I get what it means to feel connected to the land. My great great grandfather, Carl Schroeder, came from Germany to America. He built a farm atop a hill outside of a small town in rural Wisconsin. He had a son named Carl, who grew up and built his farm at the bottom of that hill. This Carl had a son named Carl, my grand father, who grew up and built his farm through the woods from his father’s farm. My grandfather also had a son named Carl, who built his farm adjacent to his father’s farm. Four generations of Schroeders transformed forest into fertile ground for crops, cattle, dairy and Christmas trees. We buried five generations of farm dogs named Rex on the land that I grew up living on, playing on, working on, then visiting and learning to love. I come from a long line of people attached to a parcel of land.
Last spring I found myself on a multi-generational family farm, now called Tent of Nations, outside of Bethlehem. I felt empathy and deep admiration as I listened to Daoud Nasser, a Palestinian Christian farmer, tell his story of waging peace in order to keep the rights to his family’s farm. He told of his grandparents, who bought their farm in Palestine in 1916, and of their deep connection to this land. We sat in the underground caves that they used to live in – they literally lived inside the land. He told about his awful 20 year current struggle to keep their farm and, most astonishingly, their commitment to waging peace – not war – with the Israeli government that is trying to take it away.
When the government shut off their water, they made rain collection pools. Its pretty hard to farm, or live, without water in that parched land. And across the valley in the encroaching Israeli settlements, for which the government wants his land, we could see swimming pools and sprinklers. When the government shut off his electricity, Daoud built solar panels. When the government put demolition orders on his home, he made his grandparent’s caves habitable once again. When the government tore up and placed immovable boulders on the road leading to his farm, they went back to walking. When the government tore up 1500 of his olive trees last spring, he invited friends from all over the world to come help replant them.
Tent of Nations has become internationally known because of their long fight to keep their land. They have received support from organizations all over the world, including from progressive Jewish organizations, to help pay their crushing court bills. People around the world believe in the Nasser’s right to keep their land, and they are similarly struck by the humble posture with which they are waging peace in this struggle to keep their land.
Amidst the injustice of the Nasser’s story and their creative ways of waging peace under pressure, the thing that strikes me most from my experience at Tent of Nations is the value that they hold highest – they simply refuse to be enemies. On the rocks and walls around their property, is painted this phrase “We refuse to be enemies” as well as other verses, like “Love your neighbor”. It expresses their commitment to lead with love and an extended hand of peace. The Nassers refuse to hate, to be embroiled in bitterness, or to give in to the temptation to de-humanize the “other” in their struggle to keep their farm.
Instead, they seek to extend the hand of peace, to communicate and strategize creative ways to combat the unjust treatment they are receiving. For example, the Nassers give tours not only to visitors from afar, but also to nearby Jewish settlers. They offer for them to come see their farm, to hear their family’s story, and to have an opportunity to humanize and relate to the “other” and create community. Those who have come have not left unchanged by what they have seen and heard. The Nassers are seeking to follow Jesus’ call to love their neighbors. In this case, the people they are struggling against here are literally their neighbors.
I visited Israel and Palestine last spring with a peacemaking group called The Global Immersion Project. Our trip was the culmination of several months of learning in their “learning lab” – a curriculum designed to help us see, immerse in, and contend with the people and issues of this conflict in a way that would help generate restoration both in this Middle Eastern conflict area, and also in our own lives. We read and discussed books, like Blood Brothers, by Elias Chacour, and articles, watched and discussed documentaries, like With God On Our Side and The Lemon Tree. Through a process of learning and un-learning, we were able to formulate our own thoughts about the situation socially, politically and biblically, before we immersed in the conflict itself.
As a Christian theologian interested in justice issues, I had been thinking and writing about this topic for years already. But it was still abstract to me. I had not yet had the chance to go to the heart of this conflict and meet contenders and peacemakers on the ground, like the Nassers at Tent of Nations, and be affected by it personally. Being there and hearing real life stories of sacrifice for a belief, like Daoud’s, was transformational. I cannot imagine the persecution I would feel if a Wisconsin government regime tried to take my family’s land away from us. None the less, I did come away from the entire experience believing more strongly than ever that, because of people like the Nassers, and many other radical peace-makers whom we met, peace IS possible.
I was challenged to bring home from Israel/Palestine what I had learned about everyday peacemaking and apply it in my own life. In my life right now, I spend most of my energy as a mother to four little kids and as a wife and “home-maker”. But I am continually surprised at just how many opportunities there are for me to try to be “peace-maker” amidst the role of “home-maker”. I refuse to be enemies with my kids and my husband, even on the challenging days. Sometimes this means getting creative, trying something new. For example, being open to reading a book about a different parenting method than what comes naturally to me, like one that reframes my “challenging” child more positively as a “spirited” child and encourages me to not give up on hoping and believing in a bright future for his character. Committing to peace-making in my home means stepping back from an argument with my husband and trying, even if clumsily, to insert some humor to break the tension. And it means turning toward when I feel like turning away. This is no small task, but committing to everyday peace-making HAS changed the vibe in my home and in my relationships.
I recommend learning about the Israel/Palestine conflict with The Global Immersion Project, and I recommend learning about the plight of Palestinian land-owners like the Daoud’s at Tent of Nations – they tap into some big issues of peace and justice in the world. But mostly, for today, I recommend considering what it would mean to live your everyday life as one who says, “I refuse to be enemies”. Whether that posture is toward your spouse, your child or your colleague. What would it look like to turn toward, and not away from the “other” in your life? What would it look like to contend for peace, creatively? What would it feel like to take the initiative and say, “I refuse to be your enemy” today?
Photo of me with Daoud Nasser when he came to Minneapolis to speak to churches about his experience as a Christian Palestinian farmer and peacemaker living near Bethlehem.
Top hoto: thanks to http://www.tentofnations.org/