Thursday, December 15, 2011

Palestinian family afflicted, yet committed to peace

Published: Saturday, December 10, 2011

SINCE 1916, a vineyard on a fertile hilltop southwest of Bethlehem has been the home of the Nassars, a Palestinian Christian family.

On this 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I am thinking of Daoud and Daher Nassar, brothers who carry on their grandfather’s legacy. In the face of daunting challenges, the Nassars are exemplars of dignity and faith. Painted on a stone at the vineyard’s entrance gate is a greeting — in Arabic, Hebrew and English — that says it all: We refuse to be enemies.

The West Bank vineyard is surrounded by Israeli settlements atop encircling

hills. Despite papers documenting their ownership, the family has spent the past 20 years and more than $150,000 in courts defending their claim to the acreage. Israel continues to contest their claim.

All the while, the Nassars have faced intimidation and isolation. Electricity and public water have been cut off. The government has denied permits for new construction and repeatedly has threatened to demolish the modest existing structures.

Settlers have uprooted or cut down hundreds of the Nassars’ olive trees. With guns in hand, some settlers have come to the vineyard and said, “God gave us this land and that’s why it is ours, not yours.” The access road has been blocked by huge boulders and rubble.

I met Daoud and Daher Nassar last month during a trip. The night before my visit, Israeli soldiers bulldozed yet more boulders to refresh the barricade. These brothers impress me as living icons of St. Paul’s words to the church in Corinth: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken.” (2 Cor. 4:8)

But they refuse to be enemies and are committed to love without borders or barricades. When settlers appear with guns, the Nassars tell them to leave their guns outside the fence and invite them into the vineyard. For every olive tree that settlers cut down, the Nassars plant 10 seedlings donated to them by European Jews for a Just Peace.

When removed from the power grid, they turned to a diesel generator, solar panels and, soon, a wind turbine. Lacking public water, they have built composting toilets and several cisterns. Their goal is self-sufficiency. Prohibited from building up, they dig down, living in caves the family lived in during the early decades and, now, in newer ones.

The Nassars’ wisdom is expressed through the name they have chosen for the peace and justice institute they have started at the vineyard: Tent of Nations. They envision all respecting the rights of all, sharing bounty and at peace and unafraid.

“Any day you want to, come here,” Daher Nassar said before I left. “This place is open for all people. This is your place. You are welcome.”

May we all learn to practice such all-embracing hospitality.

The Rev. Allie Perry is the worship coordinator of Shalom United Church of Christ, New Haven, and a member of the steering committee of Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice. Write to her in care of the Register, 40 Sargent Drive, New Haven 06511. Email: allie.perry@gmail.com.

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