The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Palestinian Daoud Nassar speaks about Tent Of Nations, an organization devoted to bringing peace to Palestine.
Photo credit: JOSH FLYNN/The Falcon.
By MEGAN HOYE,
Published: May 9 2012
One day, Daoud Nassar asked the children at a Palestinian summer camp to write down their wishes on pieces of paper. As he read them, he came to one that was written by a 12-year-old girl.
“My wish is to die,” she’d written.
The girl’s father had been killed by a member of the Israel Defense Forces and she felt that she had no reason to live, said Nassar, a Palestinian Christian and the founder of Tent of Nations, a peace-seeking organization that works in the West Bank territory.
“This is the kind of situation our children are living with,” Nassar said at a St. Mark’s Cathedral event on May 2. “Most of the children are living the occupation; they’re living the frustration. And you can find similar stories on the Israeli side.”
Nassar was in Seattle last week as a part of a “Refusing to be Enemies” lecture series, which hosted 12 meetings at locations around the city, including one at Seattle Pacific, at which Nassar and others spoke about how building relationships in a conflict-stricken region can promote peace.
The territorial disputes that resulted in Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have spurred violent uprisings and suicide bombings for decades. But there is an emerging trend of using nonviolent means of seeking resolution between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Part of Nassar’s motivation in starting Tent of Nations came from the need to bridge the groups of people living in the region with each other and the land of Palestine itself.
“As Palestinians living under occupation, all of our lives are taken up by the conflict,” Nassar said. “When [we] wake up first thing in the morning, if we want to make a cup of tea, there is no water. If we want to go and bring our children to school, there is a checkpoint we might not get through. We are cut off from our farmland. We are confronted with this situation every day.”
Nassar said that he, like other Palestinians, feels angry about living under occupation, but such feelings should not be channeled into violence.
“We try to invest our frustration in a different way than violence,” Nassar said. “Of course, we are angry; we are frustrated, but we try to move that frustration constructively. Acting in a violent way is not the solution ... acting in a nonviolent way, you are in charge.”
Tent of Nations seeks to empower the people of Palestine through development in community infrastructure and social and educational programs, including summer camps for children and programs that promote women’s empowerment. In doing this, it is an organization of nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. It is based on Daher’s Vineyard, a 100-acre farm on which Nassar’s family has lived since 1916.
Even though Nassar has paperwork proving that his grandfather purchased the family’s farmland nearly a century ago, and even though the family has documentation proving that they’ve paid taxes on the land since then, Israelis tried to confiscate their land in 1991, saying the family was living on it illegally.
Since then, the family has incurred approximately $150,000 in legal fees while fighting to keep their land. The farm’s structures are constantly in danger of destruction due to demolition orders, and Israeli forces have cut down more than 250 of the farm’s olive trees after issuing cultivation stop orders as well, Nassar said.
“Two years ago, we received nine demolition orders, including for the tents we were living in,” Nassar said. “We are not even allowed to have tents on our property.”
But Tent of Nations is determined to work within its circumstances. Since Israel cuts Palestinians off from water, Nassar said, they collect rainwater for drinking and farming. Since they are not allowed to have tents or buildings, they have renovated caves for inhabitation. And since Palestine is cut off from electricity, the organization installed a solar-panel system.
“We want to show people that you can change your own situation,” Nassar said. “Any step we take forward can make a difference. That is why we are not allowed to sit and wait for someone else to change things for us.
“We are people who believe in justice. We refuse to be victims and we refuse to hate.”
Nassar said part of the problem in Palestine is the disconnect between Israeli settlers and Arab Palestinians. He said that once, an Israeli settler came to a Tent of Nations gathering and left with a new perspective.
“You have no water, yet I have a swimming pool at my house in the settlement,” Nassar remembered the settler saying to Palestinians.
“The whole issue is fear of the other side,” Nassar said in an interview. “It’s this mistrust that is causing people to act in a negative way. We talk about solving an issue, but we need to build a bridge of understanding first. Telling stories is a step toward achieving this, and we cannot overcome fear without first taking this step.”
Despite the tumultuous history of political peace negotiations involving Israel-Palestine, Nassar said he can envision the region finding peace one day, but not until efforts transcend the political realm and enter the social realm.
“We always have stereotypes,” he said.“But when you meet the people, you start to understand them. We want to deliver a message of hope and understanding.”
Rather than a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Nassar hopes for a unified nation.
“But if we want to live together in one state, we have to be equal,” he said.
Nassar is not the only person seeking peace through nonviolent resistance to occupation in the region. Berg said there are myriad efforts in the region that do not seek a resolution through violence.
For Berg, relationships between Israelis and Palestinians are needed to broker peace, but orchestrating this is difficult. Israeli settlements are so isolated from Palestinian cities that the two groups rarely meet, so they only know each other as enemies, he said.
“When I first went to Israel [in the ’80s], you could go anywhere,” Berg said. “Arabs knew Israelis. But now, it’s very difficult for an Israeli to get to know a Palestinian on a human level.”
Junior Jessy Hampton, president of the Israel-Palestine club, said the same after taking a study abroad trip to Israel during Autumn Quarter.
“We talked to some Palestinian students who had never had any experience with Israelis aside from soldiers at checkpoints,” Hampton said. “The Israelis do that, too. If they don’t have any experience with Palestinians other than bus bombings, they can’t have a positive impression.”
Hampton said it is important to remember that being pro-Palestine does not mean that a person is anti-Israel.
“I don’t hate the state of Israel,” she said. “I loved living there. I want to go back to work there one day. But what they’re doing is wrong.”
Hampton said there is a pro-Israel rhetoric in our society that makes criticizing Israel’s settlements, checkpoints and bypass roads difficult.
“It’s almost equated with being anti-Semitic,” she said, “but we have a duty to know about these things and to be able to support justice.”
For Nassar, he and his people are being treated unjustly. But he has hopes for restoring peace to the region.
Just as he will continue to empower the people of Palestine and encourage them to tell their stories, he said, he will continue to resist by replanting the olive trees Israel cuts down and fighting for land it takes.
“When you plant a tree, you learn that there is a future,” Nassar said. “A tree must grow from the bottom up, and peace must [too]. It requires a lot of attention and care, but the moment it finds its way in the ground, it can live for generations.”
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