“My brother was driving out the gate, with his wife and children and our mother in the back, when suddenly in the dark two masked men came up to the car with sticks and iron bars.” Daoud Nassar (50) tells by telephone at the beginning of July about the umpteenth violent incident against him and his family.
A month earlier, in his cowboy hat and plaid blouse, he walked among scorched olive branches to show what recent arson had wrought on the property. And in the meantime, the windows of his Volkswagen van parked within the gates were smashed. Nassar can only speculate about the perpetrators and their motivation. What he knows for sure is that it is getting harder by the day to keep the Tent of Nations afloat.
The Nassars’ farm is located on a hilltop near Bethlehem, surrounded by Israeli settlements. The Tent of Nations, as the family project is called, is a household name among Christian Palestine activists in particular. Every year, hundreds of volunteers from all over the world, including the Netherlands, come to help maintain the olive trees, grapes and other crops. The Nassars are the only Christian family here, the residents of the neighboring village of Nahilin are Muslim.
“We refuse to be enemies,” reads in several languages on a boulder in the field. The motto comes from Nassar’s father, who dreamed of making the farm a place of peace and gathering. When he passed away, his wife Meladeh continued to care for their nine children and the land.
Meladeh Nassar is now 82, but still works on the land every day. “We love the country,” she says. “And we continue to trust in God.” Israel repeatedly tried to take the strategic spot, but the Nassar family continues to struggle year after year to keep the farm. In 1991 Israel declared their 42 hectares of land state land. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the family should be given the opportunity to re-register the land, according to their documents already registered in 1924, under the new rules.
As this legal process drags on, the Nassar family continues to face new obstacles, from Israeli bulldozers to mysterious vandalism. “We are the only hope for the other villagers,” says Daoud Nassar. “If our land is taken, Israel will take the rest.”
While the Tent of Nations is special for its location and activism, the Nassars’ story bears many similarities to that of thousands of other Palestinians in the West Bank who, with or without the help of organizations, have been embroiled in years of lawsuits for their land. getting back. This mainly concerns land in the so-called Zone C, the part of the West Bank that is under Israeli military and civilian administration.
Different forms of government
Since the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, the West Bank has been divided into different zones, with different forms of governance. Zone A, which includes major Palestinian cities, is controlled entirely by the Palestinian Authority – in theory, because Israeli security forces are allowed to invade freely. In Zone B, civilian administration is in the hands of the Palestinians, while Israel controls security. Zone C, about 60 percent of the West Bank, is completely under the military and civilian administration of Israel.
At the time, Israelis and Palestinians agreed that this area too was “gradually under Palestinian control.” [zal] are being brought”. However, Israel increasingly openly claims that Zone C is an integral part of Israel. One of the issues that was saved for later was what to do with the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, illegal under international law. The vast majority of these are in Zone C.
Hundreds of thousands of settlers have arrived since ‘Oslo’
Hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers have arrived since ‘Oslo’. Much Palestinian farmland has been declared “state land” or “military zone” over the years, preventing Palestinians from farming it. According to a law dating back to Ottoman times, a piece of land that has been lying fallow for a number of years can be taken over for public use by the State of Israel. In practice, that land almost always benefits Israeli settlements. For Palestinians, building in Zone C is out of the question; their houses, wells or other facilities – often built with European money – are regularly demolished.
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The latest blow to the Palestinians is the agreement between Israeli settlers and the new Israeli government to leave the houses in the newly established settlement of Evyatar “while the status of the land is being sorted out.” According to the Palestinian residents of the neighboring villages, it is crystal clear that the land is privately owned by Palestinians. However, they can burn tires and run torches as much as they want – if it’s up to the Israelis, they’ll never get this piece of strategic territory back.
That these are not (just) individual initiatives can be seen in the way successive Israeli governments facilitate and encourage the arrival of more settlers in the West Bank, for example with an ambitious road plan that was presented late last year.
Building faster and better connections between Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Israel will make it even more attractive for Israeli commuters to live in occupied territory and work in cities like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. A lot of work is already underway; The orange vests of road workers and the yellow of excavators are popping up all over the West Bank.
The closer Daoud Nassar and his relatives get to their goal of formal recognition, the more opposition they seem to face. Last summer, an official registration seemed imminent. A committee visited their site to determine its boundaries, interested parties could object. That includes Regavim, an Israeli organization that believes that all land belongs to Jewish Israelis.
Presence of international volunteers brought some protection
However, the Nassars also encountered unexpected opposition: a family from the neighboring village of Nahalin suddenly claimed a piece of the farmland. For Nassar, that demand came out of nowhere. Relations with other villagers have always been good. “These are not even neighbours, they have no adjacent land and there have never been any claims before,” Nassar said. The dispute lies with the judge.
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Since then, there have been more and more violent incidents. It started with the destruction of a cave house, then came the arson, more vandalism and now the personal attack. Who is behind those incidents? Do they have anything to do with each other, is there a connection to the property claims? Nassar can only guess.
Despite all reports to the Palestinian police, the perpetrators have not been traced. Nassar fears that his last report will also disappear in a drawer. He hopes that international volunteers will be able to return soon. Their regular presence brought some protection.
However, since the outbreak of the corona crisis, travelers have been banned from Israel, and thus from the Palestinian territories. Meanwhile, the situation for the family is becoming increasingly threatening – both close to home and in politics. “We are seeing the expansion,” says Daoud Nassar. “It’s going in the wrong direction faster and faster.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of July 26, 2021