The Tent of Nations is an organic farm on a long narrow strip of Palestinian land that has held its deed since 1917, through four occupations: Turkish, British, Jordanian, and Israeli. It is placed in the middle of a circle of 5 Israeli settlements. The farmers mark the last clash with Israeli military forces in 2008, but in May 2014 that streak was broken when Israeli bulldozers showed up without a permit and bulldozed 1,500 apricot, apple, and grape trees. The farm’s longtime plan of starting a wine distillery must be postponed for a few more years.
The Director, Daoud Nassar, grew up on this land and strives to maintain the land’s deed legally, though it has cost his family over $150,000 in court fees. Presently their land dispute is in the Israeli supreme court. In the meantime, life goes on at the top of the Tent of Nations hill, and this year they have received 7,000 international visitors, hosted year-round volunteers, founded summer camps for Palestinian children, and dreamed of starting a school that educates for sustainable agriculture and recycling.
There is always a new project: right now Daoud seeks to engage his compost shed to generate fuel to supplement their solar-power and wind turbines. In the summers, Palestinian children come for an arts camp where they discover their talents and learn to focus on the positive. The focus is not education but empowerment. Empowerment for these kids starts with their experience of their own creativity. The policy of inviting visitors enables the Tent of Nations call, to anyone who hears of them, to “come and see, then go and tell.” So many people do not know about the plight of the Palestinians or the fact that there are good people making a positive difference in Palestine.
“I’m not here to add another negative land confiscation story,” says Daoud. “I want people to spread the good news that there are people here who think differently. In the middle of this darkness there are still some candles that are burning. We Palestinians are not angels. But we try to live on the side of peace.”
Daoud Nassar is part of the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement. He speaks of three impulses that Palestinians face every day. The first is to violence in the face of daily humiliations and indignities from Israeli soldiers. But practicing violence would only keep people in the action-reaction cycle. The second impulse is to sit down and cry and wait for salvation. But the victim mentality is very dangerous. The third impulse is to leave. But most educated Palestinians have already left and it hurts all those who remain.
The new way, Daoud’s way, is to refuse victimhood. To refuse to be an enemy of anybody. To refuse to hate. “There is always an enemy in life,” says Daoud, “But how can we overcome our enemy in a way that does not harm him? That is our challenge. Somebody may see me as an enemy. But I refuse to be an enemy. This is not a passive form of resistance. It is an active form of resistance. Because it denies the first natural impulses.” Daoud tries to walk the talk of his Christianity, and to live the justice they believe in—to overcome evil with good, hatred with love, darkness with light. This is a Christian, nonviolent, positive, creative way of life. It behooves him to channel his frustration into a positive direction. Daoud recounts how easy it is for a Palestinian—for any human—to feel frustration, humiliation, and anger. Going home and yelling at your family doesn’t help. But these feelings come with a great deal of energy that can be channeled. And every time they are angry at Tent of Nations they start a new project and they pour all of their pain into it.
Daoud says that growing up in a Christian family makes nonviolence a matter of faith, of seeking and creating hope and joy in life. “Suffering is not the end of the story. There is something on the other side. Learning to do this is an ongoing journey, and when you see the project succeeding you start to believe in it and it gives back more energy.” He said that the Israeli bulldozers continue to push them to new violence, but they fight back by staying on their land and cultivating hope.
Daoud explains that Israeli peace activists come to Tent of Nations to educate themselves. “Settlers tend to be narrow-minded. They want the land without its people. What we do is not fighting or activism. It is only education. And plenty of Israelis want to educate themselves.”
Daoud explains that the nonviolent way is not the absence of violence. “Violence is everywhere. It is part of life. It can be unconscious and it can be quick—suddenly you find yourself shouting. Violence is a natural part of creation, and it also gives you immediate results and immediate gratification.” But nonviolence is not a strategy seeking results. It is a way of life. Nonviolence takes a lighter, long-term view—and it does not give up. Daoud says, in fact, that “the train of giving up has already left the station.”
The core issue of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is the land. So the Tent of Nations exemplifies an approach to the land that they hope will compel people to come and see, then go and tell. “Peace should grow like an olive tree. It needs land, space for roots, time and care. And it takes ten years to bear its first fruit.” Year after year in the hot desert sun Daoud plants these seeds and shares them with visitors from America, Germany, the Philippines, Italy and Israel. Tent of Nations is protected by a strong international presence, “we are strong by the nations, we are not alone, the world helps us to continue to hold on to our land and continue in our non-violent struggle.” These visitors come and see, and they often say, “We did not know.” Daoud hopes that they will go and tell so others can know.
Image courtesy of the author.