Friday, May 23, 2014

Wondering what has happened to my tree

On an evening in early November, our group of Interfaith Peacebuilders got off our tour bus and trudged up the hill toward our next destination—Tent of Nations, a farm in the West Bank, just outside Bethlehem. We had to walk around large boulders on the road, which blocked our bus from driving up to the farm. The boulders had been placed there by Israeli soldiers some time ago, to prevent the farm from bringing in any equipment—like trucks, tractors, or other heavy equipment.

Here we are squeezing through the boulders blocking the road.
Daher Nassar met us and told us the story of his family's farm—he welcomed us into his grandfather's cave, which he built in 1916 when he purchased the land and registered it with the Ottoman government. Things changed for the Nassar family in 1991, when the Israeli settlements were being built and they started being harassed by the settlers. Settlements are built on hilltops, to command the surrounding countryside. The Nassar farm is on a hilltop.

Today the farm produces carob products, figs, almonds, apricots and apples. The farm has also begun developing solar energy and recycling wastewater—a necessity, since Israel has cut off their access to electricity and water. Israel has ordered them not dig cisterns or collect rainwater. Since their road was blocked they have been forced to farm without equipment.

In the summer, they host peace camps for Muslim, Jewish and Christian children. This year they had 65 children and 25 volunteers. They also host international volunteers who want to gain experience in sustainable farming, or simply help this family stay on their land.

Then his sister Amal spoke to us. She is a psychotherapist, working in Bethlehem. She tells us, "This land is precious to us like a mother." She also tells a story about meeting a woman from a nearby settlement, who can't believe there are Palestinians living in the area (in addition to the Nassar farm, there is also a Palestinian village in the valley). She explains that they use her grandfather's cave, rather than building more buildings, so as not to destroy nature.

The farm used to produce wheat and grapes for wine, which they cannot raise now, without machinery. Although they have four sets of documents proving their ownership of the land, this West Bank family has spent thousands of dollars and the last twelve years in Israeli court, fighting to keep their land. They could choose to leave, she says, but "my father said 'Always keep hope alive.'" Their father was a lay evangelist at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, where the family still worships. She continues, "we have a task to do on this land."

So the Nassars have chosen not to be enemies. The sign for their farm shows their motto, "We refuse to be enemies." She tells us, "Christians have a duty to make peace and share the land."

Amal also tells us that international pressure has helped save their land—in spite of all the demolition orders.

This week Israeli soldiers came with bulldozers and uprooted one of their orchards—1500 apricot and apple trees were destroyed and the terraces where they were planted were leveled by the bulldozers. The valley looks like a wasteland.
Before and After—Tent of Nations orchard (left) and the valley after Israeli's military bulldozed and uprooted the trees (right).
I'm wondering whether the tree I gave them was one of the destroyed trees. Amal's name means "hope." That night, when I gave the tree, I, too, had so much hope for the project. Tonight I'm angry—at the waste, the meanness, the hard-heartedness. But I'm also inspired by the hope the Nassar family maintains—the hope of their father Daher, whose vision of a farm bringing people together still preaches hope in these dark days.

Please be part of that hope—sign a petition to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for his help in rebuilding the destroyed orchards and getting compensation for the Nassar family, and an end to the Israeli effort to take their land.

Read more about Tent of Nations:
Watch "Love Your Enemies"—Daoud Nassar tells about how their faith supports them in their peacebuilding work.

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