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FOTONNA NEWSLETTER – September 2021

Update from Daoud – 15 September 2021

Dear Friends of Tent of Nations, 

I hope this message finds you well and in good health amid these challenging times. Here in Palestine, the political situation is becoming more difficult following the latest events. The continuous expansion of Israeli settlements across the West Bank and the construction of the wall, left the Palestinians with little hope for a better future. The tunnel is becoming darker and darker, and the light is slowly disappearing. We are moving towards an unclear future pushing mainly the young and educated Palestinian generation to leave and look for a better future somewhere else. Where do we go from here; is there still some hope?! A question that remains without an answer. 

The Israeli settlements surrounding the Tent of Nations/Nassar farm are expanding. From sunrise until sunset, we hear the noises of trucks, bulldozers, and concrete lorries changing the landscape and building homes on Palestinian land for new Israeli settlers. The continuation of the settlement’s expansion is making it more difficult if not impossible for the Palestinians to have their own state. 

Our land re-registration process is still on hold. Our lawyer officially informed the military authority on Tuesday, September 7th that he would appeal within three days to the Supreme Court to push the military authority to complete the process of re-registration. Within two days, the military authority responded with a December 13, 2021 meeting date to continue the re-registration process. We hope that this date will not be pushed back. We are very thankful for all our friends who stood by our side, signed the petition, and sent letters to their elected officials. This pressure is indeed making a difference. We are very appreciative of your solidarity and support on our long journey for justice.   

This year has been very challenging for the Tent of Nations. We have experienced destruction on the farm caused by local individuals from the neighboring village who claim that part of our land belongs to them. We are still traumatized by the recent outbreak of the fire, which was intentionally started. Over 1000 trees were burned entirely, among them were 200 almond trees, which brutally affected our almond harvest this year and caused us to lose 80% of the yearly production. We have also lost 350 grape trees to the fire, another 250 grape trees were damaged by locals in February, and harvested grapes have been stolen. We had about 15% of grapes left from the farm’s normal production. Unfortunately, we did not have enough to make wine this year, so we decided to make grape syrup instead.  In June, the Israeli military entered the farm with vehicles and a bulldozer, destroying olive trees and damaging the terraced land.  

Our loss of olive trees to the fire and to the military’s destruction, resulted in a loss of about 50% of the yearly production. This is not looking good for our olive harvest this October. Another big loss!  On the other hand, the fig harvest this year was very good, the trees produced many figs. We ate some, we gave some away, we dried some, and the rest was used for making jam. 

Daoud planting grape trees

It was hard for us to stand up again after these incidents, but we decided to rise from the ashes and replant more trees as a sign of hope for the future. We repaired some of the burnt plots and planted 170 new grape trees. We developed an irrigation system to water those trees twice a day pumping out the water from the cisterns. We still have to water them daily until the first rain comes, hopefully in November. Thanks must go to our friends who are contributing to repairing the damages caused by the fire and to replanting new trees. We hope to plant more trees before the end of this year.

Despite the current circumstances, we continue to develop the infrastructure on the farm. We are still facing some issues with our solar power system. We have successfully installed new batteries, but the system is not producing at its full capacity, which leaves the batteries unable to be fully charged. After examining the situation, electrical engineers informed us that there is a problem with one of the inverters that needs to be replaced. Some solar panels need to be changed, and the whole system needs to be upgraded. It is a big project we hope to complete before the onset of winter.

In the last few months, the Tent of Nations hosted visiting groups and delegations who came to learn about our story of Sumud (steadfastness). In January, we welcomed the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem along with a small delegation. In March, we welcomed the UK Consul  with a small delegation from the UK consulate in Jerusalem. In April, we welcomed the Swiss Consul with a delegation from the Swiss Consulate in Ramallah and a small delegation from the German Consulate in Ramallah. In May, we hosted the Dutch Consul with a small delegation. In June, we hosted a group of 25 people from Germany working on German Development projects and other NGOs in Ramallah. During the month of July, we had 14 Diplomats from the European Consulates come for a briefing about the Tent of Nations. We also welcomed local groups from the Bethlehem area, teachers, and young people from refugee camps. We were also very happy to host local and international volunteers on the farm. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, those volunteers were determined to help us, which was a source of strength for us and a reminder that we are not alone in this struggle. Some stayed for one day and others between two and three weeks. We hope to host more volunteers to help with our olive harvest, which is approaching.

Our path is full of obstacles, but we need to keep looking forward. We hope to empower more people through the message of Tent of Nations and to encourage them to share it with others. We hope to invite more people to come and see and go back home and tell the story of what they have seen in their own creative ways; whether through writing, photographs, short videos, documentaries, music, research, or organizing virtual tours. 

We are determined to continue this path of Sumud (Steadfastness) without giving up. We know the burden is heavy to carry, but still, we need to look forward and focus on our vision.

Thank you for accompanying us on this narrow path and for all your support and solidarity. And the journey continues with faith, love, and hope in action.

