faith in action

Settlements: A stumbling block to peace.

The mayors of Bethlehem and Wadi Foquin in the West Bank visited Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. last week. They spoke at a congressional briefing and met with members of Congress.

The Friends of Wadi Foquin Foundation, in partnership with Churches for Middle East Peace and Church and Society, hosted a congressional briefing Nov. 14. The presentation focused on the impact Israeli settlements have on Palestinians.

Settlements are communities set up by the Israeli government on Palestinian land. Israel has occupied this area since 1967.

The Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, opened the briefing by tracing American policy on settlements from President Jimmy Carter through to the present administration.

She said each of the presidents, Republicans and Democrats alike, has spoken out against settlements, but only Carter called them “illegal.”

“Under international law, settlements are illegal,” Cannon said. “These settlements are detriments to peace,” she added.

Ahmad Sokar, mayor of Wadi Foquin in the West Bank, and Anton Salman, mayor of Bethlehem also spoke.

Sokar’s presentation included a slide show of the impact the Betar Illit settlement has had on his village. The Israeli government has praised Betar Illit, despite being viewed as illegal by the international community.

Sokar expressed worry about the future of his village.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Betar Illit in August and to promote plans to expand the settlement.

Sokar says the proposal leaves Wadi Foquin an island surrounded by settlements. He added the plan also cuts off the only road that leads to the village.

Construction has already begun.

In concluding remarks, Salman spoke of how to move forward. He said, “We cannot talk about peace without talking about settlements.”

Following the briefing, the mayors and advocates met with congressional offices. They carried the message on which U.S. presidents of both parties have agreed, “Settlements are an obstacle to peace.”

Note: This article was edited on Nov. 28 for clarity. The article was changed to reflect that the settlements are set up by the Israeli government and to clarify that the event Netanyahu attended was a groundbreaking ceremony.