Opinion | In the West Bank, Staking a Claim for Peace

A sign at the entrance to the Nassar family farm reads: “We refuse to be enemies.”

In a land torn apart by conflict, hatred and violence, this farm is an oasis of peace. Called the Tent of Nations, it is a monument to the idea that Arabs and Jews can live together in harmony.

The Nassars, a Christian Palestinian family, hold children’s camps and other programs on the farm to promote understanding and nonviolence even as they struggle to save their land from confiscation by Israeli settlers. They quote Martin Luther King Jr. and provide a model of peacefulness for their Palestinian and Israeli neighbors alike.

“It’s very important for us to show that nonviolent resistance is the key to change,” said Daoud Nassar, who runs the farm with his siblings Amal and Daher and other family members. “With violence, people will achieve more violence, will achieve more hatred, will achieve more bitterness and more enemies.”

During a week of reporting in Israel and the West Bank, I was mostly discouraged — the region may get worse before it gets even worse — but the Nassars buoyed my spirits. They underscored that while it is the militants who make the headlines, innumerable people on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide are trying to bring peace and understanding to a region that lacks both.

It’s a challenge. The Nassars have just postponed a children’s camp session, partly because they fear violence from settlers who have periodically attacked the farm, uprooted their olive trees and occupied their land.

Amal Nassar showed me areas where settlers have seized part of the farm and built on it; construction stopped recently after an order from the Supreme Court, an encouraging sign.

“They came with guns and said, ‘You’re not allowed to work here,’” she recalled.

“How is this your land?” she said she asked them.

“God gave it to us,” she recalled a settler replying.

“They did not let us pick our olives; they said it was for security reasons,” she added.

Likewise, the main access road to the farm has been blocked to Palestinians like her, although settlers are still allowed to use it. Tent of Nations is on a hilltop near Bethlehem, and the Nassars fear that Israel aims to turn it — like so many other hilltops — into a Jewish settlement.

The Nassars say they are trying to encourage Palestinians to turn rage and negativity into something constructive. Denied electrical grid connections and piped water to their farm, which has been in their family for more than a century, they collect rainwater in cisterns and have set up a solar electricity system. At every setback they grit their teeth and double down on their values.

“We want to make this a place of dialogue,” Amal said. She leans on her Lutheran faith, but she has endured so much that she sounds like Job. A defiant Job.

“If they come to uproot one olive tree, I want to plant 10,” she said.

Tent of Nations has a group in the United States that offers political and financial support, Friends of Tent of Nations North America, and Daoud is a fluent English speaker who has published a book about the project. If even Tent of Nations is under siege and being nibbled away at, imagine what is happening to farmers who aren’t so well connected.

International volunteers from America and Europe arrive regularly and are invaluable, Amal said, explaining that settlers seem less inclined to use violence in front of foreign witnesses.

“People who come here and spend time with Palestinians here, they see systemic injustice,” Cody McCracken, an American nurse who was volunteering on the farm, told me. The Nassars emphasized that they would be thrilled to have more volunteers.

“We choose to build a healthier generation, learning to accept each other, to deal with each other as human beings,” Amal told me. “We want children to grow up without hatred.”

The Nassars are not unique. I’ve also written about Israeli Jewish activists in groups like Parents Circle — Families Forum, striving for peace even in the aftermath of the Hamas terrorist attack last October. I’ve quoted an Israeli whose parents were murdered by Hamas yet who weeps for Gazan children.

It’s true that Israel’s leadership is extremist, that Hamas is a misogynistic terrorist organization and that the Palestinian Authority is corrupt, autocratic and ineffective. So can these heroic efforts beneath the leadership tier by Palestinians and Israelis alike accomplish anything? The task feels Sisyphean, and the great need is not just for empathy and dialogue but also for fundamentally different policies.

Yet American and European governments should do everything possible to keep these embers glowing, to support these pioneers for peace in hopes that they can preserve space for dialogue and better policies, as happened in Northern Ireland a generation ago. If the Nassars lose Tent of Nations to violent settlers, a beacon of understanding will be extinguished.

Issa Amro, an Arab activist, has been described as a Palestinian Gandhi; when I visited him in his home in Hebron, he was nursing a broken shoulder after three Palestinian thugs beat him with iron pipes, he said. He’s not sure if they were doing Israel’s bidding or the Palestinian leadership’s, as he has been very critical of Israel as well as of Palestinian corruption.

Israeli authorities seem to regard Amro as particularly dangerous because of his commitment to nonviolence; they have arrested and tortured Amro, by his account, and shot him with rubber bullets. He said that when he was arrested on Oct. 7 “I was sexually assaulted by the Israeli soldiers” — something that he disclosed despite his embarrassment because he wanted to encourage other men and women who may have been raped or sexually abused by Israeli security forces to speak up.

Palestinian children grow up wanting revenge against Israelis for their losses and humiliations, he said. “It’s very wrong,” he added, about that yearning for revenge. “But that’s the reality.”

Some Palestinians see people like the Nassars and Amro as ineffectual or irrelevant. But in a region that seems so bleak, so caught up in cycles of escalating conflict, where extremists on one side empower extremists on the other, I think of the peacemakers as voices of our better angels. I write about them in hopes that we can collectively amplify their voices.

Amro seems fearless and has a talent for provoking Israeli soldiers — he was filmed earlier this year being beaten at a checkpoint — but his manner is gentle, and at a time when the world seems a mess, there’s much we can learn from this gentleness.

“My heart has no hate,” he told me, and then he laughed. “Otherwise it would explode.”

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