West Bank Christians battle to keep their land

Daher Nassar

A Palestinian Christian family that preaches non-violence from a farm in the West Bank is battling to hold on to land it has owned for almost 100 years, writes Daniel Silas Adamson on the BBC.

Now surrounded by Israeli settlements, the family is a living example of the idea of peaceful resistance.

On the farm outside Bethlehem which has been in his family for 98 years, Daher Nassar is picking apples from the ruins of the orchard he planted at least eight years ago. The fruit is scattered across ground freshly opened and imprinted with the tracks of a bulldozer. At the field's edge, branches reach out from inside a mound of earth, the bark stripped and mangled, unripe almonds still clinging to the trees.

Recently. a Palestinian shepherd from the village of Nahalin was out at first light and saw the bulldozer at work in the field, guarded by Israeli soldiers. By the time Nassar arrived the whole orchard - the best part of a decade's work - was gone. His English is far from fluent, but there's no mistaking the pain in his voice: 'Why you broke the trees?'

A spokesperson for the Israeli military authorities in the West Bank said the trees were planted illegally on State land.

Nassar's sister, Amal, has a different explanation. The Government, together with the Israeli settlers who live around the farm, is 'trying to push us to violence or push us to leave,' she says. Amal insists that her family will not move from the land, nor will they abandon their commitment to peaceful resistance.

'Nobody can force us to hate,' she says. 'We refuse to be enemies.'

That phrase, which is painted on a stone at the entrance to the farm, was first used by her father, Bishara Nassar. Long before the concept became widely known among Palestinians, he taught his children a theory of non-violence that was rooted in his own Christian beliefs.

Bishara ('Gospel') Nassar was a child when his father bought this land in 1916. Even at that time, as World War One transformed the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire limped to an end, Palestinian Christians were beginning to emigrate. After the war of 1948 the Christian exodus from the West Bank quickened, and Bishara, who was a gifted preacher and accordionist, began to travel around the nearby villages, singing songs and leading Bible study in family homes. Music and stories, he thought, might deepen the faith and lift the spirits of Bethlehem's Christian children, encouraging them to stay.

Bishara also came to believe that the Christian community had a special role to play in building a more peaceful future.

- Daniel Silas Adamson

Read more:

The Christian family refusing to give up its Bethlehem hill farm (BBC News)

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