<                    Report Four                    >

Persistent Nonviolence
Bethlehem Region
Friday, Saturday and Sunday: October 30 - November 1



Our visit to Al Masara showed us a village which is bisected by Israeli roads to the surrounding Jewish settlements.  It is an excellent example of roads used as a means of war against an occupied people. 

Nonviolent demonstrations take place here every Friday, organized by the Popular Committee, to protest the continued encirclement of their village and the planned future settlement that will bisect the whole of the lower West Bank and make a viable two state solution impossible.

The spirit, resilience, and strength of the Popular Committee doing this nonviolent resistance was echoed again as we proceeded to the Deheisheh Refugee Camp, created in 1948, where we saw the miserable, cramped conditions the refugees are forced to live in with no sewage, and very poor quality of water.  Eleven thousand people live in this camp where the occupying soldiers continue to patrol and sometimes kick open the doors of homes.

We heard from a 44-year-old mother of four.  She spoke to us at the Phoenix Center (so named because it has been destroyed three times by Israeli shelling and then rebuilt by the refugee camp residents).  She has lived in the camp her whole life.  Her plea for “just a decent free, humane life, with clean water, food, and shelter,” haunted several of us. The thought of her waking up every morning to the cold (it is winter here now) and the rain and very little hope of change, yet without hate or rancor, with just a plea for all of us to help bring about freedom and justice for both peoples (Palestinians and Israelis) inspired  and even overwhelmed us.

And then we went to Daher’s vineyard, where I had photographed Daher Nassar nine years ago when he showed us the slashed irrigation pipes and the olive trees that had been destroyed by the nearby settlers the night before.

Here he was, still holding forth on his family’s hillside with his record of land ownership papers going back to the period of the Ottoman Empire, while he continues his 10-year court battle to protect and live on his ancestors land, while the settlers continue breaking into his home, destroying his fences and terrorizing his family in the middle of the night. 

He and his family are being supported by volunteers from around the world, but he is the one who is there every day and night facing the situation.  He and his sister invite the Jewish settlers to talk with them so that they can understand one another and become good neighbors, “Please come in peace and you are welcome”, he says to them. 

Each of these experiences remind me of how much I have to learn from these amazing people about living nonviolence, and the commitment they place on us to sharing their stories and  the situation under this occupation so that there is a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians before it is too late.
I feel from what I have experienced here that time is running out and our task of trying to change US policy is urgent. President Obama is NOT demonstrating the leadership on this issue that so many of us worked for in his campaign. We cannot expect all of these people to live under these circumstances with no hope much longer. 

-- Lynn M.

Not for Sale

In 1916, Daher Nassar’s grandfather bought land 6 miles from Bethlehem in what is now the West Bank in the Occupied Territories, and planted apricots, grapes, olives and fig trees.  He dug a round cave in the side of the hill for living quarters.  We all went inside and were told that it is very warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  Our group also sang inside the chapel built in the same manner on his farm and we helped dig trenches around newly planted trees.

Today Daher Nassar, who is a Christian Palestinian, lives in a small house on this land with his family and without the benefits of electricity (he uses a generator) or running water (he uses cisterns to collect rain water.)

According to Daher, the Israeli settlers surrounding his property have all the facilities; however, he stated, “I’m not allowed to run electrical wires to my farm, and it now takes ½ hour to drive to Bethlehem. The road is also often blocked by settlers”.

In 1991, the Israelis wanted to take his land, so the Nasser family went all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court to prove ownership of their property.  Three years ago some surrounding settlers uprooted 253 olive trees and broke his cistern.  Today we counted four large Israeli settlements surrounding this farm.  

Last week, armed settlers arrived along with several Israeli jeeps, broke the farm’s gate and harassed his family.  Despite all of this, the Nassars remain steadfast, as their land is the last holdout in an area marked for annexation by Israel. 

Daher commented that much of what is being done to him is legal, just as laws in Nazi Germany permitted harassment of Jews and other communities. 

Against all odds, this remarkable family has raised 5 children on this farm and refuses to hate the encroaching settlers, setting a wonderful example of loving one another. Despite being offered millions of dollars, Daher said, “This land is our mother. She is not for sale”.

The Nassar family runs the Tent of Nations on their land, which includes summer camps for children and programs for women.   For more information, see www.tentofnations.org

Better yet, come and see it for yourself!

-- Bill and Marlene J.


Interfaith Peace-building

On Sunday we visited the Nassar family farm on a low hill in the West Bank, not too far from Bethlehem. The 100 acre/400 dunam property has been in this Christian family’s hands since 1916 and fortunately they have the papers to prove it.

The documentation includes the bill of sale to their grandfather, the Ottoman Era deed and tax records to date. Therefore, unlike many of their Palestinian neighbors, they have been able to keep settlers and the Israeli government from taking their property due to their records, their financial resources and determination, and their network of allies around the world. 

The farm is on a low hill overlooking a Palestinian village and surrounded by Israeli settlements which sit on top of the neighboring hills. Settlers as well as Israeli military and government authorities have tried to take the Nassar family’s land because it is in a region that current Israeli policymakers want to have inhabited only by Israelis.

The Nassars have named their farm “The Tent of Nations” to celebrate that their land is being protected by people from everywhere.  They welcome adherents of many different faiths or no faith.

I see myself as a person of no faith because I practice a type of Buddhism which does not believe in God or any gods. Yet, when we were in the cave chapel built by the Nassar family and friends, I joined in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish hymns and recited a lovingkindness Buddhist meditation silently. The faith and the abundance that has kept the Nassar farm as a tent of nations was readily apparent.

To honor that faith and to show the family that I, as a representative of many ethnic Jews, support the Palestinian people, I stood up and recited the watchword (or creed) of the Jewish faith - the Shema - with one omission.

The Shema is “Shema, Yisrael, adonai elohanu, adonai echod - Hear O Israel, the lord our God, the lord is one”. I left out the Yisrael in the Hebrew and translated the beginning as “Everyone, listen…”

-- Dorah R.

After 61 Years….

He walks a little stiffly, and his hearing is not what it used to be, but his mind is clear and he speaks with passion.  Yassir is 84 years old, and has lived for 61 years in Deheisheh Refugee Camp.  He was a young man when he and his family fled before an invading army, and he remembers that day as if it was yesterday.

Speaking through an interpreter, he says that it was 4:00 on a morning during Ramadan, and the family was just getting up for the breakfast they needed to finish before dawn.  Shooting started outside.  The young men of the village went out to investigate, and determined that soldiers had surrounded the village on three sides, leaving one escape route open.  They sent the women and children and elders by that route toward safety, and the young men stayed to try and defend the village. 

They had only a few guns among them, but they had hopes that help from other Arab countries would arrive.  It never did.  They hung on for a while, watching one of them after another fall to the invader’s bullets.  Eventually those who were left abandoned the village and followed the women and children to Deheisheh.

Since that day, he has not seen his home village.  He says he’s been told that the village was bulldozed the day after the battle.  But after 61 years, he still wants to go home. 

He wants to visit his father’s tomb.  He says that the sun over his home village is different from the sun anywhere else, and he wants to see it again. 

And then he smiles.  He invites us all to come back and visit him again, when he can offer us tea and cakes in his own village.

-- Linda


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