ALAMEDA -- Wadi Foquin boasts a history that goes back centuries, and with it, a long-standing reputation as a small but very productive Palestinian agricultural village.
Even today, Wadi Foquin (estimated population 1,200) grows some high-quality fruits and vegetables and has become especially noted for its organic farming.
But Wadi Foquin's existence is threatened. Located on the West Bank of the Jordan River near Bethlehem, almost 94 percent of Wadi Foquin's land is part of "Area C," which is under full Israeli control (the Palestinian National Authority and Israeli security administer what remains). Currently, Wadi Foquin has seen much of its land annexed and much of its remaining area damaged by runoffs of construction debris and raw sewage from an encroaching -- and what many call an illegal -- settlement.
The international community, including some East Bay churches, has stepped in to help Wadi Foquin -- among them, the Buena Vista United Methodist Church, headed by Rev. Michael Yoshii.
"I went on a trip there in 2006, and we started our partnership in 2009," Yoshii said. "The folks trusted me, and we kept up with each other. We decided to do something as part of our social justice vision."
On Sunday, Yoshii will head to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. government officials about Wadi Foquin's situation. Yoshii and those accompanying him hope to bring their case to the U.S. House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human
"We're looking for the Lantos Commission to set up a hearing about the human rights violations," said Yoshii, who also eyes a potential trip to New York at an unspecified time. "We're also leaning toward a hearing with the United Nations Human Rights Council."
Wadi Foquin, which translates into "Valley of Thorns," existed long before the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. And it has been a microcosm of the region's struggles ever since.
The village's current problems stem from the 1984 construction of the neighboring Orthodox Jewish colony of Betar Illit, a settlement that exists legally under the Israeli government but is considered a violation of international law by many outside Israel.
"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, Yoshii and fellow Wadi Foquin advocates contend, much of the village's agricultural land has been damaged. Construction of separation walls also has hampered communities such as Wadi Foquin, whose residents not only lose more land, but find their movement restricted. Subjected to random checkpoints, those living in Wadi Foquin find themselves cut off from neighboring villages and important roads, thus hampering commerce as well as access to jobs, schools and medical facilities.
Support for Palestinian villages such as Wadi Foquin often stirs controversy. But advocates look at the matter beyond any political or demographic considerations.
"It's a human-to-human thing," Yoshii said. "It's quite heart-wrenching when you see the conditions under which the people are living. Our focus is on them."
Three years ago, Wadi Foquin advocates (known as "Friends of Wadi Foquin") began the Beehive Project, which purchased beehives for the village to use in the production of honey as a means to a livelihood. In addition, the Friends of Wadi Foquin set up a community center in the village from a house that had been abandoned.
"Some things are better because (Wadi Foquin residents) are getting help, but in the bigger picture, things are worse," Yoshii said. "They would like to have a regular life like you and me. We want for them what we want for ourselves."