Bonded in Resistance to the Barrier

Palestinians in the village of Wadi Fukin are worried about expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement of Betar Ilit.
Palestinians in the village of Wadi Fukin are worried about expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement of Betar Ilit. (By Scott Wilson -- The Washington Post)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 8, 2007

WADI FUKIN, West Bank -- The Palestinians of this village have long looked toward Tzur Hadassah, a neighboring Israeli town, for jobs building homes on land that decades ago belonged to them.

Now some Palestinians are looking to their Jewish neighbors for a different kind of help. Israel's separation barrier is slated to rise between the antique village and the modern suburb, replacing a stand of pines that marks the porous boundary here between the West Bank and Israel.

Over almonds, hummus and tea in a comfortable Tzur Hadassah living room, several Palestinian farmers gathered on an April evening to ask their hosts to help preserve the bonds they have maintained for years.

"God told us two peoples should live in this land," Mohammed Awad Sukkar, 52, told the group. "And so we should."

As it physically divides hundreds of Arab and Jewish communities along its 456-mile route, Israel's separation barrier is ending countless personal relationships that have developed between the two peoples. Lawsuits and protests by Israeli and Palestinian activists have failed to slow construction of the cement and chain-link barrier, and a number of communities have turned instead to each other to prevent their impending division.

The intimate experiment in cross-cultural cooperation taking place in this narrow valley tells a larger story of the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate and the increasingly strained relations between individual Arabs and Jews. Mutual suspicion, opposition within the participants' own communities, and the unequal status of Arabs and Jews have made it far more difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to work together, even those with a history of doing so.

"To change the reality on a major scale seems almost impossible," said Dudy Tzfati, a genetics researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who hosted the rare gathering with his wife, Dana. "At least we can try to do something in our own neighborhood."

A mostly secular suburb of Jerusalem, Tzur Hadassah spills over a ridgeline above Wadi Fukin, a village of 1,200 people whose hidden valley is a popular hiking destination for Israelis.

Natural springs water the patchwork of vegetable plots and olive groves that have sustained the village for centuries, even during the period when its people vanished.

Jordan seized the West Bank in the 1948-49 war that accompanied Israel's creation and evacuated the village because of its proximity to the armistice line. That boundary left more than half the village's land inside Israel, farmers here say, ground on which Tzur Hadassah neighborhoods would rise years later.

Most families ended up in the Deheisha refugee camp near Bethlehem -- now behind an inner layer of Israel's separation wall six miles to the east -- but the men continued commuting to their fields. Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, and the military allowed the villagers to return in 1972.

Now Wadi Fukin is at the center of a tightening circle of Israeli development, its growth circumscribed by the planned barrier, a new road joining southern Jewish settlements to Jerusalem, and the expanding settlement of Betar Ilit rising over the next ridgeline.

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