OAKLAND -- Through the years, many have dreamed of Israelis and Palestinians living as equals in peace and harmony. Still, the conflict continues. World leaders have tried to intervene numerous times, but an ultimate resolution of the problem -- whose roots predate the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 -- remains an elusive goal.
Meanwhile, those most affected by the strife continue to take active steps in the hope of improving their lives.
On Feb. 12, Ahmad Sokar -- the mayor of the Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin -- and Shukri Radaideh -- general director of the State of Palestine Ministry of Local Government for the Bethlehem District -- arrived in the Bay Area ahead of a bicoastal speaking tour that was to lead up to a congressional briefing Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
The first of those gatherings took place at a Feb. 13 dinner at the Lake Merritt United Methodist Church in Oakland, an event sponsored by Friends of Wadi Foquin.
"For us, we continue to support (Wadi Foquin) with our fundraising and support for projects on the ground," said Rev. Michael Yoshii of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda.
Yoshii also serves as chairman of Friends of Wadi Foquin, an organization founded in 2009. Sometimes, though, even the best intentions get foiled.
"Last year, the measure we supported was to make a soccer field (in Wadi Foquin)," Yoshii said. "The project was stopped by a confiscation order. What (the people of Wadi Foquin are) trying to say to us is that 'We just want to live our lives in a regular way.' The soccer field project gives people work, gives focus on families."
Wadi Foquin, a peaceful agricultural village located on the border with Israel some 2 kilometers west of Bethlehem, has existed for centuries. In modern times, though, the village has seen much of its land annexed, most especially for the continued expansion of Betar Illit, an Israeli settlement established in 1984 and considered illegal by many outside Israel.
Also, construction of a separation wall has resulted in the loss of even more land. Construction debris and sewage from Betar Illit and the Israeli town of Tzur Hadassa has also damaged much of the remaining land.
"The situation in the village is very difficult with the occupation and the settlements around the village," Sokar said.
For many years, Wadi Foquin had a reputation for the quality of its fruits and vegetables. But the village finds its way of life threatened. Raw sewage reportedly has contaminated some 400 acres and dynamiting done to prepare for construction has dried up natural springs used for irrigation. An August 2014 annexation order is said to have resulted in the destruction of some 1,300 of Wadi Foquin's fruit trees.
"The sewage ... it's a big problem," Sokar said. "The farmers cannot use (the land), they cannot plant, they cannot cultivate this area. People also hear about this, and they do not want to buy anything from our farmers."
One of the early projects of the Friends of Wadi Foquin was to provide beehives to the village in the hope that honey production would offset some of the agricultural losses. Still, Wadi Foquin stands as a microcosm of the greater Palestinian struggle. Access roads get closed. Passing through checkpoints further stalls movement. A trip of, say, some 8 miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem might keep a traveler on the road for eight hours.
"It's a very difficult situation in all the West Bank, especially the Bethlehem District," Radaideh said. "It is very close to Jerusalem (one of the world's oldest cities, considered holy by Muslims, Jews and Christians alike), but the only road to Jerusalem was through Bethlehem, and now it is closed."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, writing an op-ed that appeared in The New York Times recently, condemned the excesses that occur on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and appealed for an ultimate two-state solution. Ban said both sides have concessions to make but that most world leaders agree that the Palestinians living under occupation is not sustainable.
"There's a lot of misinformation," Yoshii said. "With this briefing in Washington, D.C., this time, the education on the part of our political leaders is so important. My feeling is you do something because it's right; you don't get deterred because people are going to go against you."