"A land is nothing without people, and people are nothing without a land." That's the maxim followed by Palestinian farmer Daoud Nassar. And when he speaks of the intimate connection between people and their land, he is talking from hard-won experience.
Nassar, a Palestinian Christian, lives with his family on 42 hectares (100 acres) of fertile land west of Bethlehem. His grandfather bought the land in 1916 and the Nassar family has farmed there ever since, growing olives, almonds, grapes, pears and figs.
In 1991, Daoud Nassar learned that the Israeli authorities were planning to confiscate three quarters of his land – a practice that is illegal under international law, but nonetheless widespread on the West Bank.
Since then, the family has been locked in a costly legal battle with the Israeli government, despite possessing all the land registration documents and other paperwork necessary to prove ownership, Daoud Nassar told a visiting ecumenical delegation on 10 March.
The Nassar farm is already surrounded by Israeli settlements, and like many Palestinians, the Nassars have endured harassment, threats and attacks from nearby settlers. In one such attack, Daoud Nassar's mother was threatened with a gun. In another, settlers uprooted 250 olive trees from the property.
It is acts like this, Nassar says, that may easily fuel violence among Palestinians. For many others, the only possible options seem to be to resign themselves to the situation, or to emigrate.
The Nassar family decided there should be another option – to refuse to be enemies. So they established on their land a project called the Tent of Nations (http://www.tentofnations.org
). Its overarching aims are to build bridges between people of different backgrounds and between people and land.
"We wanted to move away from a circle of blame, and channel our frustration into something positive," Daoud Nassar told the Living Letters team.