Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Daher's Vineyard: A Bethlehem Christian Family Struggles to Keep the Family Farm

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Daher's Vineyard: A Bethlehem Christian Family Struggles to Keep the Family Farm

Article excerpt

"Every time I visit Israel and the occupied territories I set aside a day or so for farm work. Though I enjoy the historic sites and am fascinated by the archaeology, I also feel compelled to blister my hands by working the Palestinian soil. No it's not the Iowa blood running through my veins. It's a question of justice. You see, the land I work is land marked for confiscation for new Israeli settlements on the West Bank."

I wrote these words seven years ago ("A Farm in Palestine: In the Shadow of the Settlements," Christian Century, April 9, 1997, pp. 356-7) after returning from a sabbatical year in Bethlehem. Of all the injustices that I had witnessed over the course of that year, what touched me most deeply was the confiscation of Palestinian land for the expansion of Israeli settlements.

Now as I prepare to embark on another sabbatical, I see that things have not changed. This morning I received an e-mail from Daoud Nassar, detailing the latest developments in the family's court case as they try to hold on to the family farm.

It seems that everyone I meet who has Bethlehem connections is aware of the plight of this Christian family. Some of this is due to the advocacy of Rev. Mitri Raheb, who in those early days rallied to the aid of this stalwart family, members of his Christmas Lutheran Church. In fact, the name "Daher's Vineyard" has stuck because of the chapter Raheb included in his best-selling book, I Am a Palestinian Christian (available from the AET Book Club).

Daher was the name of Daoud's grandfather who settled in Bethlehem and purchased that 100-plus acre plot of land on a hillside south of Bethlehem with a spectacular view from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. Debunking the myth of the undeveloped desert, the family farm flourished with pomegranate, almond and olive trees. Their grapevines overflowed so that excess fruit was sold to wineries for exported wine to Europe. With typical Palestinian hospitality, their abundance was shared according to Leviticus 19:9-10-with not only fellow citizens, but with sojourners and poor alike.

Daher is also the name of the eldest son among nine siblings-children of the elder Daher's evangelist son-who currently are feeling more and more alone in their struggle.

It was 12 years ago, on Nov. 10, 1991, that the Nassar family learned that confiscation papers had been served for part of their land. Surrounded by a number of Jewish-only settlements-Efrat to the east, Neve Danyel to the north, Betar Illit and Eliezer to the west-they are an obvious target for settlement expansion. In fact, throughout the 1990s-the Oslo years-their daily ventures to the farm were under the shadow of continual settlement growth, betraying the sincerity of the well-publicized peace process.

I first visited the farm in May 1992, with a class of two dozen students. It was important for the watchful eyes from surrounding settlements to see that the Nassar family was not alone. We accompanied them in their normal tasks-cleared rocks from the fields and repaired fences, planted tomato seedlings, and carried water from the stream below. Most importantly, we planted a few olive trees. "Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew that the world would end tomorrow," Daoud remarked with a wave of his hand across the fields in the direction of the settlements. "Luther said that he would plant a tree."

The precarious situation of the Nassar farm was no reason to give up. Newly planted olive trees were a symbol of hope.

I returned often to plant more trees, to water them, and to help with the harvest. My students learned about Palestinian farming techniques and Middle East politics at the same time. A June 1992 workday was interrupted when armed settlers threatened to throw us off the land. I knew then that this was not something to treat lightly. The settlers' harassment continued even as we boarded taxis for our ride back to Bethlehem. …

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