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.

How will children grow up when violence is an ever-present reality?

An EA reflects on the affect on children from the non-violent protest of Kafr Qaddum, which frequently becomes violent – the Israeli army shoots tear gas and sound bombs at the protestors; protestors throw stones and burn tires.

by Julia, Tulkarm team

Tear gas surrounds the houses of Kafr Qaddum as the Israeli army often shoots towards the houses. Photo EAPPI/M. Soderstrom.

Tear gas surrounds the houses of Kafr Qaddum as the Israeli army often shoots towards the houses. Photo EAPPI/M. Soderstrom.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine affects Palestinian society on many levels. In the village of Kafr Qaddum, it is impossible not to be involved in some way. The village is known for hosting Palestine’s largest weekly demonstration and the whole village seems to be involved in the protest, in one way or another.

Why do the people of Kafr Qaddum demonstrate?

To understand why the demonstration takes place one has to know what lies in the surrounding area. Kafr Qaddum is located 15 km from the city of Nablus, where many of the inhabitants from the village work or study. Walking distance from the village lies the Israeli settlement Kedumin. On the webpage of Kedumin, one can read that the settlement hosts a high school specialized in boys with ADHD problems, a music academy and several women’s clubs. The settlement is expanding and currently there are 700 housing units under construction.

Kedumin’s homepage, however, does not mention that the Israeli military has blocked the road between Kafr Qaddum and Nablus in order to protect the settlers.  The roadblock forces Kafr Qaddum residents to take a detour and drive an additional 15 km in order to get to Nablus. Moreover, it does not mention that the settlement, through its mere existence, violates international humanitarian law, as the settlement is built on occupied Palestinian territory.

The role of children

The Israeli military is waiting as the residents of Kafr Qaddum approach the road block non-violently. Photo EAPPI/I. Lindwall.

The Israeli military is waiting as the residents of Kafr Qaddum approach the road block non-violently. Photo EAPPI/I. Lindwall.

The Kafr Qaddum demonstration takes place every Friday, after prayers. According to its organizer, Murad, it aims to lift the road block to Nablus and prevent the settlement from expanding. The demonstration strives to be nonviolent. “That’s why we let our children participate,” states Murad. Despite this, the demonstration tends to become very violent – tear gas and sound bombs are shot at the protestors, stones are thrown by the protesters, tires are burnt, and people are arrested.

“Last Friday was like a war,” says Buker, one of the sons in the family whose house is the closest to the settlement. He tells us that the feathers of the family’s geese have turned black because of the smoke resulting from the protests every Friday.  Sometimes his family is too afraid to stay in the house when the demonstration is about to take place. They fear not only the tear gas, but that their house will be occupied by the Israeli army (which has happened on several occasions in the past). I asked Murad if the purpose of the demonstration can get lost amidst the tear gas. He answers that this is not the case: “The whole village is proud of our resistance”.

“I wasn’t afraid when the Israeli army detained me”

On Friday, 16 November 2013, four boys aged 8-10 years-old were playing outside one of the houses closest to the settlement. It was around 9.30 am, three hours before the demonstration would start. Different people have different versions about what happened that day, but it seems clear that the children were detained and handcuffed for one hour by the Israeli military and asked whether they would be participating in the demonstration.  During this detention, a neighbour heard the children cry and tried unsuccessfully to convince the soldiers to release the children. The neighbour then called the Palestinian authorities, and after negotiations with Israeli authorities the children were released.

The demonstration that followed was very violent, even by Kafr Qaddum standards. About 14 people were injured and arrested.The Mayor of Kafr Qaddum stated that hundreds of tear gas canisters were found on the ground after everything ended. Several people from the village speculated that the demonstration was unusually violent since it coincided with Palestine’s national day.

In June 2013, the Israeli army shot a tear gas canistar into a Palestinian house in Kafr Qaddum with 6 children. Photo EAPPI/B. Myszkowski.

In June 2013, the Israeli army shot a tear gas canistar into a Palestinian house in Kafr Qaddum with 6 children. Photo EAPPI/B. Myszkowski.

A few days after the demonstration took place I had the chance to speak with one of the boys that was detained. Hussam, 8 years-old, said that he wasn’t afraid during the detention. He did not have any problems sleeping afterwards, so why would he be afraid? Yes, he and his friends discussed the detention in school but none of the boys admitted that they were scared. He then showed the bruises on his arm that he claimed was a result of one of the soldiers grabbing him. When I asked how it felt to talk about what happened, he replied, “I am proud”. As a response to this, one of the men in the room gave him a manly pat on the back and laughed. I felt that I had to look away, close my eyes and take a deep breath to try and have a neutral reaction.

Resistance, but a what cost?

I reflect on the negative aspects this culture of masculinity fostered by the occupation, where violence is constantly present. I think about how this eight year old boy is being introduced into a romance of violence that he may be too young to fully understand. How Hussam, despite his young age, is now ‘one of the guys’ and what he has been through might be the first of many detentions and violations of human rights that he will experience. I think about the attention this boy received as a consequence of being detained, attention received even from people like myself. This may have been the first time he has spoken to a foreigner. Probably is.

I also consider the alternatives that the people of Kafr Qaddum have. They want to express their discontent; they want to prevent further expansion of the settlement, they want to change their situation. As the settlements are already considered legal by the occupying power, the legal system seems to offer little help. Every Friday the people of Kafr Qaddum show their resistance. But at what cost? Alternatively, what is the price of refraining from demonstrating? If you live in Kafr Qaddum you cannot choose to ignore the politics surrounding you. Most Palestinians do not have that luxury: they are drenched in the politics of the occupation.