Rich Stearns, president of Christian relief organization World Vision had spent a memorable meal with Palestinian Christians and 30 American pastors and church leaders in a cave west of Bethlehem. After the half mile hike to reach his destination at the top of a hillside, he was greeted by a sign that read, “We refuse to be enemies.”
The West Bank section of land where this Christian gathering took place is a mere 100 acres. However, its Palestinian residents, the Nassars have turned their property into an touch point for demonstrating to evangelical American Christians how unfairly Palestinian Christians are being treated by Israelis.
Here is a video made three weeks ago by Porter Speakman Jr, director of pro-Palestinian Christian film With God on Our Side about Nassar family. This video was recently aired at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference at Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem.
The Nassars claim they have owned the land since 1916, and according to international law, the territory does not belong to Israel, but to the Nassar family. Currently, according to World Vision President Stearns, the parcel of land is surrounded by 50,000 Israeli settlers, “living on similar land confiscated from other Palestinian families.”
The Nassar family remain in a cave because, according to Daoud Nassar, the Israeli government has prohibited them from building structures on the land.
To demonstrate the unfairness of the Israeli government to Palestinian settlers, Stearns reminds readers of his blog, how difficult it was to scale the hill due to the barricades the Jewish government positioned to close off the only access road the Nassar family has to their own property.
The History of the Nassar Controversy
In the World Vision post, Stearns points to 1991 as the time the Israeli government gave notice that they would annex the Nassar land as part of their plan to expand the neighboring Israeli Gush Etzion settlement. In other words, while Israel recognizes the family’s property rights to some of the land, about half of the acreage is declared “state land.”
The controversy rages around the Israeli law that states Palestinian land that cannot be legally documented back to the Ottoman Empire (The Turks) which would be pre-1917, can be confiscated. If a Palestinian family on the West Bank has lived on a parcel of land for “centuries,” says Stearns, and they lack proper documentation required to prove ownership of the land, the family will be booted out.
In 2002 the Nassar family, according to the Israeli newspaper HaAretz, appealed the 1991 decision, but was rejected even though “reliable proof was presented that the land was cultivated for decades”.
Nassar’s proof consisted of copies of land registration documents from the 1920s that bear the official stamp of the Israeli civil administration. The land was purchased by Nassar’s Lebanese grandfather in 1916.
According to CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) the military judge ruling in the trial rejected the challenge by Nassar refusing to accept a hand-drawn map as evidence.
Another issue with Nassar’s papers is the claim they had been honored by the Turkish, British and Jordanian rulers prior to Israel’s rule. Turkish or Ottoman rule ended in 1917, when the British conquered the entire region, By 1924 the area had already been under British rule for seven years. So the Turks could not have honored the Nassar’s 1924 ownership papers since they were not ruling at that time.
Shaul Goldstein, mayor of Gush Etzion, views the Nassar’s claim as another last ditch effort by Arabs to stymie the Jewish settlement effort. Goldstein believes the disputed land has been declared state land and can be developed at the discretion of the Gush Etzion regional council.
Regarding the road built on Nassar’s property, Goldstein says that road did not infringe on Nassar’s property. Rather, the passageway carved up the hillside in the area that had been declared state property, and the road could have been built on an easier route, says Goldstein, but the Israelis chose to take a more circuitous route to avoid having to cut through Nassar’s land. Stearns failed to report that because of the conflict over the land, the settlers decided to stop the road project “until the matter is clarified.”
The Truth Behind the Nassar’s Demolition Orders
In a June 2010 report from Missing Peace, “Demolition Orders and Co-Existence in Gush Etzion”, it is reported Daoud received nine demolition orders from Israeli authorities. He claims “[Israel] is attempting to break his spirit; he is determined to to fight and conquer this (Israeli) evil.”
The statements and claims of Daoud Nassar call for further investigation. So Missing Peace contacted the Civil Administration in Israel, the mayor of Gush Etzion, Shaul Goldstein, as well as Palestinians living near Gush Etzion and the Nassar family. As a result of their investigation, it appears a lot of important information is missing from Nassar’s claims.
