Day 11 – Touring Wadi Fukin, visiting the Wa’im Conflict Resolution Center & exploring the Separation Wall in Bethlehem…separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
Today, Wednesday November 2, was another beautiful day in the West Bank, Palestine. We were on the bus bound for Wadi Fukin by 8:20. Adel met us at the work site and before we started our work projects, lead us on a walking tour of the village. He told us Wadi Fukin means the green valley. It is indeed a small, fertile valley and has been tended and farmed by his ancestors for thousands of years, except for the time between 1948 and 1972, when villagers were expelled from their homes and lived in a Bethlehem refugee camp. Adel’s grandfather and other elders of the village stubbornly pressed the authorities to let them return to their farms made their way back…a fluke…as this is the only Palestinian village out of the 531 that were depopulated and destroyed where Palestinians have returned to their land.
This village and farms are in the shadow…surrounded by Jewish settlements, one of which we watched being built before our very eyes! Cement trucks and heavy equipment were clearly building on the hillside right above the olive groves and vegetable fields of the village. This is a community of 80,000 Orthodox Jews, with the first construction having begun in 1998 and some housing just now being built. (Wadi Fukin has 1200 people!)
Adel showed us, and explained their cooperative water system which is fed by natural springs. As we progressed through the one main street in the village, we were greeted by very friendly adults and some small children. The rest of the children were attending the large new looking school towards the end of the village street. All of the construction is fairly new, because only a few buildings survived the Israeli demolition of the Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948. The villagers have slowly rebuilt their houses and community buildings as they have accumulated money over the years…slowly…and helping one another along the way. It took Adel’s family 12 years to rebuild their family home…and about 10 people were helping work on it as they earned money to continue to build.
We walked past a women’s health clinic, a large building full of chickens and bought soft drinks at a little grocery store…’convenience store’ sized. We met a couple of farmers with their small, well used tractors and saw a sleepy white donkey beneath an olive tree, waiting for his next task. One man proudly showed us his beautiful white rabbits. (He divulged to one in our group that he had two wives, and hoped he would, God willing, have as many children as he had rabbits!) My impression was one of walking through a small, friendly, peaceful village in an ancient land.
Back at our worksite at the community center, we broke into groups who worked inside the center scraping and spackling walls, cleaning kitchen cabinets, leveling and liming the yard area for a future garden.
Three women in our group went up to Adel’s home to work with his mother, Nehad, as she prepared our lunch. (She actually did all of the work herself…our team members watched carefully and jotted notes about process and ingredients, which again included ‘special spices’!! Nebad’s daughter-in-law, Duaa said, with a smile, “She always likes to do it herself…she likes to have control of things!”) The meal was a delicious rice and garbanzo bean dish with garlic and subtle spice with a lovely chicken rubbed with paprika and other spices. The dish is called Kedra, and we hope to recreate it at our FUMC forum on 11/20. Nehad wants to get the spices for us before we leave! We’ll also look for them in Bethlehem spice shops in the next couple of days, because there are blends for certain dishes, and we may be able to find the combos we want since we know the names of a couple of yummy dishes we have been served by these wonderful cooks in Wadi Fukin. The rice and chicken dish was served with the traditional tomato-cucumber-mint-lemon-parsley salad (cut up in very small dice) and yogurt.
We ate in a sort of great room located next to Adel’s parents’ very nice house. He was very proud of his mother’s cooking (which was well deserved) and was especially concerned that we felt his house was also our house. It was a lovely meal, enjoyed by all, immensely!
After getting back to Bethlehem and a fast clean-up and change of clothing, we boarded the bus again and visited Bethlehem’s Wa’im Conflict Resolution Center. (Wi’am means ‘cordial relationship’ in Arabic.) This is a Christian grassroots organization that believes in human rights and justice achieved through non-violence. Their mediation projects focus on the Arab traditions of reconciliation, called Sulha. They use mediation teams of three people who are available to help people having domestic or civil problems. Our speakers, the program manager (Emel) and the founder-director, Zoughbi Zoughbi, said their successful mediation sessions end with everyone drinking small cups of Arab coffee which is the sign of reconciliation in this culture. As the twenty-two of us sat around tables listening to these men sharing their important work, we were all served Arab coffee and tea…twice! (There was a needlework sign in the office as we entered that read, ‘Make Tea, Not Walls’…and that is what happened this afternoon…lots of tea and no walls between us!)
They spoke of their program to help young people in the schools learn the skills of peace-making and reconciliation so they can become peaceful Palestinian ambassadors to the rest of the world. They also spoke of programs they have especially for women and young children. They freely spoke of their efforts to deprive the Israeli government from an enemy by continuing the non-violent movement. We found ourselves once again having a sobering, thought-provoking discussion with two remarkable Palestinians. Before we left the center we browsed and bought several beautiful hand sewn items and other handiwork from their shop.
Our last stop before returning to the hotel for the evening was the infamous Separation Wall. We stopped at the same spot where Dee and I stopped 3 years ago. Now there are many more things drawn and written on the wall. Where we posed for our group photo those years ago, as we spray painted FUMC on the wall, is a huge heart being ripped in half. This time 20 of us from Portland posed in front of that spot and had our VIM team picture taken. We continued our walk in sober quiet, wondering at the poignant things written and drawn on this terrible wall. Many photos were taken and we were all discussing how unbelievable this thing is as we boarded the bus to end the travel of the day.
One of the photos included is of a Palestinian home, surrounded on three sides by ‘The Wall’ which seems to be a microcosm of the pain and capriciousness of this structure on the lives of this community. Communities have been enormously impacted as families have been separated from families in some cases, businesses have closed due to lack of traffic with checkpoints and rerouting, and with losing their access to Jerusalem and the holy sites of their faith, whether Christian or Muslim. Sobering, frustrating and sad! The Israelis call it a security fence and the rest of the world sees it as Apartheid!