The Nassar family is one of the few Christian families left in the Bethlehem area that owns hundreds of dunums of land. The transfer of their land to nearby Israelis settlements in contradiction to international law would deal a great blow to the dwindling Christian population in the Bethlehem area in these already very difficult times

The Nassar family is one of the few Christian families left in the Bethlehem area that owns hundreds of dunums of land. The transfer of their land to nearby Israelis settlements in contradiction to international law would deal a great blow to the dwindling Christian population in the Bethlehem area in these already very difficult times.

Allison Jones-Nassar is one of the members of the family who was born in the USA. She writes a direct letter to George W. Bush, the President of the US.

Special For Come and See, Jan 28, 2003

The date for the final decision regarding the Nassar land case is fast approaching. On 5 February 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court will hand down a final ruling regarding the legal ownership of the property belonging to the Nassar family and, according to lawyer Jonathan Kuttab, “previously the Court has shown great reluctance to interfere in any decision regarding the rights of Palestinians to their land (see the attached legal statement).”

For those who are unfamiliar with this case, the Nassar family of Bethlehem has owned and cultivated 420 dunums of farmland just south of Bethlehem since 1924. They possess all the necessary private ownership documents and the land has been properly registered in the official “Tabu” or land registry over the course of four successive occupations (Turkish, Mandate, Jordanian, and Israeli). Property taxes have been paid on the land continuously since 1924.

The Nassar farm is located on a hilltop south of Bethlehem. It is surrounded by four continuously expanding settlements (Efrat, Neve Daniel, Maalot Betar, and Eli’ezer), the closest of which is Neve Daniel. In November 1991, the Israeli government declared the land “state land.” This has been one of several standard methods the Israeli government has used to “legally” confiscate land owned by Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank. The majority of Palestinian farmers are unable to provide the necessary documentation in order to challenge these declarations because most never resorted to official land registration. Prior to the advent of Israel’s aggressive land settlement enterprise, it was enough for property to be either communally owned or for ownership to be informally acknowledged according to an “honor” system. In the era of Zionist land colonization, “honor” ceased to be an operative term.

In any case, the Nassar family did challenge the declaration on the basis of its ownership documents and thus began a twelve-year legal battle. The family hired a lawyer, consulted a variety of experts including a team of land surveyors, provided numerous witnesses, submitted all the required documents and corroborative statements, and navigated checkpoints, closures, and curfews on hundreds of occasions in order to attend hearings at the regional military court at Bet El, near Ramallah.

On 29.01.2002, the lawyer representing the Nassar family received a response from the Israeli military court in Bet El regarding the confiscation of a part of the family land. In a half-page response, the court tersely rejected the family’s objection to the confiscation, repeating the original claims that a) the land was not privately owned property, and b) the land was not being actively cultivated and could therefore be expropriated by the state of Israel. The response made no mention of the twelve years of legal deliberations, no mention of the legal arguments made on behalf of the family, no mention of the ownership documents in the family’s possession, no mention of the dozens of witnesses whose personal testimonies confirmed the family’s ownership and activities on the land for the last seventy-five years.

The military court, without articulating any legal basis for its decision, rejected the Nassar family claim to ownership of the property. The family, convinced of the legal strength and moral justice of its cause, responded by hiring a new lawyer and resubmitting the case for consideration to the Israeli Supreme Court.

According to the attached legal statement, “it is hoped that international pressure will have a positive influence on the final decision of the court.” Therefore we strenuously encourage everyone committed to peace with justice in the Middle East to become involved and take immediate and prolonged action. The next two weeks may prove crucial to the outcome of this case so please let your voices be heard.

We urge you to educate others about the facts of this issue by promptly forwarding this bulletin and to be in repeated contact with members of your local, state, and national governments; with church bodies; with international human rights organizations; and with representatives of the media.

Dear Mr. President:

I am an American citizen born and raised, from the state of Virginia. My father served his country for more than twenty years in the United States air force. You may be interested to know that Israeli settlers are about to steal 100 acres of land that belongs to my husband and myself.

Since my husband’s family acquired this land (located just south of Bethlehem) in 1924, they have played by all the rules. They registered the land in the official Tabu land registry according to the laws of four successive occupying governments. They paid property taxes and can to this day produce the receipts proving this. They cultivated their land for generations and lived in peace with all their neighbors, both Palestinian and Jewish.

In November 1991, the same week my husband and I were married, the State of Israel declared my husband’s family farm as “state land.” You may not be aware that this is a standard method that the Israeli government uses for acquiring land belonging to Palestinians. Most Palestinians cannot legally challenge these declarations because they do not have the proper ownership documents, but my husband’s family could and did challenge this illegal declaration.

For more than eleven years we have been involved in a legal battle with the military authorities and we have played by all the rules. We have provided witnesses when required. We have paid for expert consultations when required. We have navigated checkpoints, closures, and curfews on hundreds of occasions in order to make appearances at the military court near Ramallah when required. And when the military appeals committee finally rejected our challenge in January of 2002, contrary to every foundation of law and democracy that Israel supposedly upholds, we continued to play by the rules and trust in the ultimate victory of right over wrong. We did not resort to “terrorism” or violence of any kind. We resubmitted our case the Israeli Supreme Court, which will hand down a final decision on 5 February 2003.

Our lawyer does not expect the outcome to be in our favor. Why? Because Israel does not play by the rules when it comes to Palestinian land or Palestinian rights. Why? Because the United States of America does not hold its ally accountable for its repeated violations of the law, of human rights, and of moral decency. Why? Because American support of Israel is and has long been unconditional, regardless of the corruption of that alliance or the damage it causes to America’s own ultimate interests in the region and in the world.

Today is Election Day in Israel. You may not be aware that, in advance of every election, settlers take the opportunity to grab as much land as they can and establish “facts on the ground” which cannot or will not be reversed in the event of a new political mandate. Today my husband and his family, along with their lawyer, are out on the land trying to prevent nearby settlers from cutting a new road into the property, property which does not belong to them. The settlers know that they will probably get away with it, if not now then two weeks from now. This is an injustice of monumental proportions and one that no law-abiding person can or should tolerate.

My husband is a good man, a decent man, a hardworking man, a man with simple ambitions. He wants to farm the land of his grandfather and his father in peace. He continues to cling to the conviction that he can win by playing according to the rules. As an American, raised on the concept of fair play, I want to reassure him that this is how it should be. It is up to the American government to ensure that this is how it will be.

Alison Jones-Nassar