A GUEST BLOG FROM FELLOW TRAVELLER TIM O'CONNOR:
Another magnificent day in the Holy Land surrounded by what I have come to know as the Living Stones - those are the voices who celebrate the quest for a just peace through their prophetic voices. While many people come here to be inspired by the architecture and the sacred religious sites, I have found that the living stones provide the most inspiration to me.
Today, I met Daoud Nassar - a Palestinian Christian who has created a magnificent oasis of peace outside of Bethlehem called the Tent of Nations. You can't drive right up to the Tent of Nations because the road has been intentionally blockaded - for security reasons he is told (more on that in a moment). When we climb over the blockades which are clearly the refuse from home demolitions (sending a message perhaps), we are greeted by a warm and peaceful man. This is Daoud (David). You are immediately struck upon entering the tent city by the painting on the rockface - It reads "With heart and hand, we change the land..." The painting was created by youngsters who attended an annual two-week non-violence camp here. Similar paintings adorn the landscape as we enter.
Inside, we are treated to some delicious grapes and fresh tea while listening to the unbelievable story of this place. Daoud's family has been here since 1916 - and they have documentation to prove it. He has been in court for 20 years at a personal cost of $150,000 in an effort to establish ownership of the land. The court proceedings are a total travesty. He is told the documentation is not enough - he needs eyewitnesses. So, he comes back with 50 eyewitnesses - they are left outside standing in the sun for 5 hours before a soldier comes out and they are told that the court has no time to talk to them today. They are told to get the land surveyed. They do - 11 times. Then they are told that the surveys are inconclusive, they need eyewitnesses. But Daoud persists and they become legally strong - so the settlers begin physically attacking the Tent of Nations. When they cal the police, they don't respond. So, 250 olive trees are destroyed - but Daoud replants.
So, with violence failing, the Israelis offer a blank cheque to buy the land - anything to get the Palestinians off the land. Daoud refuses. "Our land is out mother - and our mother is not for sale" So, the next strategy is isolation. The access road is blockaded so that people can not drive on and off the property. Checkpoints are established on the highways so that teachers who live on the land can not drive to work. They must move - or face losing their jobs.
But through this all, Daoud and his family persist. While 70% of Palestinian land is now under direct Israeli control, he believes that "anything built on injustice can not last". They have no running water - and no electricity - but the Tent of Nations persists. They collect rainwater and arrange for solar panels to provide their own electricity. But, of course, they have no permits for solar panels, they are told - so these are illegal. This is the game that is played here - day after day, year after year. Many leave. Some get violently angry. Daoud develops another approach - We refuse to be Enemies - he declares and the Tent of Nations is born. They choose to develop a quiet and creative response. They plant trees and international support comes in. Volunteers from all over the world come to run a childrens camp in July that uses theatre, painting and non-violent games to empower the children in the community. They work on women's empowerment projects in Bethlehem.
There is a life on this hillside that is absolutely beyond words. You stand in this tent village and look out at the snake-like settlements that enclose it - but you can't help but feel renewed by the spirit that is bringing in volunteers from across the world. We meet two such volunteers from Seattle and from Germany.
As we leave, we climb over the obscene rocks and refuse that forms the blockade on the road. Perhaps, the Israeli government is on to something when they identify Daoud as a "security threat". This seems such a laughable accusation as we sit and chat with him here, but upon reflection, Daoud is a legitimate threat to the occupation. I think that the occupation tries to provoke a violent response. People like Daoud are much more difficult to intimidate.
What a beautiful place. I am inspired.