<                    Report Three                    >

Snapshots of Identity and Activism

Voices of Women

Mieke… stylishly dressed, beautifully spoken Dutch woman, comfortable in Parliament and international board rooms. Her Protestant-based Development Corporation in the Middle East seeks self-determination for Palestinians. Supermarkets are researched in an effort to create best practices; one company at a time. Mieke’s group educates foreign buyers about the unjust economic situation in Israel/Palestine. “It’s a process of building,” she said, “being focused, speaking with one voice.” After carefully answering all of our questions she left us, dashing off to connect with the other important part of her life – a three month old baby.

Norma… young, visibly pregnant, tremendous energy, passionate about the Palestinians’ right to return, works out of a second floor pulled-together office familiar in the world of non-profits. She works with an Israeli organization called Zochrot, which means remembering in Hebrew. It is grassroots and active. Mostly young women do the work of putting up signs naming the Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948. They tell the story people have forgotten – that Israel planned this land grab and systematically carried out the destruction of 500 villages, scattering refugee families long before the fateful 1967 date. Palestinian life and culture were simply wiped out. Norma has retrieved important memories by going back to the beginning, collecting testimonies from the elders, and creating a long, well documented film of her findings. “First people need to know what happened; then they must decide what to do”, Norma told us with conviction and the enthusiasm of a woman who will prevail. Her baby, due in Oct. is a girl.

-- Letitia Gardner

Daher’s Vineyard

Over the weekend we traveled to Bethlehem to visit a Palestinian family farm, home to the Nassar family. The farm sits atop a hill, where the family has lived since the days of the Ottoman Empire. It is now surrounded by Israeli settlements. The Nassar family farm gave us the opportunity to see first hand how the occupation of Palestine impacts the daily lives of Palestinians.

Our visit also shed light on the many types of violence related to the occupation. We were reminded that violence comes in many forms. Economic violence happens as a result of policies that separate people from their means of livelihood. Social and cultural violence is intended to separate a people by diminishing their collective identity. Spiritual violence is perpetrated under the guise of certain religious beliefs. Its hallmark is the inability to tolerate different perspectives and it serves a political purpose.

Two of the young men from the family met us at a foothill of their farm. We walked up the road and hiked the short hill to the top where the family has built their home. The road had been blocked by the IDF and was no longer accessible by car or bus. The family must now travel another lengthier route to the village or go by donkey, horse, or foot.

The family gave us several examples of their efforts to build hope and community under very difficult circumstances. They did not tell us much about the problems they faced but we could discern the violence from their stories. The Nassar family has focused their faith and energy on creating new possibilities in what would seem to be hopeless conditions.

The Nassar’s transform their disappointment into hope by sharing with others in the community. They invite children from the village to stay on the farm. They use their land to help remind others in the village of the value of nature. They have decorated the walls of their building with stunning mosaics that depict their spiritual and religious heritage. To obtain materials for the art, they rummaged through the garbage that was dumped at the outskirts of the village. They recycled stones --and rekindled willpower-- in the process.

They have created English language workshops for women in Bethlehem and have transformed their farm in to an international education and information center for visitors, which they call the “Tent of Nations.” Visitors like us come to share short moments in the long history of this land and these people.

After listening about their activities and hopes we chatted further under a veranda. We heard of the visit Israeli settlers had made to the family — with guns. The Nassar’s invited them to their home but asked that they leave the guns. The settlers said that they could not do that — it would be unwise to disarm, the Nassar’s could be terrorists. Daoud Nassar asked them if they would accept him in to their homes with a gun. Their answer was a stunned “no.” The conversation remained peaceful and the settlers left.

The Nassar’s told us they had also received a visit from the Israeli military on Christmas day. They decided to worship at home instead of attending services in Bethlehem.

Later in the evening, we sang hymns, traditional songs we had in common, and Palestinian songs. We danced to the beat of a drum. We laughed until our sides hurt. The families’ dogs even joined in. As we sang, they howled into the dark night.

As we approached our tent to sleep we noticed that the lights shined most brightly from the Israeli settlements --and not as much from the Palestinian villages. We learned the family has no electricity because they and other Palestinians are not permitted access by Israeli law. They are not permitted to have access to water services so they have no running water. They collect rainwater in a cistern.

In the morning, we circled ourselves amongst the olive and almond trees and made praises to God for peace and justice.

This beautiful family showed us a generosity of spirit. They showed us that with love, resilience, and community “bridges” can be built. Amal Nassar said, “Walls create fear but bridges build hope.” Our visit to the “Tent of Nations” was an astonishing example of a bridge well built.

