). This means that the majority of water goes to Israeli-proper and the settlements (statistics as high as 80%), and what remains goes to the West Bank and Gaza.

This time we are lucky – my uncle is able to share half of his cistern with us. I can hear the water pump refilling our tank, and his feet treading across the flat roof between his house and ours. My aunt reiterates, “we must be very careful,” and by “we” she means “me.” We’re both embarrassed, her as the host, and me as the guest. I promise her to be very careful, and she tells me to please not worry, and that surely the water will come soon. This morning as I left the house I looked up to the large, rectangular cistern on top of the house, as through seeing it for the first time. I imagine it being shot through by a bullet as I have seen in videos and read online.

Sunday Drive

View of settlements from Bethlehem

Sunday Drive

June 30th, 2013 // 8:10 PM

Today I woke up at 4:45 again, but I was happy to read in bed until 6:00 when I couldn’t wait any longer to eat breakfast. I’m not particularly hungry in the morning, but the excitement of eating here is probably part of the reason I keep getting up so early. It was a feast – fresh hard boiled duck egg, labne, babaganoush, rock bread, tomato and cucumber followed by Arabic coffee. Now I know why my father loves to eat tomatoes, cucumbers and cream cheese on a toasted pita in the morning – it could never be as good as it is here, but maybe the memory is enough.

I read from one of the books I brought with me (scanned of course) over breakfast by a professor that teaches at Al Quds University – if I can work up the courage I may try and contact him while I’m here. After my mom woke up I made another coffee and we started getting ready for church. Sunday morning in Bethlehem…it still didn’t feel quite real. We left at 10:45 with my cousin and her two children to make the 11 am service, which is the “more family friendly service.” It didn’t occur to me until we got into the car that we were driving towards the Church of the Nativity. My cousin pulled up right in front of the old church – “parking reserved for Christians on Sunday morning” she said – and we walked to St. Catherine’s – the parish church connected to the Church of the Nativity.

Mass was in Arabic, which meant this was probably the most engaged I had ever been in mass. The echo made it difficult to hear where some words began and others ended, so that I sat upright with my eyes shut, focusing on each word (appearing either quite devout or quite asleep). After service we went on a short drive around Bethlehem and Beit Jala. We drove up into the hillside where my cousin showed us the most spectacular view, distrupted only by the facing settlements spreading over the opposite peaks across the valley. She told us that the Israeli border – like in so many places – was moving, and now threatened to subsume the land of a famous, monastery and winery on this side of the hill, Cremisan, which is located on the border between Jerusalem and the West Bank. I wondered if it was the land the government wanted, the winery, or just another opportunity to erase evidence of established Palestinian economic self-sufficiency and history. And except for the people here, no one may know.

Although the ride was beautiful, the heat and the curves in the car were starting to make me feel a bit queasy. My nephew was starting to feel a little pekish too, and was now clamoring for the ice cream he had been promised in exchange for behaving well at church, which he duly earned. I could go for an ice cream myself, but since we were already late for lunch with my aunt and uncle, I knew that ruining my appetite would have been a bad move.

By the time lunch was over, the post-lunch, heat induced hangover had fully set in and I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately as I lay down for a short nap with the drone of an Arabic dubbed Turkish soap opera in the background. If I hadn’t had a quite misplaced nightmare about running away from zombies it would have been the perfect sunday. I’m not sure if the nightmare was caused by sleeping on a full stomach or the ache of witnessing the threat of land seizure and displacement again up close, but I’m fairly certain my aunts cooking is too good to induce nightmares.

