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Japanese and Palestinian Solidarity & Apartheid Roads in the West Bank 

With Reverend Michael Yoshii

Photo Caption: With the help of partnership funds, villagers in Wadi Foquin were able to convert an old house into a space suitable for community programs and for hosting visitors. Photo credit: Friends of Wadi Foquin website 

Many people forget that it is recent American history that saw the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, when the U.S. government forcibly relocated and incarcerated over 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent into American concentration camps. Reverend Michael Yoshii, retired pastor of 30 years at Buena Vista United Methodist Church, understands the profound impact of such injustices from the firsthand experiences of both his former congregation and his parents. This historical and generational trauma in part fuels Yoshii’s solidarity within his own community as well as with other marginalized groups, most notably for him, Palestinians facing apartheid.  

The interconnectedness of liberation struggles is striking: Japanese Americans, once deemed by our own government the “face of the enemy,” empathize deeply with Arab and Muslim communities targeted post-9/11. This solidarity is especially felt as Palestinians face a genocide in Gaza. This understanding led Buena Vista Methodist Church to foster interfaith relationships and support Palestinian rights, exemplified by their partnership with the Palestinian village, Wadi Foquin, a West Bank village most known for its agricultural production. 

Friends of Wadi Foquin was created in 2009 with a small amount of fundraising to build beehives in the village. This helped offset the significant damage inflicted on agricultural life by nearby Israeli settlements, whose roads are prohibited to Palestinians. Through projects like reclaiming a dilapidated building for a community center or building a soccer field on Palestinian land threatened by the occupation, Friends of Wadi Foquin sent a powerful message that life and dignity will not be denied. This is a powerful alliance which reminds us that the movement for justice anywhere reinforces the struggle for justice everywhere.  

Yoshii spoke about the first time he visited Palestine in 2006: “The thing is you’re there in person and physically, viscerally, your body is experiencing the occupation and you’re in the presence of other people who are trying to tell their stories. And the couple of things that hit me, I think that were very central to my identity as a Japanese American. The first thing was about people sharing their stories and their history. I mean, history is essentially being censored, particularly when we went on some of our exposure trips and met people from the North and heard their stories of their families and villages, which are being basically dismantled and demolished, people are losing their homes. There’s a resonance for me as a Japanese American because we went through the same struggle. I can’t say it’s anything in comparison to Palestinians, but the similar thread is that we went through the struggle of needing to tell our story too.”  

With Friends of Wadi Foquin, Rev. Michael Yoshii has been at the forefront of efforts to end the apartheid system imposed on the Palestinians. Israeli apartheid is a system characterized by severe restrictions on movement, unequal distribution of resources, and violent suppression of dissent for all Palestinians. In Wadi Foquin, like most towns in the West Bank, apartheid has manifested in the demolition of homes and businesses. These demolitions have become more and more frequent after Israel’s assault on Gaza. “There’ve been two new home demolitions since October 7th and the demolition of a marble factory, which was pretty devastating,” Yoshii notes. “There was harassment of olive harvests late October, early November. One of the villagers was beaten and their olive harvest tools were taken. Even the olives were taken,” Yoshii recounts. 

This harassment from Israelis is not new to Palestinians. For over 76 years, the apartheid system that Israel benefits from has always aimed to displace Palestinians and appropriate their land. Adam, a young engineer from Wadi Foquin, has emerged as a key figure in the effort to educate others, particularly Americans, on these injustices. Adam has been instrumental in organizing presentations on environmental impacts and raising funds for community projects. His recent visit to the U.S. has been a significant part of these efforts, despite being unable to return to Palestine due to the current genocide.  

In response to the intensified blockade and economic hardship following October 7th, Friends of Wadi Foquin established an emergency fund for the village. This fund provides essential support to the villagers, helping them navigate the severe restrictions imposed by the Israeli military. It allows families to buy necessities when they can access Bethlehem, circumventing some of the blockade’s restrictions. “The situation on the blockade has kind of lifted somewhat, but it’s not total, because they’re still relying on getting through the checkpoints to get what they need, whether that’s food, items for their kids, medicine, or anything else… And so when they can get into Bethlehem, they’ll get what they need,” Yoshii noted. 

Currently, Friends of Wadi Foquin is trying to combat Israel’s planned construction of an “apartheid road” through the village. This road, intended to service the settlement infrastructure, threatens to uproot olive trees and disrupt the livelihoods of several farmers. “They’ve tagged all the trees that they’re going to demolish to build the road. It’s going to impact the land of about eight farmers if they go ahead and build that road,” Yoshii explains. The Israeli Civil Administration recently held a hearing in Jerusalem to hear objections to the proposed road as part of their approval process.  A number of Friends of Wadi Foquin supporters logged on remotely to attend the hearing, despite it being past midnight in their time zone. Congressional letters opposing the road were submitted to the record including one written in July 2023 urging the State Department to halt the construction of the road.  A final ICA hearing has been scheduled for June 16th, 2024 for additional objections to the road.

If you are interested in helping to stop the construction of the apartheid road, please share this article with your Congressional Representative and Senators and ask them to add their voice in support of Wadi Foquin. Please share any positive responses with Rev. Michael Yoshii at michaelyoshii1@gmail.com to coordinate efforts. 

Rev. Michael Yoshii’s dedication to Palestinian rights and his work with Friends of Wadi Foquin is exactly what the Apartheid-Free Initiative was meant to represent. Not only is this interfaith and intercultural relationship incredibly inspiring, but it shows us that solidarity knows no borders. Learn more about Friends of Wadi Foquin and their direct efforts in ending apartheid on their website here.  

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