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Touching the ground

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 13.05.2016:

Toine van Teeffelen


May 13, 2016

“Please, come!” The Nassar family are called to come forword and present themselves on the stage. There are the mother, the brothers, the sisters, and their children. They live the well-known peace initiative, the Tent of Nations, located on a hilltop near the large village of Nahalin to the south of Bethlehem on the way to Hebron.

Each of the family members speaks a few words about their love for the land in front of a sympathetic crowd of some 100 visitors – young and older, among them many internationals and former volunteers. Despite the huge hurdles the family continuously face – endless court cases, demolition orders, fruit trees destroyed – they stay steadfast in a tradition of struggle that now spans many generations all the way back to the beginning, 100 years ago, when the land was bought. Afterwards the land deeds were scrupulously kept; the documents are now needed to fight the court battles. Often on their nerves the family can now release the tension when it celebrates the 100 years it “lives and loves the land.”

That struggle includes a mother who single-handedly took care of 10 children, as well as a grandfather celebrating his daily work with evening prayers in the cave where he and his successors lived. Daoud Nassar, the present main spokesperson of the Tent of Nations, relays that way back in 1936, during the Arab general strike, the family then, too, faced the destruction of (25.000) fruit trees.

The Tent of Nations initiative was proclaimed in 2002 as a method of nonviolent resistance; of not giving up hope, not leaving the stage, not succumbing to violence, not giving up hospitality. Scripture in action.

The present festival concludes three days of workshops ranging from the explanation of Bible stories to the making of mosaics, from folk dancing to journeying for justice. The performances are varied and involve both local and international groups. Brass for Peace creates a fanfare atmosphere and includes four younger Nassar family members. The German country music group Without Borders plays familiar songs like Take Me Home, Country Roads and Blowing in the Wind.

My highlight is the dabkeh, the Palestinian folk dance. Jihan Nassar, Daoud’s wife and a computer teacher who works among other places in neighboring Nahalin, is the presentator who justifiably feels proud about the internationals whom she taught the dabkeh basic steps in just three days.

Then there is the Beit Sahour dabkeh group, three young men and three young women prepared to dance on a relatively small stage. Dabkeh is a word which relates to the moment the feet touches the ground, says Jihan. That touch is usually quite well to hear. As soon as the group members fall into the rhythm, their faces shine up and their bodies radiate self-confidence. They follow the music and the jumping rhythm that I always associate with horse riding – experiencing freedom without hurdles.

Among the different group leaders and country representatives Meta (Floor) receives an extra applause as she worked and led during the preceding months to get the festival organized. She says that what touches her in Palestine and the Tent of Nations are two extremes meeting each other: the extreme vulnerability to which people are exposed, and the extraordinary inner strength they show.

The festival’s decor is the settlement of Neve Daniel on the next hill. I hear that a group of settlers have been staring at the festivities – surprised, on the outlook? Another world, so close.

After the performances we talk about the situation. No new developments. Several visitors witness the deterioration of things especially in ‘area C’, a dry bureaucratic term indicative of the fragmentation of the land. The Tent of Nations is also located in area C. In practice the Palestinian villages and Bedouin communities in that area – some 60% of the West Bank – are ethnically cleansed.

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once said: “The Palestinians are the only nation in the world that feels with certainty that today is better than what the days ahead will hold. Tomorrow always heralds a worse situation. “

But he also said: “Palestinian people are in love with life.”

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