Sign the petition to help save valley in Cremisan: http://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-valley-in-cremisan-support-bridges-not-walls

Getting To Bethlehem

View of Bethlehem towards Beit Jala (from Bethlehem University)

Getting to Bethlehem

June 27, 2013 // 4:42 AM

In the past 20 hours or so I have traveled across the globe to a part of the world that I have never set foot in before, although I have thought about it almost obsessively for the past year … and extensively over my thirty years. This, so far, is my greatest excursion in terms of distance, and emotional will power… or at least that’s how it felt getting off the plane in the Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion airport. I had been mentally preparing for my arrival for these past months, but can you ever really prepare yourself for your first time anywhere? Especially not for a place like Palestine, which has been built up in my imagination since childhood by my mother’s stories of her time their with my father in the 1970s, by the faded pictures in the stacks of worn photo albums, and by the occasional glimpse of my father’s childhood narrated over dinner or in the car triggered by some tangentially related conversation topic or other. So, I hadn’t expected my heart to be beating so hard as I descended from the plane into the corridors plastered with advertising in Hebrew and English. The sense of otherness and absence from myself that seized me as we neared the “Foreign Citizens” gate to have our passports checked. I grasped for my mother’s hand, who was returning for the first time since 1975. The young Israeli guard smiled vaguely as he took our passports. “Have you ever been to Israel before?” How long are you staying?” “Are you here to visit family?” The final question was the one I hard prepared for and yet still managed to fumble over. “Yes, family.” And then, “well, family and friends. Friends too,” I added. He smiled (or smirked) at my correction, and then stamped the passport. I had been quietly terrified for months that the questioning process would be gruesome and long, like that experience by other members of my family. That they would ask why I was staying for such a long period, what I was doing in Israel, do I know Arabic. But that didn’t happen. The guard acknowledged that we were there to see our Palestinian relatives, and that we were guests in Israel, and that was it. I didn’t know whether I should feel relief or guilt … but mostly I just felt relieved, and then I felt exhausted.

We walked out of the gate to find Abu Sami holding my mother’s and my name on a paper sign, and suddenly we were out of the airport. In Israel. In Palestine. And the joy swept over me. The car ride with Abu Sami was a intermingling of joy and sorrow. We laughed as my mother recalled memories of her previous time in Bethlehem some 40 years ago, and were silent when she gasped at the extreme change in the landscape. Abu Sami took us on route 443, an alternate route towards Bethlehem, so that we could both avoid the road blocks, and more importantly see what Israel-Palestine looks like to those who live between and within the walls, barriers, and blockades. With a yellow Jerusalem license plate, Abu Sami can take the restricted Israeli-only roads that cut across and through the West Bank territories. After only a few kilometers he tells us that we have entered the West Bank, and yet we are traveling on an Israeli owned road – that is a road restricted to Israeli use. As we are driving he tells and shows us repeatedly: “Look, on your left, and on your right, Palestinians live there. We are in the West Bank now, and Arabs live on both sides of this road, yet they can not access this road”. Abu Sami shows us where the roads have been blockaded – off ramps and on ramps within the West Banks territory that would allow Palestinians access to these faster, more directs routes, with gates and wire fencing blocking them off.

I had read about the fast growing settlements, the restricted and segregated road systems, and separation of Palestinian and Israeli life by gates, wire fencing and walls, but it was an entirely different experience driving through it.

As we near Ramallah I see a high wall rise from the landscape that looks just like the images of the separation wall I have seen. “Abu Sami” I say, “is that the Wall?” “No” he replies, “That’s a prison. They built the prison on Palestinian land, and its detainees are Palestinians only.” Abu Sami also pointed out as we passed the now closed Atarot airport: “This is where I flew out from in 1967. It was nice. I flew to Cairo several times from that airport.”

We transfer from the 443 onto the 1 as we get closer to Bethlehem, but then change routes again as we decide to take a longer way around Jerusalem so that we may drive through Beit Sahour, and avoid another checkpoint. We have now driven past too many settlements for me to keep track, all of which have been constructed in entirety within the past 10 years. “Can you imagine that?” Abu Sami says, “A complete city constructed at once? Hardly any inhabitants in a number of them.” They are high rises and homes waiting to be filled, towering on the tops of hillsides, peering across gated, private roads or walled-off and looking down over Palestinian towns and villages. Next to each other and yet entirely separated. Divide and conquer – a sure fire way for breading distrust and fear through ignorance on the one side and oppression on the other. We drive past the Shepard’s Field where the sheep herders were told of Jesus’s birth. I can’t believe these two great mysteries – the birthplace of God’s message of divine love and and the current resting place for the epitome of human indignity – can exist in the same place.