'The Fourth Way'
The watch struck 9:30am, and we were standing on the curb of a main road through Bethlehem. A beaten-up Mercedes pulled in, out of which emerged Daher, a great beam across his mustached face. He beckoned us in and off we drove, Daher stopping a number of times on the way to collect pitta and fresh vegetables.
Driving out of the bustling centre of Bethlehem and into the Judean hills, the road became increasingly uneven and full of potholes as we took in the beautiful views of the sweeping landscape. Arriving at our destination, a colourful sign, painted on a rock, greeted us:
‘We refuse to be enemies.’
Daher Nassar is a farmer, and we had arrived at his farm, the Tent of Nations. The farm has been in the Nassar family for over a century, and there are carefully nurtured groves of olives and grapes, apricots and figs, almonds and pistachios.
The Tent of Nations is significant as it is one of the last remaining Palestinian hilltop farms in the area. Gazing across the hills, one can see five large surrounding Israeli settlements. These settlements are well supplied with water, electricity and broadband but the Tent of Nations is not so fortunate. Their water and electricity are routinely cut off, their building permits have been revoked and they have even experienced people breaking in and bulldozing their fruit trees, all on land which is legally their own.
Spending the day with Daher and his brother Daoud, we witnessed the injustices they have dealt with in the form of oppression and violation of property, yet the Tent of Nations is significant for another reason. They respond to this oppression with the principle that greeted us as we entered: ‘We refuse to be enemies’.
As Daoud explained, there are three ways in which people in this land often respond to persecution:
1. Violence – Engage the enemy with revenge and aggression.
2. Mourn – Shrink back in self-pity and accept the identity of a victim.
3. Flee – Run away from the conflict, give up the land and resettle for an easier life.
The Nassar family are championing the ‘fourth way’. It is a road less travelled, but in this generation perhaps more than ever, it is rewriting the story of the land.
4. The way of non-violent resistance.
Daoud calls it, ‘the Jesus way’ and for him it is no passive ideology. The Nassar family don’t just try to avoid their enemies or choose to ignore them; they actively pursue love. When neighbouring residents turn up at the farm, either out of aggression of curiosity, the Nassar family greet them as friends.
On both sides of the Israel-Arab conflict, people are surrounded by fear. ‘The other guys are trying to kill us’, is the narrative constantly reinforced by media, culture and politics. In the past, Israelis visitors have even come to the Tent of Nations armed with guns to protect themselves. Yet their fears proved to be unfounded for instead of a battle, they were offered a warm welcome, a hearty lunch and the opportunity for a conversation with an enemy who refuses to behave like one.
To turn up armed, is to leave embarrassed.
Hatred is extinguished with love.
In the words of Shane Claiborne, ‘Violence is for those who have lost their imagination’ and the Nassar family, on the contrary, have a lot of imagination.
Instead of complaining about the loss of electricity, they set up solar panels.
To save water from the rainwater-harvesting cistern, they dug compost toilets.
To survive without building permits, they moved into caves.
They will not be driven from their land by either intimidation or invitation. When aggression failed, tactics switched to bribery. They were offered vast sums of money for their farm but despite the temptation, they are committed to the land and the people of Palestine. The Nassar family are here to stay.
It is said that unforgiveness and hatred is a bit like drinking poison and then desiring the other person to die; it works to slowly corrupt the hater instead. In choosing to love their enemies, the Nassars are free from the bondage of bitterness and they look upon oppressors as equals.
Thousands of people from all over the world now visit the farm – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, all learning how to plant trees and harvest olives. The Tent of Nations lives up to its name indeed.
And their model in all of this?
Jesus of Nazareth.
Who is this man? This humble, solitary carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago, with only a handful of followers when he was brutally slaughtered by the Romans only 5 miles from this very hilltop.
How can he possibly be shaping the whole ethic of this farm?
Interestingly, the Jewish population in the 1st Century knew persecution and oppression too, from the ruthless occupation of Rome. They responded in similar ways to those which Daoud spoke of earlier:
1. Violence – The ‘Zealots’ as they were known, were a 1st Century political movement, committed to the expulsion of the Roman Empire from the Judean Province by any means, including (and especially) violence.
2. Assimilation – While many people gave into victim syndrome, a group of religious leaders known as ‘The Sadducees’ decided that if they couldn’t defeat the Romans, they might as well join them. They walked an awkward path of trying to lead Israel whilst simultaneously paying allegiance to their oppressors.
3. Flee – A group known as the ‘Essenes’ took the run-away option, fleeing both the corruption within Israel and the oppression from Rome. They retreated deep into the desert where they lived in isolated communities devoted to prayer, study and religious purity.
Yet Jesus proclaimed a different way, a ‘Fourth Way’. He didn’t fight his enemy, join his enemy or flee from his enemy.
He loved his enemy.
Many heroes have followed this radical way all over the world, from Gandhi in India to Martin Luther King in the US.
There is John Rucyahana, who forgave his niece’s murderer after the Rwandan Genocide, or Dr Yitzchak Glick, an Israeli doctor who goes out of his way to provide free healthcare to Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
Then there is the Tent of Nations, quietly following the way of the Carpenter from Nazareth.
But how did Jesus model this himself?
Whilst he was hung on a cross, spotless and innocent, suffering the most humiliating, painful and unjust death the Roman Empire could have inflicted upon him, he declared to his Father in Heaven, ‘Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’
Jesus didn’t just command the ‘Fourth Way’, he lived it - he did not kill, he did not shirk back, he did not flee - he loved his enemies, he died for them and he bled for them, so that they might know forgiveness and abundant life in knowing God the Father.
There are many unsung heroes across Israel and Palestine today who have taken up the way of Jesus, and the four of us left the farm that day inspired evermore to pursue this Fourth Way in our own communities.