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New film takes visitors to the Tent of Nations, an act of peaceful resistance

 

Organic farm in Palestine lives by the motto, ‘We refuse to be enemies’

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

The slogan of the Tent of Nations: “We Refuse to be Enemies” (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

LOUISVILLE — Although Israel and Palestine are currently closed to individual U.S. travelers, Presbyterians can take a virtual trip there on August 1 or later.

A new “Come and See” film created through World Mission’s Office for the Middle East and Europe will be available to watch beginning that day, featuring a visit to the Tent of Nations, a 105-year-old organic farm in the hills southwest of Bethlehem owned by a Palestinian Christian Lutheran family.

The film, “Who Will Roll the Stone Away,” began its creative process many months ago but was stopped by COVID-19.

The film was conceived in early January of this year. Shooting began while the landscape was “greening up” during the winter rains. “We wanted to do an Easter/spring film, and we were well on track, but the COVID-19 virus was bad here in March and April, and that delayed our ability to shoot footage and meet in person with one another,” said Douglas Dicks, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) mission co-worker who opens the film.

 

Daoud Nassar (“Daoud” is Arabic for “David”) often welcomes visitors to the Tent of Nations. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

Before the pandemic, the family welcomed thousands of international visitors to the farm, offering visitors a vision of peaceful resistance to the Israeli military occupation and injustice. In spite of the great injustices they have suffered, including incursions by Israeli settlers who destroyed olive and other fruit trees, they refuse to be enemies and instead aim to be a model of sustainable farming and empowerment to young people to build a new and just Palestine.

Their slogan, painted on a rock found at the entrance to the farm, says simply, “We refuse to be enemies.”

Almonds and wheat — along with grapes, olives, figs and other fruit trees — are all cultivated and raised on the working farm, which was inherited from the family’s grandfather. With the help of international volunteers, the work goes on year-round.

The Nassar family holds a legitimate deed to the land, which is surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements. The family has been fighting in the Hight Court of Israel to be recognized as legal owners of the property for more than 30 years, racking up more $200,000 in legal fees.

Colorful paintings on one of the cave walls were created by a group of young people during a summer camp. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

In a nod to their grandfather, family members lovingly refer to the land as “Daher’s Vineyard.” Today, it is officially called the “Tent of Nations,” referring to the countless visitors who have come and stayed on the land — not only to be a presence, but also to help bring in the various harvests throughout the year.

The 100 acres of land was purchased legally in 1916. What was unusual at the time was that the grandfather registered it under the then-Turkish or Ottoman authorities. Nassar family members re-registered their land in 1924 and 1925 during the British Mandate period, and they possess land registration documents that identify the boundaries of the land. They updated their land documents with the Bethlehem Land Registry in 1987 and again in 2000.

Israeli settlers have offered the Nassar family staggering sums of money for the land, including a blank check. But holding on to the family’s land is far more important to family members than any sum of money.

The original cave on the Nassar property where the family once lived. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

The family is not permitted to build any structures on the land. Instead, they went underground, utilizing natural caves and constructing cisterns to catch and contain water. They believe this is a creative way of non-violent resistance to the Israeli Occupation.

However, even these structures are considered “illegal,” according to Israeli authorities, and are subject to demolition orders. One demolition order even targeted a doghouse.

Every few days, the family, or volunteers serving there, scout out the land, looking for military or demolition orders. Often the orders are simply left on a rock, in a plastic pocket. The orders are never presented to the family.

The West Bank of the Jordan River, on which the farm sits, comprises 22% of what is left of historic Palestine. About 60% of that remaining 22% is taken by land confiscation, Israeli settlement growth, national parks, green space and Israeli military compounds. Today, Palestinians living there are still under Israeli military control, while the Israeli settlements, and for that matter the Israeli settlers, fall under the jurisdiction of Israeli law.

The family sat down together and created four principles that would guide their life on the land. They are:

  • We refuse to be victims — we must act instead of react.
  • We refuse to hate. Though confronted on a daily basis, we will not hate.
  • We will act differently because of our faith.
  • We are people who believe in justice.

The virtual trip to the Tent of Nations also features two interview excerpts with Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which has, in its most recent report, defined Israel as an Apartheid State.

To obtain a link to the film, click here. There are four potential layers of support, from $25 to a maximum of $500. The registration fee will help cover the costs of the film production and support.


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