Palestinian farmer wages fight for peace, independence

Most Americans cannot imagine living without electricity and running water. They would be outraged at being denied permission to build onto their homes or to travel by motor vehicle to nearby towns or even to parts of their own property.

Yet, these are just a few of the difficulties Daoud Nassar and his family have been forced to endure at their farm in Israel. The Palestinian explained by email the non-violent, creative tactics his family has adopted to keep their land from being confiscated by the Israeli government.

“Our strategy:

To defend the land legally by going to the Israeli court. (We’ve been in Israeli courts since 21 years, 12 in front of the military court and 8 in front of the high court). It is (an) unjust situation and legal system for us, but we still believe in justice and one day justice will prevail.

To create facts and permanent presence on the ground on the farm, by developing the infrastructure and the agriculture. All year around, we have family members and international volunteers and guests helping develop the farm. Because of this international presence with us on the farm, the settlers stopped attacking us.

The international awareness: we inform our international friends about our situation regularly and in case of emergency, like three years ago after we received nine demolishing orders, our friends reacted and sent letters to the State Department and to Congressmen. This political support is (an) important point to keep the land from being confiscated.”

To promote international awareness, Bill Plitt, a resident of Arlington, Va., co-founded a sister organization, Friends of Tent of Nations. He, a Jew and a Quaker benefactor formed the non-profit group to fund U.S. speaking tours for Nassar twice a year.

“In the last seven years, we have traveled together, sharing our common story to nearly 300 U.S. churches, universities, synagogues, community centers and high schools,” Plitt said. “We have traveled to 19 cities and 14 states during this time and have spoken to groups from five to 1,000 about the work of the Tent of Nations. Through our fundraising, we have supported the developing of infrastructure and independence for electricity and water.”

A cistern collects and stores water at the Nassar farm. A solar power system, sponsored by a German organization, produces 4.5 kilowatts of electricity, which Nassar said can run multiple computers, Wi-Fi, a refrigerator and other electrical equipment. He has plans to expand the system with more panels, batteries and two small wind turbines.

In addition, Plitt maintains a website, a blog that contains a journal of his eight trips to Israel during a “listening ministry.” He has been making contact with groups from both sides who want to find non-violent solutions to the occupation. In 2006, Plitt said he visited the Holy Land with InterfaithPeacebuilders.

“On the last few days of our trip, after seeing and experiencing the inhumanity caused by the occupation on both sides, we came to this farm, Daher’s Vineyard, which was located on a 100-acre plot on top of a hill, surrounded by five large, illegal Israeli settlements. We were there during the olive harvest season and we stayed the night after picking olives with many other international volunteers,” Plitt said. “That night, we heard the story of the Palestinian Christian family, the Nassars, who had papers dating back to the Ottoman Empire verifying ownership.”

The group was touched by the “spirit of peace and freedom” there that was a direct contrast to the more urban areas and the densely crowded refugee camps. Plitt and his colleagues established Friends of Tent of Nations North America in 2007.

The Nassar family already has spent more than $200,000 in court costs to prove ownership of their property.

At one time, the farm had more than 25,000 olive, almond and fruit trees, and its owners are hopeful the land will be restored one day. When Israeli settlers destroyed a portion of the Nassers’ olive trees, international supporters replaced them.

The produce from the farm sustains the family and their visitors. Some of the fruit is dried, canned or made into juice and oil for sale in the shop at the farm.

“We have different types of trees, like grapes, apples, apricots, figs, olives. … We use them, but also we started to make, as they say, lemon juice out of the lemon. So we started making grape juice, wine and grape syrup,” Nassar said. “We are trying to sell those products to our visitor groups in small quantities in our farm shop. This will help the farm also financially.”

During the tour, three other Nassar siblings and their mother are caring for the farm, with the help of international volunteers. The Israelis require continuous maintenance and development on the property.

Nassar said audiences have been hospitable and open to his message of faith, love and hope. He said he has never felt threatened, and a warm reception in Washington, D.C., set the tone for his tour.

“We met people there who we’ve met on previous speaking tours. We updated them about the new developments, and they are in regular contact with the American consulate in Jerusalem. This is an important political support,” Nassar said.

Plitt, a retired educator who has taught in school, church and university settings, has been working with Nassar to co-author a book as another avenue to tell the family’s story. Their separation by sea and several time zones has made it a difficult project, though.

Recently, a former Anglican bishop, Richard Llewellin, recorded Daoud’s story and created a manuscript. Llewellin had volunteered at the farm for three months and got to know the family’s struggle.

Plitt’s wife, Kay, served as chief editor to produce a book, “Daher’s Vineyard – Tent of Nations: My Father’s Dream.” The book is to be for sale at Nassar’s appearances.

“Daoud has made it clear that the book is not central to our work. If people find the project inspiring and want to support the cost of the producing the book, they may do so. The cost is $15. To complete the document was a dream of ours,” Plitt said.

A young Texan, Jeremy Rogers, is working on a documentary covering the events at the farm in 2013. Rogers also produced a 23-minute video that can be viewed online.

For now, Nassar continues to meet with anyone who will listen. Saturday, he is to speak in Ann Arbor and in Perrysburg. A reception is to follow Friday’s talk at Hope Hope Lutheran, 151 W. Center St., Fostoria.

“I am bringing the message of faith, love and hope. In the middle of destruction, frustration and despair, God is with us and is helping us to be a witness in a difficult time. And not only this but is giving us the strength and the power to go out and be a witness to other people,” Nassar said.