Blessings and Salaam,

Daoud Nassar
Director, Tent of Nations
-People Building Bridges-
www.tentofnations.org
Facebook: Tent of Nations/Nassar farm


A Message from the FOTONNA Steering Committee Chair

Having grown up on a four-generation family fruit farm in Washington State, I felt an instant connection to the Nassar family and their farm when I first visited Tent of Nations with my wife and two sons in 2016.  I had met Daoud prior to this visit on one of several speaking engagements he’d had in the Seattle area where I live.  Daoud’s story planted seeds in me at that time, seeds that grew toward taking an even greater interest in the lives of Palestinians and justice for them.

Daoud with Charlie Lewis, Steering Committe Chr

Charlie Lewis and Daoud at TON in 2018

It’s part of the DNA of farmers to keep planting new seeds and new trees so that new fruit will always be growing and new hope will always be emerging from what appears to be barren ground. A farmer’s livelihood depends on it. Hope for the farm’s future counts on it. The 170 new grape trees that Daoud and his family have planted on their farm following the arson fire that took over 1,000 trees and a bulldozer took another 50 are signs of hope. Challenges come, but with the challenges also come nonviolent acts of resistance, planting trees. Challenges come, but alongside them comes peaceful resistance with over 3,600 of you signing a petition to our State Department, with letters many of you signed to send to your Senator or House Member, and with Zoom calls some of us made to our congressional leaders or their aides to call attention to the plight of the Palestinians and the Tent of Nations in particular. These are all signs of hope for the Nassar family, a sign that they have a vast international community that stands in solidarity with them and with their cause of a just peace. The reality is, no one plants seeds or trees today who does not believe in tomorrow. And after thirty years of enduring harassment and delay after delay in the courts, “We are,” as Daoud points out, “still here!” And you and I are here with them too, standing with them and for them and beside them in defending their right to their own land. We plant seeds every day with the words we speak and the actions we take to stand up for what’s right.

Thank you for your peaceful acts of resistance as we work and pray and wait for “justice to roll down like mighty waters and fairness like an ever-flowing stream.” 

Together in solidarity with you and the Nassars,

Charlie Lewis
Chair of the FOTONNA Steering Committee


Emergency Response Plan Update and Call to Action

The “Save the TON” petition with more than 3,600 signatures from the U.S. and partners around the globe has been delivered to the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Daoud and his family are scheduled to meet with the Israeli Military Authority about the re-registration process on December 13, 2021.  The Nassars are grateful for you, standing with them, signing the petition, and sending letters to your elected officials.  Daoud stresses, “This pressure is indeed making a difference.  We are very appreciative of your solidarity and support on our long journey for justice.”

Call for Action:

Daoud asks that we continue our advocacy work in the weeks leading up to the December 13, 2021 meeting with the Israeli Military Authority.  

What can we do?

To those of you who signed the petition from outside the U.S., we are so very grateful for your partnership.  Please continue to raise the Nassars’ call for justice with your elected officials and keep us posted on their responses.  Your advocacy work is critical in the weeks leading up to the Nassars’ re-registration meeting on December 13, 2021! 

To those in the USA who have already called or emailed your senators and your representative, thank you for taking that step!  We would appreciate hearing from you about the responses you have received.  For that purpose and for any questions or input you may have, write to us at info@fotonna.org.  You may be wondering about next steps that you can take to encourage your elected officials to contact the State Department about the Tent of Nations emergency. We would like to suggest that you maintain ongoing contact with the closest local office of your senators and your representative.  Staffers in these offices have the vital role of conveying constituents’ concerns to their colleagues. They can provide guidance to you on these inquiries:

  • “How may I follow up on my request for Senator/Representative _____________to contact the State Department?  
  • Would you and members of the senator’s/representative’s foreign policy team like to meet via zoom to clarify details about the situation at Tent of Nations?   Whom do I contact to arrange a meeting?”  Or, “Would it be possible to meet with the Senator/Representative about the situation at Tent of Nations?”

If you have not contacted your elected representatives and wish to do so, here again is the information:

“Contact your senators and representatives. Urge them to ask the State Department to question the Israeli government about the Israeli Military’s recent acts of destruction of Nassar property and the delays of the re-registration.” 

  • Click here for scripts to guide your phone calls and emails.
  • Click here to download a one-page backgrounder on Tent of Nations that you can send on to your representatives and to others.

Use these links to obtain the contact information for your elected representatives:

We will keep you informed through our newsletter in the coming weeks.  Again, thank you for your solidarity at this critical time for all of us.

Sincerely,
FOTONNA Steering Committee, Emergency Response Plan Sub-Committee


Travel as a Heart-Expander

Joan Deming — FOTONNA Steering Committee Communications Co-Director

As the newest member of the Steering Committee, I was invited to kick off a newsletter feature introducing FOTONNA leaders. Last in, fresh vision? I hope my reflections on why I’m involved might prompt your memories of learning about Tent of Nations – of hearing the story of “Refusing to Hate” and staying resilient. 

