President Barack Obama is scheduled next week to make a visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Meetings will no doubt primarily involve government leaders in each region. The group Friends of Wadi Foquin urges the president to include the West Bank village of Wadi Foquin on his itinerary for the upcoming trip to provide a more balanced view of the region and include a human rights frame for the visit.
Wadi Foquin is located just southwest of Bethlehem in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter are among those who have visited the village over the
years. They can attest to the beauty and charm this village has for visitors. It is a small agricultural village with a population of 1,200 people.
Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda has been in partnership with Wadi Foquin since August 2009. The Berkeley Methodist United Church and Trinity United Methodist are also active in the partnership. The partnership has supported programs for the economic and social survival of the village as it struggles under the Israeli military occupation. This has included a beehive project for cultivation of honey, a women's basket weaving project, a community center and a youth leadership program.
In our most recent visit, it was evident that the clock is ticking on the future survival of the village. On one side of the village, the settlement of Betar Illit is built on
green line dividing Israeli and Palestinian land, but the plan is to build the wall around the village and the settlement. This would annex more land from the village and create a virtual open air prison. The plan has received protests from friendly Israeli neighbors in Tsur Hadassa, who reside on the other side of the green line. These neighbors see no reason for a separation wall as they have had friendly relationships for decades.
A disturbing contradiction that we face as U.S. citizens involved in this partnership is that our government funds contribute to the current dilemma. The United States provides $3 billion annually in aid to Israel. This means that our taxes support the military occupation and infrastructure that serves to violate the human rights of our friends in Wadi Foquin. A responsible policy would be to place conditions on the use of funds to prevent complicity in such violations.
As President Obama visits the region, one of the stated agendas will be to discuss the "diplomatic process" between Palestine and Israel. While talking is good, it is important to have a full view of the reality being assessed. We strongly urge the president to balance the agenda by adding a specific human rights context to his itinerary with a visit to Wadi Foquin. Such a visit would provide firsthand documentation of how a portion of our $3 billion in yearly aid is being spent.
As U.S. citizens, we cannot and should not allow ourselves to be part of "talks" that intentionally or inadvertently serve to cover up violations of human rights and our complicit financial support. For the people of Wadi Foquin it is good that we talk the talk, but far better that we walk the walk.
The Rev. Michael Yoshii is the pastor of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda. He is also the chair of the Friends of Wadi Foquin. The Friends of Wadi Foquin have requested that the Lantos Human Rights Commission hold a hearing on the human rights issues in Wadi Foquin.