Tent of Nations: Responding To Hate With Love
On a clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean from the Tent of Nations, a quiet farm on top of a hill near Bethlehem. Standing on the hill, looking past the olive and fig trees and down into the sloping valley below, it's easy to see why it's a coveted piece of real-estate. It's breathtakingly beautiful. It's also an incredibly fertile piece of land, great for farming, and it has a number of cozy caves to take shelter in. The farm is a first-of-its-kind model of modern sustainability techniques, obtaining its water from cisterns and electricity from solar panels. If not for the barbed-wire fence and the blocked-off road, you might think that nothing was wrong in this little slice of heaven.Backing up a bit, nearly 100 years ago, a man named Daher Nassar bought and registered the roughly 100 acres of land the farm sits on today. Daher lived in one of the caves on the land and envisioned his children one day living there as well. Daher, and later his sons, and Daoud Nassar, his grandson, who now heads Tent of Nations, registered the land first with the Ottomans, and then with the British, Jordanians, and finally with the Israelis.It was fortunate for the Nassar family that they did register, as the settler* movement in Israel has been trying to take the Nassar farm since 1967. At first the settlers tried to build a road through the land, and when Daoud confronted them with the papers from the government proving his family owned it, the settlers held up a bible and said they had papers from God. Since then it has been a constant and expensive struggle for Daoud and his family to hold onto their land, especially after 1991, when the Israeli courts unilaterally declared the farm to be “State Land,” meaning owned and controlled by the government.The Nassar family is Christian, and an integral part of what they do is to choose to respond with love in the face of hate. This was evident when I visited the farm, both in speaking with the family and the many signs around the farm bearing quotes such as "Fight Violence with Love" and "We Refuse To Be Enemies" as well as uplifting quotes from the Bible. Daoud admitted to me that it can sometimes be difficult to live these words, but he avowed it was much better than to live with hatred. He told me he often prays with the prayer of Jesus, "Forgive them for they know not what they do."As a result of settler pressure, the Israeli authorities have blocked the road to the farm, cut off all water and electricity, and will not allow any new building on the land. Any new structure immediately receives a demolition order, so they must use the caves that Daher used to live in, or quickly collapsible tents to support their growing list of programs. The farm has faced instances of settler violence and vandalism, and in May of 2014 around 1,500 of their trees were bulldozed by the Israeli Defense Force.The Tent of Nations therefore, out of necessity, has become a leader in sustainability; needing to rely on solar panels for electricity and large cisterns to catch rainwater. In addition, every year thousands of Palestinian and international volunteers help replant trees and work the land, attend workshops, conferences, a children's summer camp, a women's education and empowerment project, and other activities. In May of 2016, the farm will celebrate its 100th anniversary and will invite all who can make it to join them. "There will be four days of activities, workshops, group discussions, food, and other various events," advertises their website.Tens of thousands have been touched by their message not only of refusing to be enemies, but also of resilience. The family has no plans to leave anytime soon! The Tent of Nations currently has plans to build a school for environmental sustainability on the farm (provided it can work around the building restrictions.) They've even considered building it underground by expanding the caves.
Find out more about the Tent of Nations at www.tentofnations.org and www.fotonna.org
*Those within the movement dislike the term "settler" because they see themselves as moving into land rightfully theirs to begin with, rather than "settling" in new land; but for lack of a better term, that is the word used for this article as it is the one commonly associated with the movement.
A video from early 2014 of Daoud from Relevant Magazine: