FOTONNA Advisory Council

An Advisory Council was formed in 2010 to help FOTONNA fulfill its mission and meet its goals. A widely-diverse group of individuals was approached and asked if they would be willing to serve in both an advisory capacity and a pro-active capacity when needed. All of these volunteers are well-acquainted with the situation on the ground in Israel/Palestine and have traveled there more than once. Their work is to be greatly respected, and we feel fortunate that they are willing to work on the behalf of FOTONNA and TON.


Anna Baltzer is a Jewish-American Columbia graduate, former Fulbright scholar, the granddaughter of Holocaust refugees, and an award-winning lecturer, author and activist for Palestinian human rights.  Since 2010, she has worked as National Organizer with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.  Anna is familiar with TON and the Nassar family through her travels to the farm.

Relevant Background: As a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service in the West Bank, Anna documented human rights abuses and supported Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to the Occupation. She has appeared on television more than 100 times (including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where she appeared alongside Palestinian presidential candidate and nonviolence leader Dr. Mustafa Barghouti) and lectured at more than 500 universities, schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, and policy institutes around the world with her acclaimed presentation, “Life in Occupied Palestine:  Eyewitness Stories and Photos,” and her full-color book, Witness in Palestine:  A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories.  She has contributed to various other books on the subject, including Shifting Sands:  Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation and Letters from Palestine:  Palestinians Speak Out about Their Lives, Their Country, and the Power of Non-Violence.  She is also co-founder of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee.

In 2009, Anna received the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s prestigious annual Rachel Corrie Peace and Justice Award and a Certificate of Commendation from the Governor of Wisconsin for her commitment to justice in the Holy Land.

James Beck works as a commercial banker in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He is active in his church where he currently serves on the Finance Committee.  He also enjoys serving on the boards of not-for-profit organizations in his community.

Jim visited Tent of Nations in February 2010, while on a week-long trip to Palestine with an ecumenical group which was considering divestment of its churches’ funds from companies which profited from, or were complicit in, Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  Following that visit, in October 2010, Jim was one of the co-founding members of United Methodist Kairos Response which, while pursuing the goal of peacefully ending the occupation, has taken decisive action in support of a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.  At the annual conference of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist held in June 2011, Jim presented a resolution to divest from three companies which were complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  The resolution was narrowly passed.

Relevant Background:  Jim has been host to Daoud on several of his trips to Cincinnati, helping to arrange presentations to churches, schools and smaller Bible study groups.

David S. Benedict graduated from Union Theological Seminary in NYC in 1960 and was appointed to a new mission in suburban Hartford, CT, where he worked with an interracial congregation.  He served two other parishes and left the pastoral ministry in 1970 over the issues of racism and an unjust war, taking early retirement from the United Methodist Church’s New York Annual Conference. He put together the first Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in the trucking industry (1970-73) and worked a short stint as a vocational counselor in an Episcopal alternative high school for drop-outs.  He got into Human Resources Management in the Pharmaceutical industry in 1974, where for the next 24 years he was very involved in improving the working culture and employee benefits, and where he held management to a commitment to a company-wide Affirmative Action program that raised opportunity for minorities and women.

Relevant Background:  David retired in 1998 at the age of 63, and over the past 19 years, he has served in a variety of “ecumenical” missions:  Habitat for Humanity housing; volunteer chaplain at our nation’s first mental institution; founding member of a diverse faith group that created “Williamsburg Walk the Talk” which mentors ex-offenders; served in the “Crossroads Community Youth Home”; used consulting skills to introduce an intervention called “Appreciative Inquiry” with the clergy of the Diocese of Southern Virginia (Episcopal) and to coordinate reinstating the diocesan Anti-racism Commission and an anti-racism national training program throughout the Diocese; wrote a manual entitled “Rowing Together” which was distributed as a model for black and white parishes partnering across the Episcopal Church; collaborated with the local United Way program in assisting the local homeless population; founded a new chapter of the Order of St. Luke the Physician that extends the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to both the sacred and secular communities; supported the formation of the “Williamsburg Community of Faith for Peace” in opposition to the war in Iraq and formed a spin-off study group called “Voices for a Middle East Peace” that raised awareness of key issues stemming from the Holy Land conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; founded the first coalition of some 23 churches to address the problem of homelessness in the Williamsburg area; and founded an endowed scholarship in Justice and Peace ministries at Union Theological Seminary, NYC.

