The Tent of Nations – a nonviolent conviction to resist injustice and build hope for peace

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 points to one of the surrounding Israeli settlements. Photo EAPPI/E. Goebel.

Daher Nassar points to one of the surrounding Israeli settlements. Photo EAPPI/E. Goebel.

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.

“We want to be treated as human beings who have the right to live in peace and justice.”

The human impact of the separation wall and one man’s response to struggle.

by Chris, Bethlehem team

George and Sylvia Handal. The separation wall is built next to their house in the distance. Photo EAPPI/C. Jones

George and Sylvia Handal. The separation wall is built next to their house in the distance. Photo EAPPI/C. Jones

George Handal is a Christian born in Bethlehem. He grew up in a small house.  When he raised his own family, he extended the house and added a second floor. In 1998, George began building a new house neighboring the old for his retirement, which he finished in 2010. A retired school teacher, George lives on a small pension with his wife Sylvia.

Surrounding George’s house used to be land filled with olive trees. In 2005, however, the separation wall was built near George’s home and confiscated 15 acres of his land and 55 of his olive trees.  George’s land and trees are located near the settlement of Har Homa. Due to fear of going near the settlement, George is afraid to go near and cultivate his land.

“We used to sell olives and olive oil,” George explained. “Now we have to buy them from Israel.”

Building of the separation wall began in 2002 after the second intifada.  The Israeli government claims the separation wall stops the problem of suicide bombers coming from the West Bank into Israel.  According to UNOCHA, however, 85% of the barrier’s route lies inside the West Bank, rather than along the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank, known as the Green Line. The total length of the separation barrier is 712 km, twice the length of the Green Line.

Although George’s house is only 6 miles south of Jerusalem, he only travels there 3 times per year.  Before the wall was built, Jerusalem was only a 10 minute drive away, but George can no longer take his car through the checkpoint.

George has Palestinian ID and only those with Israeli ID are allowed to drive through the checkpoint. Instead, George must obtain a permit, in order to travel to Jerusalem, which is not an easy endeavour.  If he receives  permit, he must walk through a pedestrian checkpoint. Finally, on the other side, he must take a bus or a taxi to complete his journey.

Depending on the time of day, it can take one and sometimes many hours to pass through the checkpoint. Unlike George, many men from Bethlehem work in Jerusalem and must make this checkpoint journey everyday.  Their day often begins at 4 am, when the checkpoints.  Daily, over 5000 people will make this commute to work between 4 am and 7am.

For George the building of the separation wall means not only a loss of a source of livelihood, but also the loss of freedom to travel to his ancestor’s land and to Jerusalem, a city he could freely visit only 15 years ago.

Despite this loss, George is not hateful:

“We are not against anybody at all. We don’t hate. We see Israelis as human beings and we want to be treated as human beings who have the right to live in peace and justice.”

What can you do this week for Peace and Justice?

Join ACT Palestine Forum’s prayer vigil and Christians all over the world in praying for those suffering in the Holy Land

On 24 December 2012, the ACT Palestine Forum, a forum of the ACT Alliance, a global alliance of over 100 churches and church related organizations launched a monthly prayer vigil. On the 24th of each month, “Christians from all over the world join together to pray for the Christian communities in Palestine and Israel, for all those who are suffering in the Holy Land, for Palestinians and Israelis, and for peace in the Middle East and the world.”

“This prayer vigil will continue until the Israeli occupation is dismantled, violence in the Middle East ends, and all can celebrate a just and lasting negotiated resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

The ACT Palestine Forum prayer vigil invites you to pray with your family or congregations, offers you a way to connect with groups praying throughout the world, and even provides activities and resources you can use in your own prayer vigil.

Watch ACT Palestine Forum’s recently released video and plan your own prayer vigil for this Saturday the 24th.