This is Daoud Nassar. His family own a beautiful piece of land to the west of Bethlehem, in the Occupied West Bank. I have had the privilege of visiting their land numerous times since I first went to Palestine/Israel in 2003, and the Nassars have become dear friends.
Their story is a both typical and unique. The land has been in the family’s hands since the Ottoman times, but beginning in the early 1990s, the Israeli military has sought to confiscate the property. Undaunted, the Nassar family have developed their land and established the ‘Tent of Nations‘ project, whose activities include "educating local children from the refugee camps about rural Palestine, hosting young people for camps and activities such as open-air theatre, and acting as a forum for internationals and Palestinians to get to know each other". The Nassars have also grown strong links with international supporters, including in Germany, the USA and UK.
The Nassars’ land lies just above Nahalin village – and is surrounded by illegal Israeli colonies (map adapted from Jan de Jong for FMEP).
The Nassars’ land and Nahalin are located in the ‘Gush Etzion’ settlement ‘bloc’, with the nearby colonies including Betar Illit, Geva’ot, Rosh Tzurim, and Neve Daniel – not to mention the Separation Wall and Route 60.
The Nassars’ land has often been ‘visited’ over the years by soldiers and settlers, including in the following incident:
“When the intifada started the settlers wanted to confiscate the land,” Daoud told me, after a hard morning’s work clearing a cave. “Sometimes they came with machine guns. One time I showed a settler my papers showing ownership of the land, and he said that he had papers from God. They tried to open a road through the land, they uprooted our trees, pulled down fences, broke water tanks, but we just kept mending everything. Now we try and keep a permanent presence here.”
Last night, Daoud sent out an urgent message to the ‘Tent of Nations’ email list:
Today at 2.00 pm in the afternoon, 2 officers form the Israeli Civil Administration guarded by Israeli soldiers came to our farm and gave us NINE demolishing orders for nine structures we built in the last years without a building permit from the Israeli Military Authority.
The demolition orders are for tents, animal shelters, metal roofing, toilets, a water cistern, a metal container, and renovated underground caves.
One officer was writing the demolishing orders and the other was taking pictures with two cameras, Israeli soldiers were following them everywhere and pointing their guns on us.
The demolition orders were in Hebrew, and Daoud refused to sign receiving them. The papers claim that the family have three days (i.e. until Sunday) to respond – the timing, Daoud notes, makes it difficult to mount a court challenge because of the Sabbath/weekend. Nevertheless, the family’s lawyer will oppose the order to the military court on Sunday morning.
Daoud’s message concluded by asking people to be prepared and "alert for actions". Speaking to him on the phone last night, his voice was tired – but still defiant and hopeful. It was, he said, yet another attempt "to destroy our spirit".
While the Nassars face demolition orders for animal shelters and toilets built on their own land, around and above them, Jewish Israeli citizens live normal lives in thriving colonies. This is ‘Area C’, where Israeli colonisation policies are designed to make a continued Palestinian presence impossible through almost entirely preventing construction:
This is because the majority of this land "is earmarked for the settlements, the army, nature reserves or a buffer zone around the separation fence", and in the rest, almost all Palestinian building permits are refused. Last year, close to 200 Palestinian structures in Area C were demolished by the Israeli military.
This is the reality in Occupied Palestine in 2010. This is the story of Daoud and his family, along with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. This is Israeli apartheid.