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Military threat to Palestinian peace farm

30 May 2014


Before and after: the orchard today, scarred with the track marks of Israeli bulldozers

Before and after: the orchard today, scarred with the track marks of Israeli bulldozers

THE organisers and supporters of a Christian peace project near Bethlehem are calling for international action to condemn Israel after the military authorities bulldozed more than 1500 fruit trees and grape vines on a farm at the centre of the venture. And a retired Church of England bishop has criticised Western governments and Churches for their inaction.

The Tent of Nations peace project was founded by Daoud Nassar and his brother Daher, and their family has been involved in a court case lasting more than a decade to prove its legal ownership of the farm, which it bought in 1916. The property lies close to three Israeli settlement towns in the West Bank: Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, and Ariel.

The family's lawyer said that the legal process was continuing. Nevertheless, the Israeli military authorities recently declared that the Nassars' orchards had been planted illegally on state land, and would have to be removed. An appeal against this order was filed in the Military Court on 12 May.

But, a week later, the authorities moved in and uprooted all the trees. The lawyer described the action as "illegal, even according to the draconian military laws in place" on the West Bank. The Church Times submitted two requests to the Israel Defence Forces spokesman's office in Jerusalem for a comment, but received no response.

In an appeal to friends of the Tent of Nations project, Daoud Nassar this week urged them "to contact your friends, churches, and Members of Parliament, and write to your governments. We need your political support now." The family believes that the Israelis are seeking to acquire farmland close to the three settlements in the area.

In a book, Daher's Vineyard: The story of the Tent of Nations, Mr Nassar said that the peace project was the fulfilment of his father's wishes, and that he believed that the Palestinians should erase their victim mentality.

"We say that it is up to the powerful nations of the world to put pressure on Israel," he said, "and that meanwhile we can do nothing. My own thinking is that each one of us must take responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves, and act according to our ability."

After returning from a spell abroad, Daoud Nassar said that, "in order to respond to the injustice that we and all Palestinians were suffering, we needed to create something positive on the farm."

A former chief of staff to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Richard Llewellin, who helped Mr Nassar with his book, criticised the apparent indifference in the West to incidents such as the one on the Tent of Nations farm.

"Western governments seem relatively unconcerned about the fate of the Palestinian community, provided that it doesn't make the headlines, for reasons of political expediency.

"The Christian Church has not shown itself to be a great deal better in this regard. The Church of England certainly should be doing more than it is."

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