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Letter from Wadi Fukin

History is a tangible presence in Wadi Fukin, from the Aramaic origins of its name to the still-standing Byzantine church column, and the archaeological remains just outside the village. Also just beyond the village nestle some caves where the villagers sheltered during repeated Israeli attacks in the years following the Nakba.

The course of the conflict here has meant that the villagers find themselves right on the Green Line. It is a boundary whose path could yet mean that history has a further twist of the knife for Wadi Fukin, as Israel’s separation barrier continues on its winding way, dipping into the West Bank and isolating Palestinian communities unfortunate enough to sit next to settlements.

Lying a few miles west of Bethlehem, Wadi Fukin rubs up alongside the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, a concentrated area of colonization that includes 12 separate settlements. Betar Illit and Hadar Betar combined occupy around 12% of the total village area. Other villages, like Battir, Husan and Nahalin, are similarly affected by their proximity to the Gush Etzion bloc.

Over the years settlers have prevented villagers from gaining access to their land, as well as pumping waste on to the arable fields from the settlement’s sewage plant. As building progressed on the settlement, mounds of earth were dumped overlooking the village, so that an earth wall overlooks one of the main roads. In the event of rain, my friend Ata Manasira fears that the worst-case scenario would mean the earth “will all slip down to the bottom of the valley and destroy the agricultural land. We hope no one will be there when this happens.”

But in recent times the Wall has come to occupy the forefront of the minds of Wadi Fukin’s residents. A map in February indicated that the village, along with Husan, Battir, and Nahalin, would be in an encircled ghetto, with just one exit to Bethlehem. In the spring, land confiscation orders were issued by the Israeli army, seizing hundreds of dunums of agricultural land.

For people dependent on their production of olives, squash, grapes and many other crops, the Wall threatens access to both the land itself and vital irrigation systems. Moreover, like all Palestinian communities adjacent to the Wall, Wadi Fukin will have no room for natural expansion. Ata points to a map and shows us where land has been lost: “Behind this blue line no one is allowed to put up even a single stone — everything will be demolished.”

All is not yet quite lost. There have been petitions in the British Parliament and, according to Ata, a PA-appointed lawyer is meant to be following up the case. Interestingly, opposition to the plans also comes from Wadi Fukin’s Israeli neighbours on the other side of the Green Line. Ata describes meetings held with the residents of Sur Hadassah, where they expressed a common purpose in preventing the proposed route.

“Some wise people from Sur Hadassah have said, ‘OK, if there’s going to be a wall, which is a political decision, we want it to be as close to the Green Line as possible.’ They are concerned for the environment here, and they want to keep our valley as it is; they also want to keep good relations with their neighbours.”

I ask Ata how sustainable he thinks village life will be in, say, five or ten years time, if the route of the Wall is completed as planned: “This is something that is not clear at all. For example, I have three sons — and now I will have no place to build something for them in the village. Many people will consider leaving the village, as they lose their incomes and opportunities for the future. I too find myself thinking about this, I must plan ahead for my children.”

His frustration is clear: “We are peaceful people. This doesn’t mean we’re not nationalist people, it just means that we believe in resisting the occupation in other democratic, non-violent ways”. But in the valley, it is hard to escape the feeling that the village is slowly being asphyxiated by settlement expansion from the east and by the Wall from the west. “We are like the meat of the sandwich between the settlement and the Green Line”, says Ata.

Published in Middle East International.

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