-- Jill Flores

Three families

The Nassar family lives on a 25-acre hilltop south of Bethlehem. To be precise, not all family members have their actual wood brick and mortar house on the farm, named Daher's Farm, after their ancestor who bought the land in 1927 to plant vineyards, olive trees and vegetable gardens. But the family, now consisting of the 9 sons and daughters of Bishara, Daher's son, their wives husbands and children, are all most certainly home in this collection of simple buildings, outdoor meeting spaces, caves and groves in the unspeakably beautiful, breeze-blessed, sun-kissed spot overlooking terraced valleys and minaret-crowned villages. On a clear day the Mediterranean gleams in the distant west. But the valleys below and the hills surrounding are filled with Jewish settlements that are illegal by international law. Jerusalem, 5 miles to the northeast is virtually barred to them. The Israeli government wants them to go.

They are prohibited from building yet they erect tents, use their caves for classes for children of the nearby villages and refugee camps, and use their existing buildings for cooking and housing international volunteers. They are off the grid: no electricity or water. So they build cisterns and run a generator for a few hours at night. The family is most certainly home, and most determinedly home. We arrived on a warm afternoon, greeted by two young men of the youngest generation, nephews to Daoud Nassar, our contact.

The farm is the last holdout of Palestinians in this area earmarked for taking by Israel. As they fight in the courts to hold on to their ancestral land, they continue to farm, to conduct workshops for children of the neighboring villages and refugee camps, and run a women’s center in the nearest village. We ate, sang and danced with them, prayed with them, basked in the warmth of their connection with each other. Family is everything. It is their land yes, but they belong to it, more than it belongs to them. And they expressed to us, over and over, even in the face of the encroachment of the illegal Jewish settlements and the resulting transformation of the surrounding area, even in the face of overt harassment from these new neighbors, that they are happy to share this valley, these hills with their new Jewish neighbors. Will the Nassar family prevail? Perhaps they will with our help. Not with handouts, but with our active solidarity. They need to know that we share their vision, and that they are not alone. That we share their devotion to fellowship and community, their devotion to the earth and to the human family. Something very, very important is happening here. We felt it, we carried is with us as we bid them goodbye.

We left the farm and traveled to Beit Jala, suburb of Bethlehem, home of my good Palestinian friend Rosa, where she lives with her parents and several brothers and sisters. Brothers, sisters, their spouses and children living abroad visit regularly, and we met several of them. Rosa’s father, George Qumsiyeh, who runs a large building supply business, built his dream house near the top of the highest slope of the town Bethlehem and proudly raised his large family. But some of his children have had to study abroad, frustrated by the restrictions in movement that limited their education choices. One daughter lives with her husband and three children in Dubai – that’s where the opportunity is for them.

How is life for your parents these days? I asked Rosa. Her father is thinking of emigrating, she told me. There is no future for him here. Meaning: this place no longer can give my children a future. So the occupation steals the future from the children, and the children from the parents. Rosa too has had to disrupt her studies in business management because she can no longer manage the frustrating battle with the checkpoints to get to university in Ramallah. Will she study in the USA? Will she ever pursue her dream? Her sister is depressed, mourning the enforced exile. A strong, loving, talented family faces continued uprooting and fragmentation.

Suheir and Naji were born and live in the huge Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethehem. Naji, from a village that now sits in ruins in modern Israel, has been imprisoned multiple times for his political activism to secure rights for Palestinians disposed and exiled in 1948. Suheir, originally from a nearby village, has devoted herself to women’s rights.

Their home is a vibrant center for meetings, the work of local and international peace activists, laughter and tears. This extraordinary couple shares the dream of return, the pain of loss, and the power of love. They passed around photographs of their village. Suheir described coming to take Naji home one day after he had been detained following a demonstration. She couldn’t find him because his face had been so disfigured by the beating he had received. Naji looks on with love and patience as she cried while describing that day. Naji shows feeling as he describes how he must talk to his son who asks him, Daddy, why did you let them beat you? Together, Naji and Suheir are one heart. They stand together to maintain their dignity and their hope for a future for their family and their people.

After meeting these three families, it is clear to me that Israel is not just taking land. Israel is not just destroying a local economy. Israel is trying to take the future.

Do Americans, who read our local newspapers, watch our commoditized TV news journalism, and are fed our government’s pronouncements of what it means to pursue “peace” and “democracy” know these families? Of course not. And most Israeli Jews, the overwhelming majority, do not know them either. These families must become our families, these stories our stories. Without this knowledge, we will not understand Palestine and Israel today. Without these stories, we are sorely handicapped in our ability to act for peace and justice on this planet we share. We must meet them, listen to them, share our hearts with them, and join in solidarity with those, both Israeli and Palestinian, who are working for peace by creating this dialogue and mutual understanding and now, increasingly, pursuing nonviolent protest and direct action against an unjust and criminal regime.

Come to Palestine. Meet your family. Find your heart. Touch your soul.

--Mark Braverman



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