I have been thinking quite a bit about what it means for there to be an international presence at Tent of Nations and in occupied Palestine, and to imaginatively use having visitors here at the farm on a continual basis. Daood Nassar told us that since 2002, when a good number of internationals began showing up, the violence of the nearby settlers towards them has stopped. What hasn’t stopped is the destruction of the property, but it may be possible to protect against this, too.
Yesterday morning I rode in the old orange VW bus with a group of 6 down to the family land in the valley. Two of the brothers Nassar were in the front seat. There are several fields in the narrow bottom lands (still 950 ft in elevation but with more fertile soil than on the slopes or hilltop). Our job was to weed-release apricot trees planted last year. Up until 2 years ago, the valley fields were full of fruit trees: hundreds of apricot, fig and plum trees produced a bountiful harvest each summer and autumn. In 2014 the trees were 10 years old. Very early one morning, while the family and workers were on the hilltop where they live, bulldozers came. They ripped out and destroyed about 1500 of the trees in the first few fields.
The family response has been to refuse be enemies. They continued to use the legal channels available to them, that they have been using since demolition orders were first served by the Israeli Government in 1991. And, they replanted the following year. In 2015 they planted 2500 trees in the valley where the others had been and beyond. The new trees will begin to produce in the next couple years.
The Nassar brothers pointed out one lone survivor — a fig tree against a stone wall at the far edge of one field. This one tree was spared (who knows why) and has survived and flourished. They have named it “Steadfast Witness.”
Another part of the strategy to refuse to be enemies and to instead use creative non-violent resistance against the threats to their farm, is to bring MORE international folks to the farm for work on the land and for educational programs. They believe that a permanent presence in the valley will help to stop further violence by settlers. To that end, they are refurbishing a cave just above and overlooking the fields.
This cave was a place the family lived in during the winter months up until several decades ago. It is warm and dry, and it allowed them to be very close to the fields they tended. We explored the cave and the area around, which has evidence of residential use during the Ottoman period, including a large stone winemaking vat and steps cut into the rock walls. The cave is the future residence of a group of farm workers — perhaps WWOOFers? — from points around the globe, to live there and work in these fields year round.
Rather like “Steadfast Witness,” the fig tree that survived the bulldozers of 2014 and stands over the new small seedlings, such a group of internationals would signal by their presence a willingness to bear witness to what happens here. Even though the United Nations has designated the occupation of Palestine as illegal, and identified countless violations of the Israeli Government as they demolish Palestinian houses, uproot and destroy olive trees, and prevent Palestinian farmers from working their land, the illegal and I humane treatment continues. The building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land has actually accelerated in recent years, and during the Obama Administration.
The education of the international community, and their literal and felt presence in West Bank, may be the most powerful tool we have to save the Nassar Farm and to end the occupation. The days I have spent at Tent of Nations with Dutch, German, Italian, Norwegian, Scottish, Swiss, and some fellow Americans has been rich with the sharing of stories about what they have seen during their time in Palestine and Israel. They bear witness to the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers; to the physical realities of checkpoints, barriers, and the snaking separation wall, as well as to guard towers, Israeli flags, and expanding settlements on hilltops beyond the 1967 borders; and to the miserable and controlled living conditions of Palestinians. Locals tell us to tell our friends and family to come visit Palestine, to learn and to make their interest and concern known to the Israelis and to the world. This type of informal human rights monitoring — our simply being here — is a key tool for ending the occupation and building a just peace here.
Warm greetings from Palestine,