FOTONNA Steering Committee

Friends of Tent of Nations North America (FOTONNA) was founded in November 2007 as an all-volunteer charitable corporation. The Steering Committee supports the work of FOTONNA and Tent of Nations (TON). All members have traveled to Palestine/Israel. To contact the Steering Committee, please email info@fotonna.org.

FOTONNA STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Charlie Lewis – Steering Committee Chair

Charlie has been a co-pastor with his wife, Ann, for over 30 years in the PCUSA, currently serving First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish, WA.    He is a graduate, along with Ann, of Princeton Seminary.  They have two grown sons who both joined them on their first trip to the Nassar farm in 2016 with Pilgrims of Ibillin (led by new Steering Committee member, Joan Deming). Having grown up on a four-generation family fruit farm in Washington State, Charlie feels a connect to and kindred spirit with Daoud and his family.  He worked with Joan Deming to coordinate a group of Presbyterians on a 2018 educational trip with Pilgrims of Ibillin to Israel/Palestine in 2018 where they visited the TON, and he’s now preparing to help with another group trip in May of 2022.

Charlie has followed the situation and lives of Palestinians since 2002 when his church hosted Abla Nasir, then the Director of East Jerusalem YWCA and former Principal of the Ramallah Friends School. Having studied with the World Council of Churches and lived with Christians around the world, it has been Palestinian Christians who have most stirred his passion for justice and desire to let their stories be heard.   He has stepped onto the FOTONNA Steering Committee to respond to what one of the giants of our faith, John Lewis, calls the highest calling of our hearts: to stand up for what we truly believe in, doing all we can to right the wrongs and work for a just peace through the path of nonviolence and reconciliation.

 

Daoud Nassar – Director of Operations, Tent of Nations 

Daoud is a native of Bethlehem, Palestine.  He is married to Jihan Nassar, and they have three children.  Daoud is a Palestinian Christian, fluent in Arabic, German and English, with a degree in Biblical Studies from a Bible School in Austria, a BA degree in Business from Bethlehem University, and a Degree in Tourism Management from Bielefeld University in Germany. He manages the farm known as Daher’s Vineyard located in the West Bank of Palestine and directs the work of the programs and projects known as Tent of Nations.

Pre-pandemic, nearly 10,000 international tourists annually visited the Nassar family’s ancestral land – a 100-acre hilltop site situated between Bethlehem and Hebron in the West Bank. The attraction is the Tent of Nations, an open and free enclave that serves as an educational and cultural center for local Palestinians and Israelis, including the international visitors.

The Nassar family land, purchased in 1916 by Daoud Nassar’s grandfather, is surrounded by Jewish settlements on three sides and the Palestinian village of Nahalin on the fourth.  The land is cut off from sources of water and electricity, and the family is resisting the loss of their land by going through Israel’s courts with proof of continual ownership since 1916 and by employing non-violent responses to Israeli laws that limit growth and personal freedom.  Activities such as planting olive trees, developing alternative energy sources, and improving ways to collect, store and use water supplies wisely are just some of the ways in which the Nassars fight for human dignity.

Tent of Nations also offers summer camps for Arab youth so that through shared activities they may learn about one another.  Women from Nahalin are enrolled throughout the year at the Women’s Education Center in courses such as English, Computer Science, Management, Accounting and Creative Writing.   Students at Bethlehem University have the opportunity to perform service projects on the land itself as a part of their degree studies.  Through Tent of Nations, Daoud works each day to prepare the people on the land for the day when the walls come down.

 

Bill Mims – Secretary 

Bill is active in the work of his Quaker community, especially in the area of peace seeking.  He maintains a connection with Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) (now Eyewitness Palestine) and used to serve on the Policy Committee of the Friends Committee for National Legislation. He is a former Trustee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Quakers, and is a current member of the Israel-Palestine working group of the Yearly Meeting.

Bill first visited Daoud’s land in 2006 as an IFPB delegate.  He returned in 2008 and 2010 in order to touch the land and remain familiar with the situation in Israel/Palestine. In 2008, he co-facilitated a course in empowerment at the Bent al Reef Women’s Center along with Bill Plitt.

He has followed the situation in Palestine for several years.  When Bill went to see things with his own eyes in 2006, he found he could not NOT do something.  Thanks to his involvement with FOTONNA, he has been able to work for Justice in a small way.

