A Village Under Siege in the West Bank

As Palestinians seek statehood at the United Nations, the daily struggle goes on for the 1,200 residents of Wadi Fukin.
A Village Under Siege in the West Bank

Most days Yousef Manasra wakes to the sound of jackhammers. The incessant pounding drones on throughout the day and into the evening as workers clear nearby land for new homes in the Beitar Illit settlement.

For Manasra, 88, the jackhammers are a reminder of the tenuous situation facing his small town of Wadi Fukin, in the Palestinian territories.

"It's a nightmare that's come to us," he said. "If there was an earthquake, that would be better than what they're doing to us."

Over the past five years (since I first reported from Wadi Fukin), Manasra said the situation in his town has deteriorated considerably. Beitar Illit has the highest birthrate of any settlement in the West Bank and currently houses more than 40,000 ultra-orthodox settlers. It has grown by more than 10,000 people since 2006, and planners say it's expected to house 100,000 residents, dwarfing Wadi Fukin (population 1,200) and other nearby Palestinian towns.

It is often the men from Wadi Fukin who run the jackhammers and build the settlement's multistory houses. Cheap Israeli produce has flooded the Palestinian markets, putting farmers in this verdant valley out of business and pushing them into construction jobs.

"At the end of the day people need money…and the only available source of income to be seen for Wadi Fukin and maybe many communities around it is work inside the settlements themselves—building these same settlements that suffocate them," said Suhail Khalilieh, who heads the Settlements Monitoring Department at the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem.

Back in 2006 residents feared their town would soon be surrounded by Israel's separation wall, cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank. While the town is not surrounded yet, one important section of the wall has been built. A concrete barrier erected in the town of al-Khader now divides Wadi Fukin from the nearby city of Bethlehem, which residents rely on for food, school, and health care.

A mass exodus of the town's young people also remains a constant fear. Five years ago Yousef Manasra said he worried the younger generation would grow tired of navigating the restrictions imposed by the occupation and move farther into the West Bank, leaving the town to slowly die off.

For Manasra, moving is unthinkable. He's already seen the town die once. In 1953, Israeli soldiers dynamited Wadi Fukin as part of the ongoing border dispute that erupted after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. He and the rest of the village lived in the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp until 1972, when they were finally allowed back. When they rebuilt Wadi Fukin, it would be the only time, as far as Palestinians can recall, that residents reconstructed a town destroyed in fighting associated with the 1948 war.

"If it were our choice, we'd die rather than leave again," he said.

The same is not true for his grandson Adel Hroub, 27. Hroub said he would like to stay but will leave if he can find meaningful work elsewhere. He just graduated from al-Quds University with an English degree and dreams of working at a foreign embassy.

"With the life as it is now in Wadi Fukin, there is no future," he said.