The Tent of Nations (http://www.tentofnations.org ) is open and ready to receive us. Daher Nassar, (somewhere in his sixties?) grandson of the original patriarch who took up the 400 dunums (about 100 acres or 0.4 km²) of hilltop (950 metres in elevation) land in 1916, greeted us warmly and led us through an exposure to the land, the programs it supports and the dreams it shares for a future of peace and harmony for all people. Jewish, Muslim and Christian people, in particular.
He begins by pointing to the surrounding settlements. Over there is Bitar Alid, 60,000 settlers strong – all supported by the state of Israel, he says. “None of them work.” We suppose they must be Haredi, a branch of Judaism that does not work outside of its enclaves. Beside it, another settlement beginning. Over there, another, on around the circle of surrounding hills; another and another and another, coming to Nevi Daniel, on the opposite side of the farm. From its new school building, we hear the sounds of children playing, echoing up the hillside with laughter and energy in its waves. Each settlement occupies the land with intensity and density. Cement tenements in the backdrop, some lower two-story buildings, some ranch styled, all carrying the same red tile roofs. Tall thin water towers in the background, emblazoned with the blue star of Israel.
They (Israel) want this land too. The history is detailed on the website, telling the story of attempted confiscation for lack of use, then lack of property deeds, then just clandestine road building and tree destructions, likely aimed at economic harm as much as taking over the land. The Nassar family has met every challenge and continues meeting them. Caves, outbuildings, fences, all under demolition orders, continue to stand as each order (“We find them under rocks on the farm, why can’t they just deliver them? They know who we are.”) engages yet another court case. Israeli drones regularly overfly this land, looking for unauthorized activities to demolish in the name of security.
“We have deeds from the Turks, from the British, from the Jordanians,” Daher tells us, “every dunum on them. Some people only deeded 5 dunum out of 20 to pay fewer taxes. The Israeli’s took 15. We paid our taxes we deeded everything.”
Showing us the places where trees were cut down by settlers and soldiers, he invites us to help replant. “That is what you do,” he says “where they cut down, we replant.”
It is more than resistance, it is proof the land continues under cultivation. Grapevines, olive trees, almond trees, carob trees, sage, thyme, and lavender all form part of the crop of the mountain. Red and white wine is sold to visitors helping to keep the community going. We pledge to return to buy some during the last days of our time here as we’ve also pledged abstinence during our tenure. The greatest crop, however, the one he is proudest of and has the most hope for, is peace. Peace, understanding, and harmony.
Showing us the places where children’s camps take place during the summer, he tells of theatre and music, arts and cultural activities, shared worship and shared work all helping the place shape the people and the people shape the place. We see their handiwork everywhere, from the herb garden’s careful crafting to the turtle house contained within its walls. Bits of mosaic here and murals testifying to peaceful relationships everywhere.
Of necessity and perhaps as a point of low impact residency, the Tent of Nations, denied any access to electricity, water, or even its former 7-minute (now a half-hour) route to Bethlehem – where Daher goes to the Lutheran Christmas Church – has become part of the environment that sustains it. Power comes from solar panels supplied and installed by a volunteer from Germany. Water is stored in several deep cisterns, carved out and lined by many other volunteers. Composting toilets (with an interesting view of the settlements opposite) and solar showers complement the farm’s amenities, as do bunkhouse rooms (under demolition order), a liveable cave (in addition to the one the family originally occupied, therefore not original and under a demolition order) and a livestock fence (under a demolition order).
The new chapel, financed by the Church of Scotland, is a cement floored structure, open to the air under a metal frame that will be clothed in vines in order, they hope, to escape the next demolition order.
We are amazed at the perseverance, creativity, and determination to respect not only the land but its peoples. We are welcomed to return, should we need a place of peace. We think we will…