November 1, 2013
"Who has all the power? They do. That’s it," replied Mr. Ahmad Ibrahim Manasrah, member of the Wadi Fukin Local Council, when asked about the current situation of his village, situated south-west of Bethlehem. He spoke directly, starting with the most accurate conclusion he sees and feels each day.
Last week Israeli authorities stopped the construction of a park and children’s playground in Wadi Fukin, on the grounds that it was built without a license. After showing the Palestine Monitor around the site, Mr. Manasrah expressed his feelings of shame at the park's unfinished state. A simple idea bursting with love and good will, blocked and stunned so quickly. The incomplete park is empty, with no children, no life.
With part of the village in Area B, another part in Area C, and over 3000 dunums area isolated behind the separation wall, the usually assumed convenience of having one’s own village intact and under one administration is completely unthought of, shattered. Yet it is just one of the many problems residents of Wadi Fukin have to deal with on a daily basis.
Both Mr. Manasrah and Mr. Ibrahim El Hroub, Vice President of the Village Council, explained how Wadi Fukin, 'the Valley of Thistle,’ lies in between two hills, on top of which are the settlements of Betar 'Illit and Hadar Betar. The waste water dumped by the settlers into Wadi Fukin pollutes the irrigation water and the agriculture produce is consequently contaminated, rendering it inedible. Big boulders of rock are also thrown into the valley as if it were a rubbish dump. Construction debris destroys olive trees and is dangerous to anyone walking in the vicinity. "It is not safe for us to work there. I also had trees and they destroyed them," said Mr. Manasrah.
Over the past years, most of the indigenous residents of Wadi Fukin have been forced to leave their homes due to a variety of complications—isolation from clinics and other facilities, loss of agricultural land, lack of potable water and and unemployment—seeking refuge elsewhere, mostly in Bethlehem's Deheishe refugee camp.
Wadi Fukin’s silence and inactivity speaks loudly within the village. Betar 'Illit, on the other hand, has around 35,000 inhabitants, 43 schools, 2 clinics, public transportation, gardens, playgrounds and is still expanding. One can see and hear the cranes and construction going on just a little ways off up the hill from Wadi Fukin, which, on the other hand, has around 1,300 inhabitants left, one school, no reliable clinic - especially at night, no gardens or parks and, as a whole, is disappearing at an alarming rate.
No buildings or houses are allowed in the part of the valley that falls within Area C—the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and military control—an area the village reserves for agricultural purposes. In truth, the garden is an open space not a built-up closed structure, and hence, does not need the required Israeli granted construction permit. In one way or the other, both the agricultural and recreational aims of Wadi Fukin are blocked.
The President of the Village Council, Mr. Ahmad As-Sukkar, explained that they were receiving funds from Heks-Eper, a European based organization for International Aid, in order to create the park, yet since they had to stop, the funds have been suspended until further notice. "We have a hearing at court in 45 days, then we will know what will happen," he said.
"There are no lively facilities, truly, no such facilities at all. Everything is prohibited and suffocated for our children. So we started to make a playground just at the edge of our village. Just a simple garden," said Mr. Manasrah, explaining how it is far from actually becoming a functional park. "They pass laws on everything, the roads, the gardens..everything. They send us orders to stop construction, claiming we are offenders of the law, but we are not. We just want to work with the land, we want to support our fathers, that’s all, no harm. That is the aim of our garden," he said.
The Council members highlighted the fact that most people need to apply for working permits within Israel since they are not able to find work in the village. In the end, they are forced to depend on the same authority that deprives them of their liberty. The contradiction is unsettling. The same authority which in once instance allows Israel’s network settlements to continually expand, facilitating their annexation of privately owned Palestinian land, simultaneously declares a small garden to be illegal.
Power in this case allows for the ability to define what is legal or possible, at a given time and place. Strong and rigid, yet versatile and subtle, power hides behind such noble ideas as truth and justice, as well as administrative formalities, which often aid in obscuring the underlying irony of an endless and organized mess of manipulation.
Stopping the park’s development is not just an isolated incident, it is a continuation of a much larger and often hidden Israeli strategy of exercising uncontrolled power and stripping the Palestinians not just of their land but of their will and strength. Wadi Fukin’s cage-like situation is representative of many other Palestinian villages throughout the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and present day Israel.
"The water contamination makes the farmers abandon their land... one of the reasons we made this project was to encourage farmers to go and work there nonetheless." said Mr. El Hroub, passionately emphasizing that all they want is the chance and space to build facilities for the villagers. The members’ dedication shines through their eyes as they speak. "We are like a bird in a cage,’’ said Mr El Hroub, "but we will not give up."
Video by Laurent Vinckier, subtitles by Samuela Galea.
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