What “grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go” about the Nassar’s story actually began for me elsewhere.  I joined the staff of Pilgrims of Ibillin in 2007 to support the work of Archbishop Elias Chacour in the schools he founded in Ibillin, a Palestinian village in the Galilee region of today’s Israel. While serving 28 years as a United Methodist local church pastor, I had often shared stories of international peacemakers like Abuna Chacour with my congregations. By 2007 I was working in nonprofit development, and when I learned of an opportunity to support Abuna Chacour’s work for peace, I leaped at the chance. My work involved at least annual trips to Ibillin where I was a guest for the first five minutes and then a family member forever. As I met the Christians, Muslims, and Jewish teachers and students of Abuna Chacour’s Mar Elias Schools, my world and heart grew.

Daher Nassar and Joan Deming at TON

Daher Nassar and Joan Deming at TON

Pilgrims of Ibillin also introduced me to other peacemakers and organizations working nonviolently for justice and human rights on both sides of the Green Line. I quickly learned the power of personal visits to Israel/Palestine, not as tourists but as pilgrims, meeting local people and hearing stories of “belonging to the Land.” Together with leaders from Wi’am Conflict Transformation Center in Bethlehem, I began taking groups of US travelers to Palestine/Israel. Tent of Nations rose to the top of the “must visit” places, thanks to the gracious hospitality and powerful story shared by the whole Nassar family. Since 2012 I’ve taken more than 15 groups to visit Tent of Nations. We’ve heard Daoud’s story of finding a way to live with hope and without hate as the farm has been repeatedly attacked. We’ve sung praise songs in Arabic and English with Daher in the caves during farm tours. We’ve eaten delicious lunches prepared by Mrs. Nassar and we’ve helped pick olives. Once introduced to the Tent of Nations, our pilgrims never forget the inspiration they felt there. Our hearts are forever better because of those moments on a hilltop southwest of Bethlehem.

My plan is to resume leading “Meet the Peacemaker” tours as soon as travel is safe again after COVID-19. Tent of Nations will be a key visit – not just for a talk and tour, but to join the host of volunteers who have spent days and nights on the farm, helping wherever needed and being enriched beyond measure. In the meantime, being able to serve on the Steering Committee to support the Tent of Nations is a blessing. I’ll be behind the scenes making sure the FOTONNA website is up to date and our Constant Contact communications are working. Together with you, my grateful prayer will be for safety, resolution, and official recognition for the Nassar family and the Tent of Nations.


SHARING “THE STORY” FROM A DISTANCE 
BETH MOORE – Tour Planning and Finance Co-Director

Even in the midst of the challenging times being faced at Tent of Nations,  Daoud continues to share the story of the farm, and the family’s journey.  It’s now been almost two years since we have been able to host in-person tours in the U.S.  

In spite of the constraints placed upon us by the pandemic, you have come forward to request that Daoud be with you virtually.  He, and we are so grateful for that.  For it is in sharing the message of “refusing to be enemies”, and the journey of this particular family, that we are reminded again of the fact that hope still rises.  These gatherings encourage us all and give us energy to continue.

This April Daoud was invited by our longtime partners, Eyewitness Palestine, to be a part of their virtual tours series.  Daoud and other members of his family we don’t often see were present at four different gatherings, and we debuted a brief video of the farm which was created by Daoud and Jihan’s daughters, Shadin and Nardine.  Also, that month, Daoud was interviewed by long-time supporter Michael Spath, Director of the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace, in one of a series of webinars he has conducted on current conditions in Palestine.  May brought a visit to Church of the Palms UCC, a congregation in Sun City Arizona which hosted an in person visit in 2018.  In August the TON of Hope Book group of Des Moines, Iowa submitted a workshop proposal for the annual congress of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) which combined Daoud sharing the story and their presentation about development of a children’s book about TON.  In mid-September Daoud shared the TON story in a webinar hosted by Pilgrims of Ibillin.

This fall, we have two virtual events planned:

If you would like Daoud to participate virtually at a conference, adult education, or other gathering, please feel free to be in touch with Beth Moore, FOTONNA’s Tour Coordinator at ebmoore1@live.com.

Volunteers will be needed to work on the farm.  Please see www.tentofnations.org to learn more about volunteer opportunities and to complete a volunteer application.  Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 precautions will determine the scheduling of volunteers.  


Your generosity with prayers, presence, and gifts means so much to everyone involved with Tent of Nations. Thank you! Gifts to FOTONNA are not tax deductible under US tax law, but are all used to support the crucial work of Tent of Nations. Click here for donation information.


Thank you for all the ways that you are walking on the FOTONNA road for justice with the Nassars.  Your actions are a source of encouragement to the family as they continue their journey with faith, love, and hope.

Heidi Saikaly

FOTONNA Steering Committee Communications Co-Director