Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Visit to the Tent of Nations

Until visiting the Tent of Nations on the 14th May, my thoughts and feelings on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict felt very disjointed and jumbled up. The conflict is so multi-faceted and layered that when you experience the different moral complexities of the situation, it is very hard to know how to organise your thoughts on everything. However, Daher Nasser whose family own the educational and environmental farm perfectly articulated my fragmented feelings on the occupation and how to peacefully fight back. In 1991 the land the Tent of Nations is located on was declared to be Israeli ‘state land’, and so the family were expected to leave. However, the Nasser family have the required papers proving that they have owned the land before and throughout the Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Israeli governance of the area. However, as a result of this the family have been involved in on-going court cases since the 1990’s, costing them thousands. Furthermore, with the declaration of the land to be Israeli, there are many restrictions and issues the family now suffers from in addition to the cost of their court cases. These include frequent threats of harassment from settlers, the prospect of land confiscation by the Israeli authorities, and not having permission to build upon their land. Last year about 1,500 trees were bulldozed by the authorities, without legal permission for demolition being obtained. The Israelis prevent the farm from accessing clean water, whilst surrounding settlements have plentiful water supplies and some houses even have swimming pools. The list of violations the Nasser family suffer from goes on.

Image taken by volunteer inside renovated cave

Whilst many would resort to anger, resentment and even violence, the Tent of Nation embodies something completely different to that. The Tent of Nation represents the belief in humanity to work together to build a better and brighter future. They endeavour to understand different cultures and build upon respect for each other. In response to their trees being bulldozed (just before harvest), the farm and international volunteers have planted over 4,000 trees this year. To deal with the water situation, the farm has introduced a rain water collection system so that they are entirely self-sufficient. They also now have solar panel on the farm, which means all their energy is clean and has saved them $45,000 in gas bills. As they are unable to build on the land due to the Area C restrictions, they have begun renovating underground in existing caves. All of these are examples of how they have applied frustrated feelings to peaceful and constructive activity. Daher explained to us the importance of international presence; since there have been regular international visits, the settler harassment has significantly reduced, as have visits from the Israeli military. He also told us that they aspire to build a school on the farm to educate young people about recycling, self-sufficiency, biodiversity etc. “We are able to do something”: this statement from Daher really resonated with the volunteers. He argued that Palestine needs a new generation of educated young people who respect and value the land they live on, in order to protect it from the Israeli state. According to Daher, there is a danger of Palestinians surrendering to a ‘victim-mentality’, where they accept occupation conditions, and don’t try to tackle them. Palestinians need to learn about the history of their land in order to feel connected with it, and value it. This was the first time I had heard someone address this issue, which had been playing on my mind since I arrived. Driving around the West Bank it is inevitable that you will go through areas spoiled by rubbish strewn around. Daher raised an issue I very much agreed with: in order to argue that you want to protect and save your land from an occupying power, you should respect it by keeping it as clean as possible, despite the circumstances.

He referred to the failure of the international community to help Palestinians in the face of Israel violating international human rights law, and said that it was down to Palestinians themselves to be innovative and creative in their protest and challenging of the Israeli state. I thought this was very positive and inspiring, but it also made me feel even more determined to lobby the British government and organisations to support Palestine when I return to the UK. Daher summarised that despite the lengthy occupation, Palestinians have to be held accountable to the things they do have control over, and by doing this they are resisting the occupation of the mind and victim mentality. Furthermore, Palestinians need the support of the international community, without being dependent on their intervention. Finally, education is of paramount importance to tackling the impacts of the Israeli occupation.

Sign at entrance of Tent of Nations farm

Daher offered proactive solutions to his unfortunate circumstances, and refuses to concede any part of his positive attitude to anger and defeat. This was the most poignant message I took away from our meeting. When hearing about Palestine in the Western media it is often in the context of some Palestinians/Hamas responding to the Israeli occupation with violence. Not only Daher, but many Palestinians I’ve met have emphasised the importance of fighting hatred with peace and education. His argument that education, peaceful protest and understanding are the most effective mechanisms to challenge the occupation reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my Palestinian friends. The scariest thing about the conflict is the breeding of hatred in children on both the Israeli and Palestinian side. This reinforces fighting hatred with hatred as both sides see the other as non-human: a faceless enemy. The future generations need to challenge this mentality through education and communication, otherwise this vicious cycle will continue. 

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