Until we stepped out of the minibus into the fresh air near Daher’s Vineyard south west of Bethlehem we hadn’t realised how claustrophobic Bethlehem had been feeling. Here, almost 3000 feet above sea level,  the rolling land lay in the winter sunshine, the air felt crisp and clear, and we could see almost to the Mediterranean. The mini bus had stopped short of Daher’s Vineyard (also called Tent of Nations) because the road is deliberately blocked with large stones and debris from demolished housing. It was a wonderful stroll for us, but a huge, daily inconvenience for local Palestinians.

This is Zone C land where, following the Oslo Accord, Israel have jurisdiction, and they are trying to get Daoud Nassar and his family to leave the 100 acres his grandfather bought in 1916. Israel needs the land to isolate a small Palestinian village and to complete the development of Gush Etzion settlements in pursuit of a policy, illegal under International Law, to have as much land in the West Bank with as few Palestinians as possible. They have tried legal means, isolation, threats and intimidation. None has worked. Despite no mains electricity or water, despite lack of road access and demolition orders against existing buildings, Daoud and his family are systematically developing the farm, planting olive trees, organically growing grapes, almonds, figs and vegetables, collecting water in cisterns and capturing solar energy. It’s a hugely impressive enterprise as adversity is turned into opportunity.

Most impressive of all, Daoud and his family refuse to allow the Israeli government to dictate their response. Using creative non-violent actions and living by the motto ‘We refuse to be enemies’ Daoud is going beyond protest to take positive steps to build hope, to help Palestinians displaced into refugees camps or overcrowded cities to reconnect with the land, and to enable visitors both to see the reality of life in the occupied Palestinian territories and to be part of a creative resistance movement.

Our time in Bethlehem has come to an end, but like the visitors from the East in the Christmas story, we are returning home by another route. We are convinced that the injustices being perpetrated here mean that we cannot sit on the fence. What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinian people is wicked and wrong. The systematic squeezing of a people, the corralling into what are effectively open prisons where Palestinians cannot work their land or build houses; cannot travel Israeli roads or cross into Jerusalem, and often cannot find work, is shocking. These things have to be made known and have to be stopped by the efforts of the international community.

The grace of so many people we have met, who refuse to hate; who do not deny that Israelis should have a home but demand only to be seen as equal human beings, is inspirational. The separation barrier must come down. The international community must penalise behaviour that in International Law exceeds anything apartheid did in South Africa.

We are off the fence, and as we travel home we invite you to find out more at http://www.tentofnations.org/; http://www.kairospalestine.ps/ and http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/speak_out/make_a_difference_locally/campaigns/invest_in_peace


PS There are still some places in the MacLeod Centre on Iona for a week with Mark Braveman and Naim Ateek to explore the Kairos Palestine document from May 26 -1 June 2012.. The week is called ‘Kairos Palestine: the time is NOW.’