Da’oud and Da’har Nassar are the third generation of farmers to hold the paper title to a piece of land on the top of a rocky hill near a village just a few miles southwest of Bethlehem. In addition to the fact that Ann and I are also the third generation to care with the land on our farm on the Oklahoma prairie, there are other similarities with these two farms, so far from each other.

The Nassars use composting toilets, solar panels, greenhouses, plant trees, have a structure built of straw bales and mud and deal with lack of water. They are doing some of the practices in ways we still hope to. They use a terracing system that is 4,000 years old, capture rain water in large cisterns and plant a wide variety of trees that produce food. Their dwellings are energy efficient – most of them, caves; some tents.

Meeting Ja’hin Nassar, Da’oud’s wife, I experienced an instant warmth and sisterhood.  As we do at Turtle Rock Farm, the Nassars invite and welcome many visitors to their farm. Not only are they trying to farm here, they have established an organization – the Tent of Nations – to bring people together to increase trust and find ways to live together in peace. Ja’hin works with women in the village to establish education and empowerment programs.

The difference between our lives at Turtle Rock Farm and theirs in Palestine is profoundly striking. Living under the Israeli occupation, their water and electricity, as for everyone in the West Bank, is controlled by the Israeli government. Sometimes West Bank residents have water and electricity and sometimes it is shut off. But the Nassars never have electricity and water. It is illegal for them, because the Israeli government wants their land. All around them – on every side – are settlements the Israeli government has built on Palestinian land. And the government wants the Nassar farm. Because they have a paper title, the Nassars have been able to hold on to their land. They have been in court trying to keep their land, for 21 years.

The Israelis use many tactics to drive them away, yet they adapt. Their electricity is produced by the solar panels. Rain water is captured in cisterns. It is illegal for them to build on their land, so they live in structures built before 1947 and in the caves that their grandparents lived in, there on their farm. It is also illegal for them to hold the land if they don’t improve it (build structures.) Twice a year the Israelis take aerial photographs of their farm. They have had to put up a high fence, with a locked gate all around their farm because some settlers have attacked them. The road that leads to Bethlehem from their farm has been blockaded with giant boulders by the Israeli Defense Forces so that they and all in the village have to travel a steep, narrow, winding road about 30 minutes longer than the 10 minutes it would take if the road were not blocked. We were at the blocked road when one villager drove up from Bethlehem, parked his car on one side of the giant boulders, walked through them to get in the car of a friend or family member who had driven up from the village to pick him up.

 

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Still, the Nassars remain on their farm, planting trees (olive, almond, carob, fig, apple,) growing vegetables. Still, they  fight to hold on to their land despite mounting court costs and harassment and occupation tactics that seem insurmountable. Even so, they welcome  and work with people from all around the world to try to find ways to live together in peace. And they especially work with children, so that future generations might know peace.

I feel a warm and vital connection to the Nassars, their farm and their work (inspired by their father) at the Tent of Nations. (www.tentofnations.org)  Sometimes our work at Turtle Rock Farm, helping people connect with the natural world that is our home and helping them come to understand we must live in harmony with the natural world, seems slow and insurmountable. Now, when it does, I will remember, with profound sadness, the incomprehensible dilemma the Nassars face every day in their life on the land. I will remember, with profound appreciation, their abiding commitment to freedom and peace. I will remember the warmth of the connection of a farm atop a rocky, fertile Judean hill in the West Bank of Palestine, to the rolling mixed grass prairie of Oklahoma.