What do a swing, a slide, and a soccer field have in common? It would seem an obvious question ~ these are all things which provide children a safe place to play and simply be children. But in this Palestinian village, the swing, the slide, and the soccer field all share the same fate ~ They have received stop work orders and may well be demolished should anyone have the audacity to complete these playground projects without the required permits ~ permits which are impossible for Palestinians in this village to obtain under a cruel and inhumane military occupation.
It is a Saturday afternoon and I am invited to join a Methodist delegation to the village of Wadi Fukin (Foquin/Fuqeen) ~ one of the villages our Bethlehem EAPPI team monitored in the fall of 2012 (see earlier post, Between a Rock and a Hard Place ~ A Village Surrounded). It has been three years since I was here picking olives, and I am anxious to see what changes have taken place in this small community of 1,300 people.
As we turn off of the main road and make our way down into the lush and fertile valley, I am immediately struck by how narrow the valley has become. The two illegal settlements on the hills above have crept downwards, confiscating more and more village land, building more and more houses, hemming in the village on both sides, and dramatically restricting the arable land. So much has changed ~ and yet so much remains the same. The mayor relays stories of settler violence and harassment ~ sewage from the settlement is regularly released into the valley, contaminating the small plots of agricultural land ~ settlers bathe in the springs, burn wheat fields, and uproot olive and fruit trees. Just four months ago, 1,300 fruit trees were lost to the bulldozers. The ongoing effects of the occupation on this small community are devastating.
Together with village representatives we make our way to the end of the valley as the Methodist delegation has come to see the results of their fundraising efforts through Friends of Wadi Fukin to build a small soccer field for village children. Above the dirt road on the right we spot an area that has been built up and reinforced with a retaining wall to create a level playing field ~ a sign is affixed thanking the Global Ministries of the Methodist Church for their generous support. But we quickly notice that it is clearly unfinished. Rebar and wire hold together the rock retaining wall which awaits its concrete casing. The jumble of rocks on the uphill slope have not yet been transformed into spectator seats. The field is not seeded. The goal posts are missing ~ We are informed that the soccer field, along with the adjacent small playground have all received stop work orders from the Israeli government, the most recent one in July. If the village completes the project it will result in the issuance of a demolition order ~ a demolition order on the only place in the village where children can play.
And this is the story of only one village. Stories of stop work orders and demolition orders can be multiplied by the thousands throughout Area C of the occupied West Bank (see earlier post, The A, B, Cs of Occupation). What would it be like to constantly live in the shadow of the bulldozers? And yet the Israeli government claims that it is the Palestinians who are inciting the current wave of violence. Is not a 48-year military occupation incitement? Is not restriction of movement and an oppressive permit system incitement? Is not land theft and the demolition of playgrounds, homes and livelihoods incitement? An opinion piece published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz boldly states: “Israel has created the boy ‘terrorist’… It is a moral indictment” ~ We are reminded that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter ~ Has anyone thought of ending the occupation for starters?