David met Daoud more than a decade ago while he was on tour giving a presentation to Wesley Foundation Students at William and Mary College.  Unable to forget Daoud’s story, David visited TON for the 100th Anniversary celebration in 2016 and continues to support the TON story with power point presentations.

Don Christensen is a retired minister in the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ.  Most of his career has been in global justice and ecumenical ministries including campus ministry, Church World Service/CROP, and international education with the Augsburg College Center for Global Education in Minneapolis.

Don’s first visit to Israel/Palestine was in 1965-66, when he served as a YMCA Student World Service Worker at the new YMCA in Nazareth, Israel.  He did not return to the region until 2003, when he lived and worked for three months in the Muslim village of Jayyous, in the West Bank, as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches.  In 2005, Don returned to the region as part of an Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) delegation and participated in a sub-group of this delegation that did nonviolence training with Holy Land Trust volunteers in Bethlehem.

Don continues his education and advocacy work for peace with justice in Israel/Palestine by serving on the Board of Middle East Peace Now in Minnesota and a new group he started in his local church called the Middle East Peace with Justice Mission Team.  Currently, this group is working on a BDS resolution to be taken to the annual meeting of the Minnesota Conference of the UCC.

Don and his wife, Rachel, live in St. Paul, Minnesota, where energy for justice and peace is renewed by time with their new granddaughter, Evangeline. 

Relevant Background:  During both of Don’s IFPB trips, he visited the Nassar family farm/Tent of Nations.  In 2005, he was a delegate; in 2006, Don co-led an IFPB delegation and made his second visit to the Nassar farm.

Steve France works as a news editor with the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. located in Arlington, Virginia.  He serves in a variety of volunteer organizations, including the following:  Leadership Council, Sabeel DC Metro; Missioner, DC Coordinator for American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem; and, Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington for Companion Partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.  Steve also works as a pro bono attorney for political asylum cases in affiliation with the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAIR Coalition).  In addition, he is the founder/leader of the ‘Never Again Includes Palestinians’ Vigil at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Relevant Background:  Steve has had one unforgettable overnight stay at Tent of Nations (April 2010), and he has known and supported Daoud since 2007 when he helped co-found Friends of Tent of Nations North America.  He grew up ‘pro-Israel’ and skeptical of Arabs.  In the wake of 9/11 and as part of a more general moral awakening, he came to understand the plight of the Palestinians. The 2006 Lebanon war moved him to become educated on the history and politics of the area and to take sustained action to support the Palestinian struggle and raise awareness among Americans.  Dr. Joseph Groves serves as a Senior Fellow, Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB), is an Adjunct Professor in the American University International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program, and a Program Director with Nonviolence International.  His focus is on Palestine/Israel education and advocacy and on nonviolence training and activism through his work with IFPB and local, community-based organizations. Joe’s involvement with Tent of Nations and the Nassar family began in 2004, when IFPB started sending delegations to the Tent of Nations.  IFPB has sent over 20 delegations to visit Tent of Nations and helped organize speaking events for Daoud in the US.  Joe keeps the IFPB network of over 1,000 delegates up to date on the situation at Tent of Nations, including emergency alerts. Relevant Background:  Joe taught secondary school in Iraq for three years (1966-69), has been involved in Middle East education and advocacy for 40+ years and has traveled to Palestine/Israel eight times, including leading two IFPB delegations. He was on the Middle East Witness Steering Committee, served on the Fellowship of Reconciliation Middle East Task Force, and was the Director of FOR Middle East programs and the Director of Interfaith Peace-Builders.  He has also directed the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, taught Islam and Modern Middle East Politics, Religion, and Culture at Guilford College, and taught Nonviolent Direct Action at both Guilford and American University.

