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‘We refuse to be enemies’

The story of the Tent of Nations is the focus of this Lenten film

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

“And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’” — Mark 16:3 (ESV)

LOUISVILLE — Just in time for Lent, World Mission’s Office for the Middle East and Europe will re-release the film “Who Will Roll the Stone Away?”

The film had a limited release last summer. But because of the pandemic, it was not able to be viewed by a more general audience. COVID-19 also delayed the filming. It was originally created for a spring/Easter release but wasn’t completed until early summer.

“This film has such an important message, we wanted to make sure that more people were able to see it,” said Douglas Dicks, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker who opens the film. “And due to recent events, the focus on peace by the Tent of Nations has an even more powerful message.”

The Tent of Nations is surrounded by Jewish settlements, which can be seen in the distance. In the foreground are buildings from the Palestinian village of Nahalin. The Israeli settlement in the distance is Beitar Illit. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

The story focuses on a 106-year-old organic farm in the hills southwest of Bethlehem known as the Tent of Nations, owned by a Palestinian Lutheran family.

Before the pandemic, the family welcomed thousands of international visitors to the farm each year, 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 military who have 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.

The rock that sits at the front entrance of the Tent of Nations. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

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

The family’s dedication to peace was tested on Jan. 28, when brothers Daoud and Daher Nassar were attacked by fellow Palestinians from a nearby village and spent several days in the hospital in critical condition.

In a statement, the family said the brothers were attacked with iron bars and large sticks by 15 masked individuals. Still suffering from physical and emotional scars, they continue to recover at home. Yet they remain committed to the principles on which the farm operates.

  • 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 farm, which was established by Daoud and Daher’s grandfather, grows almonds and wheat — along with grapes, olives, figs and other fruit trees. 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 than $200,000 in legal fees.

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.

Daoud Nassar spoke to a visiting group in March 2019. The visitors included the Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

The 100 acres of land were 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.

The West Bank of the Jordan River, on which the farm sits, comprises 22% of what is left of historic Palestine. About three-fifths 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 virtual trip to the Tent of Nations also features interview excerpts with Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which has, in its most recent report issued in 2021, defined Israel as an Apartheid State.

“We hope that during Lent, individuals and congregations will view the film and reflect on its important message,” said Luciano Kovacs, coordinator of World Mission’s Office of the Middle East and Europe.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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