NAHALIN VILLAGE, WEST BANK – Tent of Nations, a family-run farm on the outskirts of Bethlehem, seeks to “build bridges between people” and “bring people of various cultures together to build bridges of understanding, reconciliation and peace.”
Those envisioned bridges of peace and reconciliation were rocked on the morning of May 19th as bulldozers leveled the farm’s valley of some 1,500 fruit trees soon to be harvested.
“This is going to make it very difficult for us to recover and rehabilitate the land,” said Daoud Nassar of the destruction as recounted in one of the first reports.
It is the most recent, and by far the most egregious, act in the family’s decades-long struggle to hold on to land to which they claim to have legal title and to which they have repeatedly gone to court to prove.
The family’s farm lies just below Neve Daniel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and thus an impediment to settlement expansion, considered illegal by international law.
According to reports by the family, soldiers arrived at their land early in the morning and within a few hours uprooted some 1,500 fruit trees, burying them under piles of soil.
Sani Khoury, the family’s attorney, explained that recently military authorities had placed a warning on the land of the Nassar Family declaring that the trees were planted on “state land.”
On May 12, Khoury filed an appeal on behalf of the family. “According to the law, no demolition or evacuation is allowed once an appeal is filed and until final verdict,” explained Khoury’s statement. Though no ruling has been issued, the land was leveled a week later, on May 19. “This action is illegal even according to the draconian military laws in place,” he commented.
Ron Shive, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Burlington, North Carolina, and past chair of the General Assembly’s Middle East Study Committee (appointed by the 2010 GA) commented, “I had the opportunity to visit the Tent of Nations on two occasions, the first in 2009 and then again in 2012. During this month’s Mosaic of Peace Conference, we did not have the opportunity to visit while in Bethlehem, but I had real concern for the security of Tent of Nations upon seeing the rapid settlement growth around Bethlehem. The continuing Israeli illegal actions against Daoud Nassar and his family are attempts to confiscate their land and should be a common concern for IPMN and PMEP. Surely, we can stand together against this. It is actions like this – against a Palestinian Christian family – that are leading to the rapid decline of the Christian presence in the West Bank.”
Andrew McLellan, former moderator of The Church of Scotland also has weighed in on behalf of his denomination: “The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland yesterday united in its outrage at the wicked destruction of the fruit trees at the Tent of Nations. Daoud Nassar is known and loved in the Church of Scotland and we feel this loss deeply. We will pursue this bad business, learning as we do from Daoud Nassar himself how to respond in a truly Christian way.”
As news of the incident was made known, primarily through social media such as Facebook, expressions of outrage at the actions and support for the family flooded the farm’s Facebook page. Relevant magazine also published a report with a video.
ERIN DUNIGAN is a photographer, writer, gardener, permaculture enthusiast, rainwater-harvester, runner, preacher, foodie, and a Presbyterian minister who leads a monthly gathering of atheists, agnostics, and other ‘spiritual but not religious’ called Not Church. Her work has taken her literally around the world – from teaching photography to youth in an Ecuadorian barrio, to photographing the work of World Vision in Gaza, and most recently to Vietnam, Cuba, Egypt, and Zambia. Though she travels extensively, her home is along the coast in Baja California, Mexico, where she lives in what used to be her grandmother’s house, gardens, composts, plants fruit trees, and has adopted a dog, two cats, and a horse.
She blogs in fits and spurts and tweets and Instagrams from @edunny.