Nassar’s sister, Amal, has a different explanation. The government, together with the Israeli settlers who live around the farm, is “trying to push us to violence or push us to leave,” she says. Amal insists that her family will not move from the land, nor will they abandon their commitment to peaceful resistance.
“Nobody can force us to hate,” she says. “We refuse to be enemies.”
That phrase, which is painted on a stone at the entrance to the farm, was first used by her father, Bishara Nassar. Long before the concept became widely known among Palestinians, he taught his children a theory of non-violence that was rooted in his own Christian beliefs.
Bishara (“Gospel”) Nassar was a child when his father bought this land in 1916. Even at that time, as World War One transformed the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire limped to an end, Palestinian Christians were beginning to emigrate. After the war of 1948 the Christian exodus from the West Bank quickened, and Bishara, who was a gifted preacher and accordionist, began to travel round the nearby villages, singing songs and leading Bible study in family homes. Music and stories, he thought, might deepen the faith and lift the spirits of Bethlehem’s Christian children, encouraging them to stay.
Bishara also came to believe that the Christian community had a special role to play in building a more peaceful future.
“My father always said, ‘We will never achieve peace in Palestine and Israel just by shaking hands – we need to work on people, to start with the grassroots’,” says Amal Nassar. “So what we do now, as a family, is fulfilling the dream of my father that people can build bridges, for hope, for understanding, reconciliation, dialogue, to achieve peace. This is the idea.”
Guided by that vision, she and her brothers have transformed the farm into a centre for peace-building and non-violent resistance called the Tent of Nations.
For more than 20 years they have held workshops here, welcoming Israeli students, rabbis, and peace activists, as well as groups from across Europe and America. They run summer camps for local schools, teaching Palestinian children about non-violence and encouraging them to develop a love for the land by working and playing on the farm. This is especially important, says Amal Nassar, for a generation that has grown up in the refugee camps and urban sprawl behind Israel’s separation barrier. She also trains Palestinian women in non-violence, while her mother – Bishara’s widow, Milada – cooks traditional food for the day’s guests.