by PETER MURPHY
It is so easy to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the early years Israel had the support of the Western world, appearing as the underdog in the midst of hostile Arab nations. In the last 25 years or so, as the fate of the Palestinians has become more widely known, so has world opinion shifted in their favour. The solution may be simple, but making it happen is another matter. What is clear is that it cannot be imposed from outside, as much as world powers, and particularly the United States, have sought to bring about a solution.
The Palestinians deal with the situation primarily in three ways. The first response is violence. This has proved to be counter-productive because every violent action of Palestinians has been countered with even greater violence by the Israelis. Violence is still the approach adopted by Hamas in Gaza. Hamas used the democratic process to get elected and have since ruled dictatorially. Theirs is an extreme response.
A second response is to become a victim. This is the path followed by most Palestinians. They have become resigned to believing the situation is hopeless. To visit a Palestinian town is to enter a Third World area. Rubbish is everywhere. People make the best of their lot, but there is an underlying fatalism.
The third response is to leave the country. This path is open generally only to those who are educated. It is the path many Christians take. In the West Bank particularly Christians can be easily victimised. They are a small minority and they are often linked with the occupying power. There is some justification in this view, as American Evangelicals are active in attempting to convert both Moslems and fellow Christians. Moslems do not distinguish between Christians, hence all Christians are subject to harassment.
A fourth response is that being followed by the Nassar family on their family farm of 40 hectares near Bethlehem. Their farm is on a hill site and is surrounded by Jewish settlements, which are illegal under international law. Since the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel has been establishing such settlements on hill sites, primarily for security reasons. Since the early 1990s the Israeli authorities have been pressuring the Nassar family to leave their land. The matter has been fought out endlessly in the courts and is still progressing. More information is obtainable on their website under the title “Tent of Nations” (www.tentofnations.org/).
The farm was bought originally by their grandfather in 1916, when the country was under the Ottoman Empire. He had the land registered, so from the beginning the family had the required legal papers. This was unusual among the Palestinians at the time. Most Palestinians lived in villages and worked their land during the day. Nor did they register their land — as a protest against the occupying power. The Nassars, on the other hand, have remained on their land from the time of purchase.
The Israeli authorities have continually sought to remove them with demolition orders on all structures. With the help of lawyers and support of friends they have been able to fight such orders. On one occasion an official came and issued such an order on a Thursday afternoon, giving them three days to appeal. In Israel the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Their lawyer was able to lodge an appeal early Sunday morning and managed to delay the demolition order. The road to their property has been blocked. Electricity and water supply too have been cut off. The Nassars’ response to such harassment has always been creative to the extent they continue to confuse the authorities. They rely solely upon rain water collected in underground cisterns and a German NGO installed a solar power unit which enables them to have Internet access — but no TV!
Settler violence is a common experience among Palestinian settlements on the West Bank. Once armed settlers came on the property and uprooted 250 olive trees newly planted. A European Jewish organisation heard of this action and immediately responded by replacing the trees. Since 2000 the family has enlisted local and even international support. During the winter tree planting is a popular community activity, with different groups coming out to help plant trees.
Once they had a group of Jewish visitors on their property. One woman asked if she could bring her friend who lived in one of the neighbouring settler villages. The friend was keen to meet her neighbours whom she had not met in the nine years she had been in the settlement. This woman was quite shocked to hear that the family’s water supply had been cut off, especially as she had a swimming pool!
The Nassars are motivated by their deep Christian faith and simply refuse to be enemies to anyone. They have a chapel on the property, underground, as are all their buildings but one. Their attitude to the Israelis is to see them as people and to always appeal to their better nature, with the objective of raising awareness. They have not engaged in any form of protest that would arouse the settlers and the authorities to anger. They have been careful to always have someone on the land at all times. This country is notorious for people taking land that is not actually occupied and presuming ownership. Their example has been an inspiration to many, both within and outside Palestine.
This response of theirs to what appears an impossible situation is a liberation theology in action. The day we visited the site volunteers from Sabeel, a Palestinian community, came to help plant trees. It is an ongoing balancing act with any liberation theology not to become caught up in the political struggle, for the politics can so easily take over.
The Nassars are following a creative, non-violent path that is faith centred. Their land is their home. It is sacred to them, and they will never leave.
by PETER MURPHY