 

Nadia Itraish – Director of Outreach and Advisory Council Liaison 

Nadia is currently working at Freddie Mac as a consultant after many years of full-time work there.  She is actively engaged in Palestinian- and Arab-related groups and activities in the Washington, DC area such as ADC, AAI, USPCN (United States Palestinian Community Network).

Nadia first met Daoud in August 2009 when she visited the Tent of Nations farm.  He and his family’s work made such a powerful impact on her that she felt compelled to actively support his mission.

She is a Palestinian-born American whose parents and other family members currently live in the West Bank.

 

Michael Phillips – Co-Finance Director 

Mike is president of MJ Phillips and Associates LLC, an agricultural consulting firm that specializes in agricultural biotechnology issues.  He was the Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources for the National Academy of Sciences and has extensive experiences in directing food and agricultural policy studies for congressional committees.  He was on the faculty at Purdue University and served as a senior staff member for the Secretary of Agriculture.

Mike has M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Ohio State and Purdue University and a B.S. degree in agricultural economics and animal science.  He is also a farmer and was raised on the family’s dairy and grain farm in northern Ohio which he still oversees as manager.

In May of 2013, Mike traveled with his church group from Springfield, VA to the Holy Land and had an opportunity to visit the Nassar Farm.  Mike will bring his skills in business and agriculture to our mission as we support the efforts of the Nassars to build another way of living out our faith and in resisting the present Israeli Occupation in a nonviolent way.

 

Beth Moore – Director of Tour Planning/Finance Director 

As an educator, Beth’s experiences have encompassed teaching in public schools, running a day care center, serving as a general manager in a worker-owned cooperative, working in health education in a village in India and, most recently, completing twenty years as director of an office of international education at a small Catholic university. She brings a variety of managerial skills to her current volunteer commitments which has included serving on the Board of Directors of her local food coop, working with a newly formed Social Justice Fund in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and now working with FOTONNA to assist with tour coordination.

While having been conversant with the issues surrounding mid-east conflicts, and having had the opportunity to travel extensively, Beth’s first visit to Palestine occurred in November 2013 at which time she visited the Tent of Nations and participated in the 25th anniversary conference of SABEEL.  She also visited the farm in October 2018 to help celebrate the World Methodist Council’s awarding of their 2017 Peace Award.

 

Andie Sweetman – Volunteer Liaison 

Andie’s involvement with Tent of Nations started in college with the almond harvest in the summer of 2016.  She was deeply affected by the mission of Tent of Nations and wanted to continue working with the family.  After speaking with Daoud, they agreed to start a beekeeping project.  Once in the states and back at college, she applied for the Project for Peace grant to start a small beekeeping project at the farm.  She obtained the grant and implemented the project in the summer of 2017.  Now back in the states, Andie is thrilled to continue her support of the farm through work with the Steering Committee.

 

Joan Deming – Communications Co-Director 

Joan is retired and living in Minneapolis, MN, after spending 28 years serving as a local church pastor in United Methodist Churches in Wisconsin and 15 years as a nonprofit fundraiser, friend-raiser, and administrator. From 2007 until 2018 Joan served on the staff of Pilgrims of Ibillin, working closely with Archbishop Elias Chacour in Ibillin, Israel and with many gifted Peacemakers in the West Bank. Through her work with Pilgrims, she accompanied Abuna Chacour and other Palestinians on speaking tours in the USA. She also organized and led “Living Stones” pilgrimages to Israel/Palestine – tours that included holy site visits but also meetings with leaders of organizations working for a just peace in the Holy Land.

Since 2012 Joan has brought 14 pilgrimage groups to visit the Tent of Nations, to listen to the Nassar family story and when possible to help with the olive harvest and share a meal. She was also privileged to accompany Abuna Elias Chacour as he spoke at the World Methodist Council Peace Award ceremony at the farm in 2018. For Joan as well as for most of the travelers she brought to the Tent of Nations, the story of the Nassar family’s commitment to the land and their Christian witness made a huge impact. The opportunity to work with FOTONNA feels like a chance to give back – to make a difference for Tent of Nations in particular and for Palestinian Christians in general.

As pandemic travel concerns subside, Joan looks forward to beginning to plan and lead tours to Palestine/Israel again through a new LLC she established called Meet the Peacemakers. Planned tours will not be traditional Holy Land tours but will focus on deeply learning the stories of Peacemakers on both sides of the Green Line. In retirement, Joan and her husband Don Schultz have relocated to be near grandchildren (and their parents).

