Ciarab's Blog

The Tent of Nations
July 20, 2010, 9:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Tent of Nations consists of 100 acres of land on a hill-top in Bethlehem and is located 3100 feet above sea level. Daoud Nassar’s purchased this land where the Tent of Nations is in 1916 and since then, many family members have worked the land by day and slept in caves by night. The land has produced olives, grapes, and wheat and other fruit and vegetables including wine. The farm has been in the family for three generations.

I spoke to Daoud Nasser, third generation of the Nassar family who has been struggling to keep this land in the family and fight the Israeli occupation. He explained that his grandfather was a landlord and bought the land in 1916. Until 1936 grapes were grown and wine was produced using wine presses, however 25,000 trees together with other trees were uprooted and until this day no one is sure who uprooted the trees. The British in the same year confiscated the wine press machines, and after this incident the family started at zero according to Daoud.

The land is located 9km southwest of Bethlehem in the West Bank, in an area where Israel has full military and administrative control per the Oslo Agreements of 1993 and which is known as area C. The West Bank is divided into three areas A, B and C. Area C is under full control of the Israeli military and represents 60% of the West Bank. Little Palestinian development has been allowed in Area C. Building permits, for example, are rarely given by the Israeli authorities and buildings constructed without a permit are frequently destroyed. Israel requires a permit for all permanent infrastructure development. Currently, such permits are only granted to Jewish settlements located in this area. In addition, the land is not connected to the power grid or to public water unlike the nearby settlements. Because of the concrete barrier wall that Israel is constructing, very soon the land will be totally cut off from the rest of Palestine (see map).

The expansion and development of Israeli settlements and other infrastructure for Israelis has nearly all occurred in Area C. The Tent of Nations is now surrounded by settlements on all sides, which includes Neve Daniel (pop 1883, 2008), Rosh Zurim (pop 550, 2008), El Azar (pop 1706, 2008) and Btir Illit (34,829, 2008) with an encroaching Separation Wall. Settlers have trespassed on the property and destroyed many olive trees and reported the construction of tents to the Israeli authorities. The Israeli authorities claim that a permit must be sought in order to erect tents on the property. Recently, a poly-tunnel was built to assist in the growing of fruit and vegetables for domestic consumption and yet again demolition orders were issued by the Israeli authorities.

Daoud explained that fences and gates now surround the Tent of Nations to prevent settlers from intruding on the land. He told a story of how one night when there were 45 volunteers visiting the Tent of Nations, up to 35 Israeli soldiers stormed the area giving no explanation why they were doing so. He commented that these are routine procedures and that the Israeli military do not feel obliged to explain the reasons for raiding a person’s property.

The Nassar family have the original land documents including the Ottoman papers which were put in Dahar Nassars son’s name, who is Daoud’s grandfather. Also, during the British mandate, the Nassars had to re-register the land in order to receive acknowledgement from the British that the land was in their name.  A lawyer was hired in the last few years to retrieve these papers, which were located in Turkey. The family have contributed plenty of work to the land from the time of Ottoman (1916), British (1920), Jordanian (1948), and Israeli governance (1967) and to this day the Israeli authorities have not registered the land and demolition orders are being issued continuously for tents used to house visitors. 13 demolition orders have been issued.

In 1991, the Israeli government declared the whole area including the Nassars portion of land to be an Israeli state property. The Nassar family challenged Israel’s declaration and therefore the case was brought to the court. In 2001, though the issue was still unresolved, the local council of Israeli settlements decided to open a road through the east side of the Nassar land and again in 2002 the council took a decision to open a road all the way through the land, this time through the west side. However, the Nassars were able to stop both road projects through the Israeli court intervention.

The family then took the case to establish the family’s land rights to the Israeli Supreme Court. In 2005 the case of the land ownership was still under debate in the high court and the court kept postponing the case. And for nearly 20 years now the Nassars are still struggling to win the case. The case has reached the Supreme Court however was later moved back to the military courts in order to avoid a final decision to be made. The Nassars have all the documents to show they are the owners and this may be one of the reasons that Israeli authorities continuously avoid the case reaching the Supreme Court. The Nassars owe quite a substantial sum of money to their lawyers, however, this does not weaken their determination to continue with this case.

The Nassars have struggled with the Israeli occupation for many years now, however their true steadfastness and determination in this struggle is evident when you visit the Tent of Nations. Douad stated that ‘if you have water, electricity and building permits, it means you are staying’, and for this reason Israeli authorities deny applications for construction of infrastructure, therefore the Nassars must find alternatives.

The Tent of Nations has no running water. They depend on the collection of rainwater during the rainy season. This water is used for cooking, washing, drinking and all agricultural needs, including irrigation and caring for livestock. There are water cisterns but not enough to cover the needs, especially in the summer, when everything is dry and a lot of water is needed for the newly planted trees and visitor groups. Rainwater is collected and stored. Demolition orders have also been received by the family for these rainwater collection posts. Daher, Nassars oldest brother has shown true spirit in his resistance to the occupation. He works on the land and has built more than three caves on the land so as to find alternative methods to avoid receiving demolition orders, which are used to house visitors and hold prayer meetings. A 4.5 kilowatt diesel generator supplies electricity along with a solar panel system. The Nassars are currently discussing the possibility of installing a wind turbine. Compost toilets are also in use on the land ensuring sustainable alternatives to saving water.

To demonstrate their commitment to peace and co-existence, the Nassar family established the Tent of Nations on this land providing, arts, drama, and education to the children of the villages and refugee camps in the region. In addition, they have also established a Women’s Educational Centre offering classes in computer literacy, English and leadership training.

Speaking about the future for Palestine, Daoud explained that ‘without the two state solution, there won’

t be a solution’. And what will we call it he asked . . . ‘Israel or Palestine?’ As part of this solution, he explained that a land exchange agreement would be in place, however he stated that ‘we won’t accept this, this is our home’. “The Israelis don’t know where they are going, they have lost their souls’.

If you would like to learn more about the Tent of Nations log on to or if you would like to visit the Tent of Nations, ring them at 022743071

With thanks to the Nassar family who have proved their dedication to the popular resistance of the Israeli occupation.