Confiscation of Palestinian land by Israeli authorities is a common occurrence throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. In Bethlehem there is a man who, despite constant threat of confiscation of his own land, still believes in peace, hope – and resistance.
by Esther, Bethlehem team
Daher Nassar stands on his land near the city of Bethlehem, surrounded by blooming almond trees, the warm light of the afternoon sun glows as he looks down into the valley. The air smells like spring, there is no noise, no disturbance – everything seems quiet and peaceful.
But the 58 year old Palestinian knows better. Peace is actually much further away when it comes to Palestine. Just look around his land, Nassar points out elements that block a future peace. He gestures to the south pointing to the Israeli settlement of Allon Shevut. To the east, he gestures to another settlement, Neve Daniel. Finally, he turns north, where his eyes view big, white houses with red roofs surrounded by a thick wall. This is Betar Illit. With 40,000 inhabitants it is one of the biggest Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
These three settlements encircle Nassar’s farm. “400 Dunums!” , Nassar explains proudly. The official papers declaring his family’s ownership of this property date back to the Ottoman empire. It is a massive piece of land. Moreover, the location of his farm on a 950 meter high hilltop above the village of Nahhalin is strategically important.
It is perhaps for this reason, the Israeli authorities declared Nassar’s land and the surrounding area as state land in 1991. According to Nassar, they never gave him a legitimate reason to do so. Nassar’s land is located in Area C, West Bank land under full Israeli civil and military rule. The State of Israeli has declared approximately 34% of Area C state land, although doing so stands in contradiction to international law.
Nassar possesses ownership documents for his land from the Jordanian government registered between 1948 and. With these documents, Nassar began fighting for his land in the Israeli High Court in the early 90s. More than 20 years and $100,000 later Nassar is still fighting.
He strictly refuses to leave his land. Nassar’s decision is not about money, nor about power. The Palestinian is a Christian and member of the Lutheran Church. As a religious man, his decision is about showing resistance against the injustice of land confiscation, a problem many Palestinians face under the Israeli occupation.
Confiscation of Palestinian land is directly related to the expansion of Israeli settlements. Since 1967, Israeli settlements have spread throughout the West Bank, supported by the Israeli government and protected by the Israeli military. Although Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory violate Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, today there are approximately 150 settlements and 100 un-authorized settlement outposts according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
“And the settlements keep on growing!” explains Daher Nassar. “The Israeli authorities told us they would confiscate our land, too, if we don’t cultivate it for three years.”
This is why Nassar spends as much time as possible at his farm, although his family actually lives in Bethlehem.
Nassar has created his own version of peace. One can find it everywhere on his farm, in red, yellow, blue and green and many different languages:
“With heart and hand we save our land,” reads one stone, “We never lose hope!” reads another sign.
Colorful paintings and mosaics decorate Nassar’s land, on which he cultivates almond and olive trees, grapes, apples and figs. Characteristic to Nassar’s farm is a sensible use of water and ecological way of cultivating, but even more important is the community of his farm where Palestinians work together with internationals and other volunteers.
Nassar invites people of all nations to stay on his farm and cultivate together with him. Thus, he named his project the “Tent of Nations”. The garden shower he built himself, a German engineer installed the solar panel, and Nassar built a compost toilet together with an Israeli settler from Neve Daniel.
“One day he just stood on my farm saying that he wanted to help,” Nassar describes and still seems to be surprised, “and so we ended up building the toilet together.”
Still the two men didn’t become friends. Dialogue between Israeli settlers and Palestinians is seen as taboo on both sides. Moreover, Israeli settlers frequently trespass on Nassar’s land, carrying guns and attempt to cut down his olive trees. But the Palestinian still follows his principle of nonviolent resistance. “If they cut one of my trees, I will plant 10 new ones!”, he says. The Tent of Nations began almost 14 years ago – it takes more than cut down olive trees to put Daher Nassar out of his comfort zone.
But the next morning Nassar begins to gesture wildly and seems upset as he explains the most recent actions of the Israeli military. The night before, the Israeli military put up a new gate to block the road into Nassar’s farm – this is not something new. Israeli military frequently put up stone blocks, flying checkpoints, and spontaneous gates to inhibit Palestinian freedom of movement. This morning, Nassar finds himself blocked in massive, new gate, painted in the “Palestinian” colors red and green.
“I am not angry,” Nassar says, “no one can be angry for 10 or 20 years. The Bible says that one is supposed to love everyone.” It’s a tough task though. “If they would stop the settlements growing, peace could grow instead,” Nassar laments. “But what are they doing?” he asks and points to the settlements surrounding his land.
He shrugs his shoulders and waves good-bye as he makes his way to plant some new olive trees. He has planted 300 in the past 3 days, 100 each day – as a sign of hope.