The Tent of Nations is a place of hope in Palestine
How would you feel if your government blocked your driveway with dirt and concrete, and told you it was illegal to remove the debris? What would you do if some of your neighbours built ever-advancing fences across your family’s property?
If you were me, you’d probably have words with your neighbours and take your government to court. If you were Daoud (David) Nassar, you’d look beyond justice: you’d refuse to hate, refuse to react in kind and refuse to reply with violence.
Daoud responds out of his identity as a Jesus-follower.
The 100-acre Nassar farm, located just outside of Hebron – in the Holy Land – has been in the family for generations. They’ve got the paperwork to prove it, yet, like many Palestinians, Daoud is fighting to retain ownership. He has encountered labyrinthine and costly legal systems – both military and civil – that display little resemblance to justice.
The trees of Nassar’s farm – olive trees – are a symbol of identity for all Palestinians. Palestinians trace their roots to the land’s very first inhabitant. Their ancestors greeted Abraham upon his arrival from Ur of the Chaldeans. Their forebears were the shepherds who heard the news of Jesus’ birth in the fields surrounding Bethlehem (Beit Sahour). And Palestinian families like Daoud’s – Christian Arabs – are a branch of the body of Christ who first heard the gospel at Pentecost.
As a part of the living, minority-within-a-minority church in Palestine, surrounded by Muslim villages, hemmed in by Jewish settlements and beleaguered by a convoluted legal system, Daoud and his family have committed to live out their calling as Christ’s ambassadors through active love and peace.
In the shadow of a military occupation, Palestinians feel like they are being pushed out of a land they’ve called home for countless generations. In Hebron, they know the giant Separation Wall is on its way, cleaving through Israel and Palestine.
The government offers no water or electrical services, so the Nassars have implemented solar power to collect electricity and built cisterns to collect rain water. But these efforts to survive are met with Israeli government-issued demolition orders. Israeli settlers (whose territory continues to expand in contravention of international law) repeatedly damage the Nassar’s water tanks which are crucial to keeping alive the trees newly planted to replace the olive grove the government cut down.
Yet, as Christians, the Nassar family declare the love of Christ despite personal attacks and suffering. They cling to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:14, “For [Jesus Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” (ESV).
They refuse to hate.
There have been so many compelling invitations to leave their farm. An Israeli business person even offered a “blank cheque” for the property. Yet the Nassar family have been called by God to steward their farm to stand up for justice.
Daoud and his family invite the international community to join them in creative, nonviolent resistance; to help them respond with grace and good news. They call their farm the “Tent of Nations.”
Daoud and his family offer planting and harvest camps. They host children’s and women’s camps for the local Muslim community.
The Nassar family’s prayers have been heard. The presence of international visitors and volunteers has stopped the attacks from the neighbouring settlers. And not only does the church show solidarity, but also Jewish groups who do not agree with Israel’s policies of provocation. European Jews have sent more than 1,000 new trees to plant. The Jewish Centre for Nonviolence has supported the call for justice.
What is our role? Are we also called to stand with men of peace like Daoud Nassar? With our Arab brothers and sisters in Christ? I hope fellow MBs in Canada will join in prayer with me and Daoud and his family as they proclaim the transforming love and grace of Jesus in the midst of great strife.
“Prayers do not fall on deaf ears,” says Daoud.
—David Chow is pastor of Killarney Park Mennonite Brethren Church, Vancouver, and board member for Mennonite Central Committee Canada. David participated on an MCC Learning Tour to Israel-Palestine in fall 2016.
For information on Daoud Nassar and his farm, The Tent of Nations, see:
tentofnations.org and friendsoftentofnations.org