Robert Mertz is retired but still very active in work with the American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera). Program.  He also leads the Olive Oil Ministry (OOM), a partnership of twenty congregations in the Washington, DC region, which sells Palestinian olive oil and other agricultural products.  They donate the bulk of their annual net income to Tent of Nations to support their outreach to international and local communities and the growth and sustenance of the farm.  They also support them because of their steadfast non-violent resistance to official and unofficial efforts to expropriate their legal ownership of the farm.

Robert has met Daoud and his family on several occasions in Palestine and Washington and have hosted him to speak at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ. He and his wife visited the farm in 2016 with a delegation from Interfaith Peace-Builders and then later to see the activities, which the OOM has/is financing.

Relevant Background:  Robert began studying Arabic and the Middle East in 1964 and has been involved with the Middle East ever since, as an undergraduate and graduate student, banker in the private sector, official of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank, and as a supporter and board member of Anera.  His involvement in Palestinian relief and development began in 1967 when a group of students at the Johns Hopkins School for International Studies (SAIS) collected 4,500 blankets for Palestinian refugees after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Fr. Jacek R. Orzechowski, OFM, serves as the Parochial Vicar at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.  He is also Chair of the JPIC Directorate of the Franciscan Holy Name Province.  He works in a wide area of ministry within his local parish and the Franciscan Province with a special focus on the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Outreach.  Fr. Jacek is also part of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, the Archdiocese of Washington Holy Land Advisory Committee.

Fr. Jacek first met Daoud in 2005 while he was on the CPT’s delegation to Israel and Palestine.  Subsequently, having developed a working relationship with the HCEF, he requested that his peacemaking pilgrimages to the Holy Land include a visit to the Tent of Nations.  Since then, he has taken six different groups of pilgrims there.  In addition to this, Fr. Jacek and his St. Camillus parish and the nearby Holy Name College has hosted Daoud when he was here on speaking tours.

Quote:  “I’ve come to deeply admire the powerful, active, non-violent witness of Daoud, his family and the Friends of Tent of Nations.”

Relevant Background:  Fr. Jacek has traveled to Israel and Palestine seven times (the first time on a CPT delegation), meeting with a variety of groups involved in non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation and promoting justice, peace and reconciliation.  Furthermore, over the years, he has participated in several annual advocacy conferences organized by the Churches for Peace in the Middle East.

Rabbi Brant Rosen is the Midwest Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee.  Prior to joining AFSC, he served as a congregational rabbi for over 20 years.  He is the Co-Founder and Co-Chairperson of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council and the Co-Founder, with Rabbi Brian Walt, of the Jewish Fast for Gaza.

Rabbi Rosen first met Daoud in 2010 during Daoud’s Educational/Fundraising Tour to Evanston, Illinois.  He has subsequently kept in touch with Daoud by e-mail.  In December 2010, Rabbi Rosen visited Tent of Nations with 20 congregants during their Israel/Palestine Study Tour.  He and Mark Braverman (Senior Consultant, FOTONNA) have collaborated with one another in their mutual activism.

Relevant Background:  Rabbi Rosen has lived in and has led delegations to Israel/Palestine numerous times and writes extensively about I/P peace and justice issues on his blog Shalom Rav. His book, “Wrestling in the Daylight:  A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity” was published in 2012 by Just World Books.

Heidi Saikaly serves as a volunteer with the local Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and “Salt of the Earth” soup kitchen, PCUSA Northwest Coast Presbytery Commission on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) and Stephen Ministry.  She has worked as an epidemiologist at a health department in Kentucky and premedical advisor at Iowa State University.  Other organizations she has been involved in include the Community and Middle East Peacebuilders of Trinity Lutheran Church and Middle East Partners Advisory Board for Rev. Kathy Giske.