 

Heidi Saikaly – Communications Co-Director 

Heidi and her husband, Elie, live in Everett, WA.  She serves on the Mission Council and Stephen Ministry team of Snohomish FPC, on the Advisory Board of Rev. Kathy Giske of Middle East Partners, and participates in advocacy efforts of the local Israel Palestine Mission Network.  Heidi has a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Iowa and has worked on women’s health programs at a health department in Kentucky and as the premed academic advisor at Iowa State University.

Heidi’s father-in-law, Rev. Dr. Nadim Saikaly, was born in Lebanon and attended Schneller Schule in Jerusalem as a young boy.  It was from hearing his stories that  she began to hear a different narrative about Israel/Palestine history.  She began to hope that the peace between Jews and Arabs that Nadim had experienced in his Lebanese village of Mieh-Mieh and Jerusalem would someday be restored.  She organized two tours of I/P in 2009 and 2010 for PCUSA and ELCA parishioners with the guidance of PCUSA’s mission worker Doug Dicks.  She first learned about TON from Daoud’s presentation at a Presbytery meeting in 2012 and was delighted to help with plans for his Seattle speaking itinerary in 2014.  In 2018, she returned to I/P with Joan Deming and Charlie Lewis’ Pilgrims of Ibilin tour and was able to visit the Nassar family at TON.  Daoud’s steadfast commitment to answer the Israeli military occupation by working for peace with his God-given abilities is inspiring and motivating.  The stones are indeed crying out for God’s justice.

 

Bill Plitt – Senior Consultant/Historian 

Bill currently serves as a volunteer with the following organizations:  Israel/Palestine Mission Network (PCUSA), Middle East Concerns Team & Mission Coordinating Committee (National Capital Presbytery), Sabeel, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PCUSA), Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) delegate, and supporter of Combatants for Peace.

Bill first came into contact with Tent of Nations in 2006 as he traveled with an IFPB group, and he helped co-found FOTONNA in 2007.  He has traveled to the farm each year from 2006-2018, led a woman’s course in communications at Bent Al Reef Center, facilitated four travel groups to the farm in 2010, and traveled with Daoud on 23 U.S. tours.

The Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation experience in 2006 was a transformative experience for him.  He has returned eight times to visit, work, and demonstrate solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian peace groups.  Such experiences have led to numerous opportunities to make presentations, preach in churches, and lead the study of the conflict through the “Steadfast Hope: A Palestinian Quest for a Just Peace” (PCUSA) materials in DC area churches.  He has written several articles for publication on his experiences.  For many years, he taught in various high schools and used this experience to serve as a consultant with Columbia University through their grant program; he worked with large urban school districts on the East Coast about the challenges and opportunities of working with at-risk student populations.

 

Mark Braverman – Senior Consultant 

Mark is trained in clinical psychology and crisis management and has worked with groups and individuals undergoing traumatic stress.  He serves on the Advisory Board of Friends of Sabeel North America and has been appointed Consultant for Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding.  Mark currently serves as Executive Director of Kairos USA, a movement to unite U.S. Christians to take a prophetic stand for a just peace.  He is the author of Fatal Embrace:  Christians, Jews and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land (Beaufort Books, 2011) and A Wall in Jerusalem:  Hope, Healing and the Struggle for Justice in Israel and Palestine (Jericho Books, 2012).

Traveling to Israel/Palestine in 2006 with Interfaith Peace-Builders, Mark was transformed by witnessing the occupation of Palestine and by encounters with peace activists and civil society leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities.  He met Daoud at Tent of Nations that summer and was convinced of the importance of the Nassar family’s work and the importance of establishing a link with communities in the United States.  Upon his return to the United States, Mark began the work of co-founding Friends of Tent of Nations North America.  He has visited the farm several times over the years.

Mark is a Jewish American with deep family roots in Israel/Palestine.  His grandfather, a fifth-generation Palestinian Jew, was born in Jerusalem, emigrating to the U.S. as a young man.  Growing up in the United States, Mark was reared in the Jewish tradition, studying the Bible, Hebrew literature and Jewish history.  He now devotes himself full time to the work for a just peace in the Holy Land.  Besides his work with FOTONNA, Mark writes and speaks widely on his own journey and the role of religious beliefs in the current struggle for a just peace.

– Updated 6/23/2021