Sunday, November 01, 2020

Wadi Fukin: where the dream of return came true

By Annelies Verbeek - July 12, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Nakba] [Right of Return] [settlements]

Awn Manasra sat on his couch as his wife brought Kousa Mahshi - stuffed courgette. His granddaughter and grandson ran, playing around the house. He wiped his forehead as he began speaking about the history of his village. Sometimes, it is important to go back to the roots. 

He and his family live in the 1,200 inhabitant village of Wadi Fukin, 15 kilometers from Bethlehem, and half a kilometer from the 1948 armistice line - the “Green Line.” Its location has given the village an unique history.
When Zionist militias ethnically cleansed Palestine in 1948, Wadi Fukin was also depopulated, despite being located in the West Bank. This remained under Jordanian control until it was occupied by Israel in 1967.
The occupation of the West Bank, for the inhabitants of Wadi Fukin, meant the return. Its inhabitants were the only Palestinians to ever have lived the utopian return to their depopulated village.
Ethnic cleansing
Life was good in Wadi Fukin before 1948. This became clear through the twinkles in Manasra’s eyes when narrating this period. His wife’s father used to work in Yafa, current Tel Aviv. Unobstructed by borders and checkpoints, there was a train line to connect both Palestinian cities.
Though life seemed perfect, in retrospect Manasra did emphasise that Zionist militia used to frequently attack the village before 1948. The unequal power balance between Zionist forces and Palestinians already existed in this period.
“Palestinians were not allowed to carry weapons, not even a knife, while these militias were well-trained and armed,” Manasra explained.
When the Israeli state was established in 1948, like in the rest of Palestine, villagers were chased out by a combination of fear instilled by massacres in Deir Yassin and Duwaymeh, and physical attacks by Zionist militias.
“It was the Jews who came from outside who hurt us,” Manasra emphasised. “There have always been Jews here, they were part of us. We lived together. It is only the Zionists that hurt us.”
The villagers fled, thinking their exile would only be temporary. Some ended up in nearby villages, such as Husan and Nahalin. More were forced to build a new home in Dheisheh refugee camp south of Bethlehem.
Tending to the lands in exile
After the war, when the Green Line was drawn, the village ended up inside the West Bank. This meant it was officially under Jordanian rule. But the Israelis had struck an agreement with the Jordanians, ruling the village was too close to the Green Line for the villagers to return.
“The Jordanians did not have any authority here,” Manasra said, emphasising that the territory was de facto ruled by the Israeli army. He explained that the Israelis would patrol the area and shoot at Palestinians that tried to return.
But the villagers, who were expelled to new places only kilometers from their land, did not give up tending to their trees and crops.
“They would return every day to work on the land, and go back to the camp at night to sleep,” Manasra said proudly.
He explained that the Israeli patrols mainly policed the area at night, so it was easier to come during the day. Also because in the light of day, the Israelis could be seen from afar. There would be one person on the lookout. If they would spot the army coming, they warned the Palestinian farmers to run.
Despite these precautionary measures, the Israeli army did regularly attack the people working in the land, and many were killed. Some of the young men in the village were armed. “They once killed ten soldiers. As a revenge, the Israelis came and killed many more,” Manasra recalled.
The Israeli army waited until 1956 to completely demolish the village. “Not one house was left,” he explained. Manasra’s family was expelled to the adjacent village of Husan. Even in exile, he went to school in his depopulated village. “I could only attend one year of school before the Israelis demolished it,” he explained.
The return
But in 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank too. “Suddenly, Israel’s borders were not Wadi Fukin anymore, but the Jordan River,” Manasra explained. Israel’s “Wakdi Fukin is too close to the border” claim no longer had legitimacy.
“So the people started to think they could return,” Manasra said. The village mukhtar called on people to return to the land, even without having received a confirmation from the Israelis.
“So people slowly started to return,” Manasra recalled. “Some lived in sheds, some in caves. After a while people managed to rebuild their houses.
“Truth is, what we did was reverse settlement building,” Manasra said. “We managed to create a reality on the ground. We were there, and the Israelis could not expel us again.”
Besieged by settlements
The villagers returned, and Wadi Fukin was re-established as a village. But throughout time, its inhabitants have slowly become besieged by the Israeli settlements of Beitar Illit and Beit Shemesh. Those settlements have appropriated water resources, and leak sewage water into Wadi Fukin’s agricultural fields, damaging crops.
Beitar Illit is built on the remains of the Palestinian village of Al-Qabu, whose inhabitants never had the opportunity to return.
“The future of Wadi Fukin is very uncertain,” Manasra said, continuing to say he thought the village would be annexed to the Jerusalem Governorate soon.
On the other hand, Manasra emphasised that there have been many occupiers in this land.
“All of them left, and we stayed. There will come a day when all of this ends.”
Lead photo: The settlement of Beit Shemesh looms over Wadi Fukin.

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