Relevant Background:  Heidi writes, “My father-in-law, Rev. Dr. Nadim Saikaly, grew up in Lebanon and attended Schneller Schule in Jerusalem as a young boy.  It was from him that I learned about I/P history and God’s call for peace that includes all His precious children.”   Heidi first learned about Tent of Nations from Daoud’s presentation at a presbytery meeting in 2012 and helped organize his subsequent speaking tour of the Seattle area in 2014.  She says, “Over and over, I witnessed friends come face to face with an utterly surprising narrative about the occupation that they had never heard in their churches, Bible studies, or universities.  Daoud’s steadfast commitment to answer the Israeli occupation by working for peace with his God-given abilities has inspired many.  In March 2016, I advocated for TON in the DC offices of my senators and representative.  Our local IPMN has since begun to meet with Everett staff persons of Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen about TON.”  Heidi and her husband, Elie, look forward to visiting TON with the Pilgrims of Ibilin in 2018.

Emily Siegel is the Program Director at Eyewitness Palestine (formerly IFPB) and is responsible for running its Delegations Program.  Since 2002, Eyewitness Palestine has sent over 1,300 people to Palestine/Israel through this program.  Emily holds a Master’s Degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from the School of International Service at American University and a BA in International Relations, with minors in Sociology and Jewish Studies, from the University of Delaware.

Emily’s involvement with Tent of Nations and the Nassar family began in 2006 when she first visited the farm through an educational trip she took with George Mason University; this trip was a part of her Master’s program.  Stepping on to the farm that day was a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, and she was instantly touched by the family’s steadfastness and commitment to peace on so many levels.  Upon her return, Emily immediately chose Amal Nassar, out of countless applications, to join a Partners for Peace tour that she was co-organizing.  She then had the honor to travel with Amal for three weeks in the spring of 2007, witnessing the power of the Nassar family’s story on US audiences.  Since that time, Emily has visited the family numerous times with Eyewitness Palestine delegations and continues to have a close relationship with the entire Nassar family.  She has also organized over 30 delegation visits to the farm.

Relevant Background:  Emily’s undergraduate studies included time abroad at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, exploring Israeli society, politics and Bedouin rights.  Her Master’s Degree focused on the intersection of justice and peace-building through education, including extensive research on identity formation in the Israeli school system and how peace education methods create social change.  Emily has previously worked for Partners for Peace, AMIDEAST, and the US Institute of Peace.

Mary Kay Turner serves as President of the Holy Land Christians Society (HLCS) and is part of the Leadership Council for Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and on the board of The Telos Group.  She was on the White House Commission for Presidential Scholars and had an appointment to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS).  Her major focus is providing Advocacy for Peace in the Holy Land and support for the diminishing Christian community in Palestine and Israel.

Mary Kay visited with Daoud at Tent of Nations in March 2010.  She also hosted Daoud in her home in 2009 to raise awareness for the work and needs of the programs at the farm.

Relevant Background:  In her last year of teaching (25 years), she had a Palestinian Christian student who asked if she could help the Christians in the Holy Land who have felt abandoned by so many fellow Christians around the world.  She knew very little about the situation, so she made a trip to the Holy Land with two priests, learned about the struggle and founded HLCS to raise awareness in the US about the plight of the Christians.  HLCS now provides scholarships, microfinance, education infrastructure, medical care at an orphanage and water projects at Tent of Nations.  They have also met with about 60 members of Congress and many Administration officials to tell the story of the Christians in the Holy Land.

Diane Umstead is an activist, an author and a lawyer.  She is currently focusing on educating others about the need for peace with justice for the Palestinian people and empowering women living under occupation.  Her volunteer work includes organizing The Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights in Austin, Texas and ConnectHer/Girls Impact the World.

Diane was born in Tripoli, Libya, the daughter of a three-star general in the US Air Force, and lived with her parents and four sisters on military bases around the world.  She is a graduate of the University of Texas, Austin, and American University Washington College of Law, DC.  She has practiced law with two of the largest law firms in Texas and worked with Texas Governor Ann Richards as the first woman appointed to the Texas Water Development Board.  In 2013, Diane published her first book, The Wisdom Tree:  A Mother’s Journey into Israel and Palestine, a memoir about her travels with her son Mark in southern Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.  She and her husband have two sons and live in Austin, Texas, where she is working on her next book, The Sunday Ghibli.

