Update from the ‘Tent of Nations’

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In late May, I wrote a piece about the Nassar family’s ‘Tent of Nations’ project outside Bethlehem, and the demolition orders that had been issued by the Israeli occupation forces. I have just got back from a visit to Palestine and was able to visit the land, and get an update from Daoud.

I’d arrived by myself, and as I walked up the access track towards the land, I saw that there were four Israeli soldiers standing next to a tree along the way. As I neared, they moved across the track and stopped me. They asked for my passport and what I was ‘doing in Israel’. I told them I was coming to see my friend, and I walked on.

Israeli soldiers watch arriving children
Israeli soldiers watch arriving children

Just after, a bus load of children from the Bethlehem area arrived, as the summer camp season was in full swing. Later, Daoud would tell me that ever since the demolition orders had been issued, soldiers would come to the access track almost every day. That’s meant they’ve witnessed all the visitors – both Palestinian and international – who have come to the ‘Tent of Nations’ in the last couple of months.

“They’re looking for a confrontation”, says Daoud, “that’s why there is this presence. They want an excuse to declare this a closed military area, but we’re not going to give this to them.”

In recent weeks, Daoud told me, the family has received numerous solidarity visits, in addition to the scheduled events – including lectures, group lunches, and the summer camps. Volunteers have come from countries such as the USA, Germany, Spain, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Slovenia. There has also been a visit by US consulate officials, Daoud related, who told him that they were visiting because “you have so many friends in the US”.

As well as defiance, however, there is also uncertainty and fear: after a legal appeal, the demolition orders were successfully frozen for 60 days. That time period runs out tomorrow, 3 August.

The simple structures under threat include two roofs, three tents, animal sheds, an underground water cistern, and a simple shelter serving as a toilet. In 2007, after a planning permit application was rejected (unsurprisingly), the Nassars were told that the reason was the lack of a ‘zoning plan’ for the area.

New housing units in Rosh Tzurim colony
New housing units in Rosh Tzurim colony

This doesn’t seem to have been a hindrance for the expansion of illegal colonies on the hills surrounding the Tent of Nations. In fact, the Nassars’ neighbours also include two technically ‘unauthorised’ settlement outposts – ‘Neve Daniel North’ and ‘Derech Ha’avot’. The latter was the subject of a court case that made the news earler this year, and, as B’Tselem noted, “the State Attorney’s Office’s position on the Derekh Ha’avot outpost sanctions the looting of land and the continuing, cumulative criminal construction in this outpost and in all the other settlements.”

As we walked around, alongside the rows of olive trees and a short distance away from where children were playing games, Daoud mentioned that the other night they had turned on all the lights as a way of emphasising their presence to the surrounding settlements and army posts.

I was reminded of remarks made by Ariel Sharon who, when flying over the Occupied Territories, said that "Arabs should see Jewish lights every night from 500 metres." Despite the boulders in the road, military intimidation, and demolition threats, Daoud and the Nassars continue to make their own facts on the ground, living and breathing sumoud and creative resistance.

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