First, the demolition order was delivered to Daoud Nassar on May 28th, 2010. But the Israel Civil Administration (ICA) argues that the demolition only referred to illegal structures. So the demolition order, according to Nassar, had to to with adding of a structure with a solid roof. Nassar had built those structures adding to legally existing structures without obtaining a permit. So the demolition orders he has received were in fact the result of a court order handed down in 2006 in which the illegal structures were to be removed.
Second, Nassar is not the only one receiving demolition orders for illegal building. ICA officials issue between 10 to 15 demolition orders to Gush Etzion weekly, according to Mayor Goldstein. He just wants Nassar to follow the example of other inhabitants of Gush Etzion, to contest the demolition orders.
In addition, Goldstein rejected Nassar’s claims that Israeli settlers are treated differently from Palestinians by the ICA. Goldstein cited examples of Gush Etzion settlers who had to demolish structures in the absence of a permit. In addition, Shaul Goldstein added that demolition orders have been issued to the outpost Sde Boaz adjacent to Neve Daniel.
So where is the basis of Nassar’s claim that he is being treated differently simply because he is Palestinian? The Missing Peace article also goes into greater detail on the legality of the the claims of Palestinians farmers who claim land in Derech Avot. If the lands are state lands, their authorization will be considered, but if the buildings are situated on private lands, the inhabitants will be subject to having their demolition orders executed.
The Solution to End Nassar’s Conflict with Israelis
Nassar spoke to representatives from Missing Peace and sought their advice as to what he should do about the demolition orders. He was advised to replace the corrugated iron structures with reed mats. These types of structures are permitted to be built without having to gain permission from the ICA. Consequently, Nassar would be able to maintain the use of the land.
CAMERA reports that under the laws of the West Bank, the family never actually owned the land in question. In fact, the land laws are not even Israeli, but were passed on to Israel by previous rulers. The land laws are based on the Ottoman Land Code, and Israel was and is obligated to obey them under international laws (Article 43 of the Hague Regulations of 1947) to maintain the legal system in the territories, and to respect the laws in force in the country.
Under the Ottoman Land Code, there are two major categories of land: First, we have mulk “property”, which is private land. There is no need to cultivate such land to keep rights over it. So if the Nassar land is private, there was no need to cultivate it. But since they cultivated the land as a proof of ownership, they are suggesting the land is not private at all but belongs to the state.
The other category of land is miri, state land in which individuals gain limited rights by consistent cultivation. But the rights of such land is in no way equal to the rights to what is called private property. It is conditional ownership held by grant from the state.
What Nassar owns is land that is property of the state, and only reverts to the state if there is a failure to cultivate the land. So the Nassar family never really owned the land in the first place, but held limited rights granted by the state as long as they cultivated the land.
This law has worked in the favor of the Palestinians since 1967. Since that time Palestinian farmers have been able to register state land in their own names in light of their own cultivation of the land.
The Truth About Nassar’s Bridge Building to Israelis
Nassar invites American Christians to his “Tent for All Nations”, being supported by groups from Germany and Switzerland. However, it appears representatives from one nation in particular are missing from his inclusive list – Israel. When questioned by Missing Peace about his relationship with Israelis, Nassar said, “he had few or no affiliations.” Rather, he mentioned he was engaged with problems on a regular basis with Jewish people in his proximity. Yet when investigated further, these run-ins with nearby Jews dated back to incidents in the 90s and an incident during the Second Intifada in 2002.
Under his website banner of “Bridges to Peace,” Nassar has leaked out to various Christian websites stories about harassment and violence against his property committed by Jews in Gush Etzion. Oddly enough, the Mayor of Gush Etzion claims to have no knowledge of these incidents. Instead, he explains, tens of Palestinian farmers work their land in the fields in the same area without any reports of violence or harassing incidents.
