I needed a special pass to access the space in the Capitol Visitors’ Center, buried in the guts of The Hill. At first, I was munching on catered sandwiches with a dozen familiar faces from groups like Churches for Middle-East Peace (CMEP) and US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation but, less than ten minutes before the beginning of the program, the briefing-room flooded with congressional staff. We ran out of chairs. People were eating on their feet, ready to listen to four gentlemen speak on behalf of Wadi Fouqin village: Ahmad, Fahmi, Da’ed, and a Hebrew University professor named Yahuda (Dudy, for short).
Attendees learned that Wadi Fouqin’s springs made it famous for high quality vegetables until the Nakba – great tragedy – displaced the farmers from most of their lands in 1948. The community spent more than a decade in Al-Daheisha refugee camp near Bethlehem but, incredibly, farmers walked hours every day to tend the storied fields despite the threat of violence from Israeli soldiers. When they rebuilt their village only a stone’s throw from the ‘seamline’ or ‘greenline’ – the internationally recognized border – they discovered an Israeli community called Tzur Hadassa had appeared on the other side during the 1950s.
Dudy recalled vacationing there during his childhood and how impressed he was with the harmony between the two towns. “I thought that Arabs hated us but in Wadi Fouqin I met the most hospitable farmers!” Now, he and his family often walk across the boundary to buy vegetables. His children like to ride donkeys with their Palestinian friends…
…this is the point at which Washington stops listening. Congress typically doesn’t want to hear what happened in the years following the assassination of Yitzik Rabin, when “the right-wing machine took power” (said Dudy). US diplomats want to lift Wadi Fouqin and Tzur Hadassa up into the light as an example of why and how Israelis and Palestinians can work together while ignoring the blight to Wadi Fouqin’s East: Bitar Illit Settlement. The current regime in Israel creates incentives for the residents of such Jewish-only settlements, not for caring neighbors like Tzur Hadassa. The construction of this illegal settlement pinned Wadi Fouqin against the boundary line, a short decade ago, swallowing more land and disrupting the flow of more water sources. Furthermore, intermittent sewage dumping contaminates the remaining fields and springs. Their agricultural reputation is ruined. Elements in our governments and churches want to absolve themselves of culpability for unqualified support of Israeli policy.
Ahmad, Fahmi, & Da’ed – the mayor, the community-center director, the regional council chair – know they are the bearers of unwanted news. They are gracious and even-tempered; they know they could lose what little audience they have. UMC minister, Michael Yoshii, helped start a non-profit called “Friends of Wadi Fouqin”, which went to great lengths to bring these three Palestinians to the United States for a briefing. We feared they would feel ‘jilted’ – stood-up, shut-out, stone-walled. I expected a family-reunion dynamic: a briefing populated with faces from the solidarity movement. Instead, the room filled with staffers! Though the gears of military-industrial exploitation had not jammed, every inquiry during the Q & A was genuine. They came to listen.
Wadi Fouqin is unique only for its near-perfect generalizability: the typical occupation elements are all present. Staffers wondered how many other Palestinian communities were similarly afflicted; literally dozens are. In Yanoun village, for example, a World Council of Churches team stays 24/7 to ensure someone can report any aggression. Wadi Fouqin’s vulnerable position by the boundary created the opportunity for a partnership that villages deeper in the West Bank don’t have. My former supervisor (Zoughbi Zoughbi) once told me there were three pieces to accomplishing Justice in Palestine: The Palestinian non-violence movement, the solidarity community, and the peace-camp in Israel. Tzur Hadassa is the final piece but the ‘right wing machine’ makes it impossible for those relationships to form elsewhere in the region. Dudi and company were able to defeat plans to build a separation barrier between the two towns, a project that would have ended all agriculture there. If more of the second ‘piece’ were in place—a strong solidarity community in the United States—our guests would be better positioned to subvert the drivers of this conflict.
Unfortunately, mainstream US News Media is an extension of the entertainment industry (and its vices) and our schools are dismally funded. In a climate of general ignorance about global human rights and movements for self-determination, United Methodists could heed Christ’s beatitude and become blessed peace-makers: children of God. As our guests thanked the UMC for facilitating the trip, I wondered if they knew what a small fragment is helpful or knowledgeable, really. Could they know how much of our capacity is spent elsewhere, in matters of self-made-law with little missional substance— even working against that substance for fleeting stability? Is it not time to look at the price of our internal struggles and ask “how have we parasitized a witness of compassion and illumination?” Are we listening to what is happening elsewhere in the world and responding with due momentum?
Meanwhile, Israel’s leading coalition will show its true nature: terrible friend. Not a mortal enemy but something more fatal—an ally with decaying ethics. Dudy knows that but he believes his country could and should change; I so admire that. I want to be like that, for my country. I want the UMC to be like that and cry for a cultural shift. Young leaders are ready to at least HEAR that cry.
JD (John Daniel) Gore is a young adult missionary working through the General Board of Global ministries. JD serves Methodist Federation for Social Action as the 'Associate for Movement Building' and worked previously in Bethlehem for The Wi'am Center. He aspires to work for a culture of acceptance and collective responsibility through better dialogue, both in higher education and the general public.