A Light on the Mountain (Tent of Nations )

(Borrowed Post: Written by my friend and flatmate Ruth, highly recommended!)

I have recently returned from spending 6 weeks on a farm perched on a hill just outside of Bethlehem.

I was volunteering there as part of the peace project known as Tent of Nations which was set up by the Nassar family to fulfil the vision of their father. Bishara Nassar dreamed of providing a space to bring people of different cultures together and connect them to the land.

What the family have come to create is quite unique. Something of an oasis of peace in troubled lands, they bring in volunteers from all over the world, teaching them about the situation, about the difficulties they face in their day to day lives, how they overcome these difficulties and, above all, they teach people hope.

For the first two weeks of my visit, a summer camp was held for children from towns and refugee camps around the Bethlehem area. The title of the camp was “Bringing Nature to Life: Learning Hope and Planting Peace” with the central goal being to encourage the children to interact with and feel close to the environment around them, to give them space to realize their skills and creativity, express their ideas and have a voice. Plus, simply to give them a bit of fun respite from daily life under occupation.

I helped in organising art, music, dance and theatre activities for the children which they displayed and performed in a presentation to the parents on the last day. It was wonderful to see the children proudly performing what they had learnt from over the past two weeks and, it seemed, particularly moving for the parents to see such international support, one of whom stood to welcome us and told us in an emotional speech that we were their ‘ambassadors for peace’ and we must return to our countries and let the world know what is the future for their children if nothing changes.

What is the future for their children if nothing changes?

With regards to this land in particular, things seem to be getting more and more difficult. They have been through endless court cases, as required to ‘prove ownership of the land’. Eighteen years since the first and it is still not settled, despite their presenting all the correct documents and paperwork. Someone once said to Daoud, the director of Tent of Nations, “You have papers from here but we have papers from God.” This is what they are up against to keep the land that their grandfather bought in 1916.

Daoud and his family have a very inspiring attitude towards this unjust struggle. ‘We must react in a different way’ they say. By this they mean that everything thrown at them is geared towards either forcing them to loose hope and give up or coaxing them to loose hope and get angry. But what this family rely on is the third, and too often overlooked option, to stand your ground, react in a human and peaceful way and, above all, keep hope alive. As you approach the gate of the farm, a stone sits strong by the side of the path and reads “We Refuse To Be Enemies”. For me, this says it all.

When asked if he does not get frustrated with the problems that they constantly face; their running water and electricity being cut off, a road block stopping easy access to the land, 250 olive trees once being uprooted by nearby settlers, the hundreds of dollars having to be found for legal fees, the threat of eventually being annexed off from Bethlehem, he replied “Yes, of course I feel frustrated but I try to turn this into energy for the farm.” While others might pick up a gun, throw stones or leave, he starts a new project and devotes himself to developing what they started in 2001.

In the few weeks that I was there, compost toilets were built, a new water cistern was dug and – most exciting of all – new solar panels were erected – sponsored by German charity, Green Helmets – giving them their very own source of electricity and making them truly a light on the mountain.

I hope that this light extends to others in the region, and that the message that a peaceful resistance to the occupation is possible can spread as far as possible to make the difference that is needed.

Personally, I would challenge anyone to visit Tent of Nations and not leave with a sense that anything can be achieved if you have half the sheer motivation, will-power and patience that this family put into making their dreams a reality.

If you are interested in finding out more about Tent of Nations and how you can help, please contact me at ruthcape@msn.com.

You can also check out the ToN website at www.tentofnations.org or read more about my stay there at http://www.travelpod.com/members/ruthcape.

Ruth Cape

September 2009



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