Lessons Learned Through the Nassar Farm
By: Rev. Charlie Lewis, Co-Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Snohomish, Washington
The day I met Daoud Nassar and the Nassar family, I felt an instant connection. Land is something sacred to Palestinians and, having grown up on a third-generation family farm, I have experienced the sacredness of the land as well. The Nassar’s grandfather instilled in his family a keen awareness that the land is a part of their identity, that they belong to the land. When I hear Daoud or his family speak about their land, it seems like they are referring to a member of their own family.
The Nassars founded the Tent of Nations, a peace project established in 2001 on a portion of their 100 acres of grape, apple, olive, almond, and fig trees about six miles southwest of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The land, purchased by their family in 1916, has been cultivated for over 100 years, passing down responsibility from generation to new generation. For over three decades, Daoud (Arabic for David) has been involved in a David-and-Goliath struggle to hold onto the land through active, non-violent means.
Every year over 10,000 people of goodwill from around the world, including Jewish groups, have joined them in their struggle for dignity and justice. While at the farm, in addition to a wonderful Palestinian meal, visitors hear the story of how one remarkable Palestinian Christian family takes the pain, frustration, and hardship they’ve experienced living under Israeli military control and channels it into positive actions.
The Nassar’s Ottoman-era paperwork showing their ownership of the land has not prevented the Israeli government from repeatedly bulldozing the family’s olive trees, cutting all electric utilities to the farm, shutting off their water, and engaging in decades of harassing tactics to drive them off their land. The Nassars’ experience is, in fact, a microcosm of what has/is happening to Palestinians across the West Bank. It would be understandable why, even as devoted followers of Jesus, the Nassar family would have some deep anger at the destruction of their property and resentment toward those who threaten their livelihood, seek to steal what is rightfully their land, and harass them continually. But instead, they’ve taken their anger and channeled it into a constructive, creative, and positive response.
When a few thousand fruit-bearing trees were destroyed on their lands in 2014 by the Israeli Defense Force, hundreds of new trees were planted on the farm, a gift from Jews in England who had heard of the incident. When their electricity was cut off to their farm to try to drive them out, they put in solar power; when their water was cut off, they built cisterns to capture rainwater and keep their trees irrigated. When large boulders were placed to block the primary road leading to the farm, they found a new way. Instead of fighting back violently at land being taken and hardships endured; instead of fleeing the West Bank as most Christian Palestinians have been forced to do with no sense of hope for a future; instead of sitting passively and helplessly by, they have channeled their exasperation at the injustice into active, non-violent resistance.
The Nassars have educated and inspired me and thousands of people who have visited their farm with their faith, their courage, and their steadfast determination for the right to prevail. Constant delays in court do not diminish their determination to re-register their land. Destructive acts against their trees, property, and people do not deter or dissuade their objective. Mounting numbers of demolition orders do not discourage the will of those who won’t be worn down by the wrong, but instead work tirelessly for what’s right. It is a profound honor to be working alongside Daoud and his family whose spirit never grows weary of doing good but waits to reap a harvest of justice in the end (Gal. 6:9).
O God, inspire us by the witness of the Nassar family to act with justice, compassion, and humility. May we stand in solidarity with all those who struggle under the burden of oppressive conditions. Strengthen us to endure the long and arduous journey as the moral arc bends toward justice. We pray in the name of Jesus, your greatest gift and our world’s greatest hope. Amen.
Note: Our FOTONNA Steering Committee has greatly appreciated our partnership with CMEP and the support of Kyle Christofalo and Mae Cannon as we’ve worked together in solidarity with the Nassar family.
About the Author: Rev. Charlie Lewis is the Co-Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Snohomish, Washington, and also the Chair of the Friends of Tent of Nations North America Steering Committee, which works to support the Tent of Nations farm from the US and raise awareness of the plight facing the Nasser family and Palestinian land claims more generally.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).