Nassar speaks out of both sides of his mouth when he speaks about the need for Israelis and Palestinians meeting to learn more about each other. Yet in his own backyard, he has failed to practice such acts of peaceful co-existence.
Is Nassar pulling the wool over the eyes of American Christians who travel to Israel to hear the Middle East conflict from the Palestinian side? Could it be that evangelicals are being hoodwinked by Palestinian propaganda perpetrated by the Nassar family in order to lure evangelicals away from supporting Israel?
Nassar has limited his contacts to people who are pro-Palestinian and with those who are opposed to the “occupation.” Jesus had much to say about religious people who only had contact with people just like them (Matthew 5:46-48) Nassar appears to be dishonest when he claims he wants co-existence and an end to the enmity between Palestinians and Israelis.
Gush Etzion’s mayor recalls co-existence projects in Gush Etzion where Israelis and Palestinians worked together on a daily basis. One example of this co-existence occurred in Beit Sakariyah, a Palestinian village located among the Israeli villages of Gush Etzion. There Palestinians are employed by Israelis at a garage and gas station in the area.
Even during the Second Intifada Israeli residents of Efrat, the largest settlement of Gush Etzion, assisted Palestinians with clothing and food. Nassar confessed he had no connection with this co-existence between Arabs and Jews in Gush Etzion.
According to Mayor Goldstein, “the actions of some peace activists and reporters have served to inflame tensions and undermine the efforts to build coexistence with his Arab neighbors.”
From the above statement it appears Nassar is misleading fellow Christian non-violent peace activists by his disregard for Israeli law and to test the Israeli ruling authorities for the sake of gaining publicity. Nassar’s behavior as Christian is confusing.
The Symbol of the Nassar Family
One can only imagine how the Nassar family’s plight has been used as a symbol of mistreatment of Palestinian families by the Israeli government.
His farm, located on a hill next to the Neve Daniel settlement, now called “The Tent of Nations” has become an attraction for tourists from other countries who travel to Israel on an “occupation fact finding mission”.
Now Daoud Nassar has taken his family’s plight into the spiritual realm which has captured the attention of American evangelical Christians.
“The Tent of Nations” has become a gathering place for Christians who seek peace in the Middle East and try to be both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli. Unfortunately, more and more Christian leaders and their flocks are being misled by the Nassars for lack of information.
Nassar’s claim “we refuse to be enemies” raises a lot of question. As a Palestinian Christian he desires not to be enemies with Israelis. So how much has he reached out to Israeli families to befriend them? On his website Nassar uses the slogan “People Building Bridges.” But has he reached out to Israeli families or only to Christians to gain support for his cause against Israel?
Is he taking advantage of what appears to be an unfair situation to persuade evangelical Christians into supporting him? Daoud wants Christians to see him as a real person rather than allow American Christians to stereotype him as a terrorist because he is Palestinian.
Summary of Nassar’s Claim to Conflict with Israelis
It’s not hard to see that Nassar has omitted important information in his statements about the demolition of his property by Israelis. In addition, he or his attorney Jonathan Kuttab, failed to explain the application of the Ottoman Land Code as it applies to the Nassar property.
Nassar would rather have American evangelical pawns believe untruths in order to gain their support.
Nassar’s Christian claims to desiring peace with Israelis lack substance and evidence. His proclamation of love for his enemies is absent in his actions.
As a Jewish person I have to ask why Christians who visited the Nassar family near the Gush Etzion settlement, did not also spend time visiting Israeli families to hear “the other side.” To return to America and repeat the falsehoods perpetrated by Daoud Nassar is deliberately distributing misinformation and contributing towards the delegitimization of Israel in Christian churches.
What I find most offensive is the fact the Nassars, as Christians, make no statements condemning the evil and terrorism that exists among their own people. Not a word spoken about Palestinian terrorism, suicide bombings, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the PLO or the al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades. Where is their Christians conscience against Palestinian terrorism against Israelis? Do they feel it is justified?
The Nassar family leave us with more unanswered questions than giving us answers to our many question about the Middle East conflict.