Outside Bethlehem lays the Nassar family’s farm. At their gate is a stone with the words painted on it “We refuse to be enemies.” They call this place The Tent of Nations. The first time I had the chance to visit this farm in 2011, one of the family members explained that their land is under threat of confiscation. They are continually asserting their right to live and farm peacefully on the land of their ancestors. Next to their farm is an illegal Israeli settlement, one of many in the occupied Palestinian territories. When settlers showed up with guns at their gate one day,the Nassar family welcomed them to visit but without guns. Thus the rock painted at their gate, which is their message of peace and hope. They want to stay on their land and live peacefully with their neighbours.
“This land is under threat of confiscation by the Israeli military, therefore we set projects which aim to demonstrate solidarity with the local people and to keep the land productive, keeping the Tent of Nations projects alive. Our mission is building bridges between people, and between people to the land. At Tent of Nations, we bring people of various cultures together to build bridges of understanding, reconciliation, and peace.”
When the news reached us last week that soldiers arrived at their land early in the morning and bulldozed 1,500 to 2,000 apricot and apple trees and grape vines, I felt a deep pain for this family. Their presence and persistence on the land is a testimony of faith and hope. In addition, their farm is an example of ecologically sustainable use of resources with solar power, rainwater collection, dug out cave residences and meeting room. Because of the occupation they have to be creative with their use of resources. We have so much to learn from them! Hundreds of local and international volunteers visit the Tent of Nations and help out with the work of planting and harvesting. They also have summer camp programs for children.
As I looked back through my photos of the Tent of Nations, the rock “We refuse to be enemies” really spoke to me in our current situation here at the Centre at Naramata with the labour dispute. There may be times in our lives when we are tempted to dehumanize people and turn them into ‘Other.’ It is so easy to get sucked into righteous battles of who is right and who is wrong, who is the victim and who the oppressor.
Today I saw one of my colleagues on the picket line wearing a sign that said, “What would Jesus do?”
“Good question,” I thought to myself and one I have been considering a lot lately. Jesus taught us that love is the greatest commandment of all. We are taught to love our neighbour as ourselves and love our enemy (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 5:44). The Nassar’s message at their gate interrupts the temptation to turn people—colleagues, family, neighbours, and strangers—into enemies at all. If we continue to see the humanity, both the beauty and suffering in each person, we may be able to fulfill what Christ called us to do and be.
So here is a statement of hope and courage from the Centre in the midst of a very trying situation. I choose not to see other people as the ‘enemy.’ This photo is outside of our Chapel, a quiet place for prayer and community coming together. These stones are a sign of solidarity with the Tent of Nations and people everywhere working for healing, justice and peace.
If you would like to support the Tent of Nations, please visit their website: www.tentofnations.org. Talk to people about what is happening there, write to your government officials, ask your church or community group to speak out about it. Make your own “We Refuse To Be Enemies” rock and place it outside of your home, school, work or place of worship. Post it on your Facebook and share the Tent of Nations Story.
To support the Centre at this time, please pray for all staff, the local community and all people who cherish this place.
The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, my employer, EAPPI or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me for permission. Thank you.