Photo courtesy of the Tent of Nations Facebok
Daoud Nassar gave a lecture titled “We Refuse to be Enemies,” where he shared the personal struggles he faced with the Israeli government, leading him to create the organization the Tent of Nations. This lecture took place on Nov. 7 in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall.
The Tent of Nations is an organization in Palestine that Nassar and his family developed in response to the Israeli government’s attempts to forcibly take their farm. By educating people about the Israel-Palestine conflict and encouraging people from around the world to visit their farm, TON hopes to promote better relationships between the international community and the environment.
The Center for Ethics and Public Engagement worked with the ELCA Peace Not Walls Working Group and Friend’s of TON North America’s Director of Tour Planning Beth Moore to bring Nassar to campus as part of his speaking tour of Midwestern colleges and churches. While some aspects of the Nassar family’s story are unique, Moore stressed that many Palestinians have had their right to their land challenged by the Israeli government in her introduction of Nassar’s lecture.
“The situation faced by the Nassar family is faced by many Palestinians,” Moore said. “The decisions made by all peoples of Israel and Palestine about how to live in the midst of these challenges are varied.”
Nassar’s family bought land in 1916 and moved from Bethlehem soon afterward to begin farming. This was unique at the time, since most Palestinians worked on their farm by day and returned to their houses in town upon finishing their daily chores. However, Nassar’s grandfather wanted his family to grow up with an appreciation for the land.
After purchasing the property, the family registered the land and kept meticulous records of their property, such as tax records and land surveys. Keeping records like this was not common practice at the time, so when the Israeli government occupied the area in 1967 and implemented old laws from the Ottoman Empire, most Palestinians could not prove legal ownership of their property. These Ottoman laws required Palestinians to register land, and those who did not were classified as land users rather than owners. If their land went uncultivated for at least three years, the Ottoman Empire would reclaim it as state property. Israel’s reintroduction of these laws led many modern-day Palestinians to lose their land despite attempts to reclaim it.
“The first question was ‘Where are your papers?’ Many could not prove their title to the land on a piece of paper,” Nassar said. “They started arguing that they got the land from their parents. But then the government brought up the second Ottoman rule and said, ‘Yes, but you didn’t use it for three years.’”
According to Nassar, this turned out to be useful once his family first went to court in 1991 when the Israeli government decided they wanted to seize their land to build a settlement. Despite presenting proof of ownership during multiple hearings with the Israeli military court, they remain engaged in a legal battle 28 years later trying to prove they own the land.
“We thought with one session we would finish the case,” Nassar said. “Because in a normal and just legal system, we would present the papers and the judge would see them and say, ‘Okay, that’s it. It’s a clear case.’ Of course, the Israeli judge was shocked to see we had papers and was not expecting to see them, so instead of closing the case, he postponed it.”
In the meantime, the court requested the family obtain a new land survey, which required them to pay $7,000 for the new survey and signatures from all of their neighbors to confirm its validity.
“It was hard to find the neighbors and most of them could not read maps, so we had to physically bring them to the spot and have them sign off on the new land survey,” Nassar said. “We had 35 days to complete [this process], but we did it.”
Instead of closing the case, the court decided to prolong it further by requiring the family to bring witnesses who had lived and worked on the farm.
“We brought 50 family members and neighbors,” Nassar said. “We stood outside the court for five hours before they said, ‘We don’t have time to talk to you today,’ and sent us away.’”
Nassar discussed a number of ways the Israeli government has since attempted to take his family’s land, including bulldozingtheNassarfamily’sfruitandolivetrees,intimidating the family with weapons, and leaving demolishing orders in random areas of the family’s property without notifying them.
The Israeli government has also blocked the road to their land with boulders, shut off their electricity, and revoked access to running water. Despite this, the Nassar family endeavors to keep a positive attitude and has turned to sustainable technologies, like solar fields, cisterns, and composting toilets in order to survive. International volunteers have also helped replant crops destroyed by the Israeli government.
“Why not focus on the positive and build on that?” Nassar said. “This is something that we are in need of learning how todo.”
For their innovative responses to injustice, the Nassar family has received international recognition from many countries, including Germany, France, and the United States. These countries have pledged to help the Nassar family in case of emergency, such as the sudden seizure of their land.
According to the Tent of Nations mission statement, the group’s goal is to build bridges between people and the land by bringing different cultures together to develop understanding and promote respect for other human beings and the environment. The organization runs summer camps for children, women’s empowerment camps, and provides opportunities for international volunteers to help on the family’s farm. Nassar acknowledges that these camps cannot create systemic change for Palestinians in the region, but he maintains that it is still an effort to promote peace, unity, and understanding in the area.
“Maybe what we are doing there is a very small thing,” Nassar said. “But it’s better than nothing. Every step can make a difference.”
Ani Sargsyan (‘22) valued Nassar’s perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes she learned more about the situation and local efforts to combat injustice from his lecture. “I’ve always been interested in this conflict, but I hadn’t known a lot about it before,” Sargsyan said. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn more, especially since it’s from someone who’s actually from that area. I learned more about the situation and about the Tent of Nations,which I thought was so inspiring.”
Amanda Johnson (‘22) says she appreciated Nassar’semphasis on the value of perseverance.
“[You have to] hold your head up high,” Johnson said.
“You can’t just sit there and cry and complain about anything because it’s not going to stop anything. You just have to act accordingly and keep persisting.”