Relevant Background:  Diane first visited Tent of Nations on a tour in summer 2009 and was shown around the farm by Daher Nassar.  She helped organize the Spring 2016 Tour for the Texas portion of that trip and hosted Daoud Nassar and daughter Shadin (and Bill Plitt and Beth Moore) at that time.

Diane has traveled to Palestine twice (2009, 2014), and since her first trip, she has spent thousands of hours educating herself and others about Palestine/Israel (the history, life under the occupation/ siege, and related social, economic, political, legal and human rights issues) and working for peace with justice for the Palestinian people.

Paul Verduin is co-chair of Sabeel DC Metro, the Washington DC affiliate of Friends of Sabeel-North America.  Sabeel DC promotes BDS, sponsors trainings in nonviolence, and holds symposia such as the 2011 program “Jesus, Justice, Palestine-Israel:  Challenging the Politics of Empire” which drew more than a hundred people, and the November 1, 2014 conference, “Jews and Christians, Palestine and Israel:  A Call for a New Conversation.”  A confirmed ecumenist, Paul is currently active in advocacy in the ELCA Metro Washington DC Synod’s Middle East Working Group, the National Capital Presbytery’s Middle East Concerns Team, the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church, the Peace Not Walls (PNW) national network of the ELCA, and the Palestine Israel Network (PIN) of the United Church of Christ.  Paul holds memberships in local Lutheran and Presbyterian-UCC congregations.  He is the author of the provocative essay on the late Professor Krister Stendahl’s misguided support for Zionism and Israel’s oppressive occupation of the Palestinian territories which appears in the 2013 book, Zionism Through Christian Lenses: Ecumenical Perspectives on the Promised Land.  A former General Secretary of the Abraham Lincoln Institute – a nonprofit he founded in 1997 – Paul holds an M.A. in nonprofit management and a B.A. in psychology.

Relevant Background:  Paul’s concern for justice in Palestine-Israel began in 2002 and by 2006 had become a major element in his life.  On fact-finding trips in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013, he covered the length and breadth of the West Bank and Israel.  During the 2008 and 2009 trips, he visited the Tent of Nations farm, meeting members of the Nassar family and becoming familiar with their stories.  He has supported Daoud and Jihan Nassar on their tours in the United States and has included narratives about the Tent of Nations in power-point presentations here in the DC area.

Rev. Susan P. Wilder is a consultant to the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy.  She also serves on the Advisory Council, Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace (WIAMEP), is a Member, Israel/Palestine Mission Network, PCUSA and is Chair, Middle East Working Group, Grace Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Virginia.

She was “moved and impressed,” she said, when she met Daoud and heard him tell the story of Tent of Nations.  Since that time, she has followed the Nassars’ work with interest and has taken groups she has led to visit the farm.

Relevant Background:  Rev. Wilder has served in ecumenical and interfaith networks as a grassroots organizer, speaker and educator, working to raise awareness about the Israeli/Palestinian situation and to further advocacy for a just peace.  She lived in Jerusalem from 1999 to 2002.  She is ordained in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and has served several churches in the Washington, DC, area.  Rev. Wilder graduated from Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, and received her M.Div. from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Deema Zein works as an Associate Producer and recently completed her Master’s degree at Georgetown University in Video Journalism.  She is active in the DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival (DCPFAF) which showcases a series of Palestinian-related films and artists once a year in the fall.  While participating in the almond harvest at Tent of Nations in 2017, she shot a short 360 video that, when complete, will be submitted to outlets in hopes of showcasing her work.  Her future plan is to return to TON and further create films showcasing what TON has to offer and the work that goes into it.

Relevant Background:  Deema is half Palestinian, half Lebanese and grew up learning about, and discussing topics related to, the Middle East, in particular the Palestinian issue.  It is very important to her to visit the Middle East, and she has been visiting Palestine, in particular, almost every summer for the last couple of years.  She has a drive to produce documentary-style videos, shedding light on human rights issues around the world and especially on the Palestinian Occupation.

Members who have resigned:  Todd Endo, Christy Wise, Philip Farah, Todd Deatherage, Stephen Hyde

Members in Memoriam:  Beverly Hunter, Scott Kennedy