Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beating spears into pruning-hooks in the farmland south of Bethlehem

...they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. Is 2.4

I heard these words as the lessons were read last Sunday and today I am remembering the last time I saw these words—painted on a rock on a farm just south of Bethlehem.

We got off the tour bus on a dirt road just off the main Jerusalem-Hebron road. We couldn’t drive up to the farm because Israeli soldiers had placed large boulders in the road to block access to the farm.

Boulders blocking the road to Nassar farm
So we walked up the road, squeezing around the boulders (see photo). We saw settlements on the hills to our right and left. Like the Nassar farm, these settlements are perched on hilltops, their uniform blocks of housing units looking official and severe in this pastoral landscape.

Daher Nassar meets us with stories about his father’s dream—to farm this land, to bring peace and to show others the love of Jesus. His father, Bishar, died in 1976, but he and his brothers and sisters carry on the work, creating Tent of Nations, a place dedicated to peace and breaking the cycle of violence.

The motto of Tent of Nations is, “We refuse to be enemies.” The Tent is a place for everyone, he tells us—and there are international visitors living here—they come to farm, create new solutions to the problems of no water or electricity, and enjoy this beautiful land.

He also tells us that there are now five settlements surrounding the farm, and the settlers are pressing for demolition.  Although the settlements continue their expansion, the Nassar family cannot get permits to build. They have not been able to build anything on their property since 1967. They can plant trees, but they cannot bring any machines—this is why the soldiers pushed the boulders onto the road.

The settlers tell Daher that this land is all Israel (even though it is in the West Bank). He replies, “Before you were born, I am here.”

Because Israel does not recognize their right to live on the farm, the Nassar family has no electricity, no water, no road. Because they cannot build, they live in the eight caves on the property—where their ancestors lived.

Amal, Daher’s sister, told us that before 1991, the farm produced grapes, fig, almonds, apricots, pomegranates, cactus, and wheat. They made wine, which they cannot do now without the machinery.

"We refuse to be enemies," in Arabic, English and German
They have spent many years and a great deal of money ($150,000) in court, fighting to keep their land. After ten years, their Palestinian lawyer was no longer allowed to represent them. Because they are Palestinian their case is under the jurisdiction of the military court system, a separate system from the Israeli civilian courts. They have been required to produce mountains of documents and witnesses. Often, when they bring this documentation to court they are told it is not needed.

When the settlers uproot their olive trees and smash water storage containers, the Israeli police do not respond. When they take their produce to market, the soldiers take their IDs at the checkpoint, hold them for 5-6 hours and by that time, the produce is spoiled and worthless.

Believing that education leads to peace, Tent of Nations sponsors a summer camp for the children—Muslim and Christian—who need a place where they can develop their talents, take positive action and feel hopeful.  They draw to express their fear of the violence they see every day. They talk about their fears. 

They also offer programs for the women in the nearby village of Nahalin, who suffer from depression because they cannot leave their village, which is surrounded by settlements, roadblock and checkpoints.

Amal tells us, “As Christians, we have to be witnesses.”

If you would like to support their ministry, see their website and purchase an olive tree to be planted on their farm: and click on “support”.

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