There is a disturbing phenomenon afoot, and it is the growing number of Christians who believe the often times vitriolic anti-Israel propaganda which has become so common in our day.
That is not to say that Israel is never at fault. Israel is in many ways a nation like any other: a patriotic official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once told me “I think we get it right 70 percent of the time.”
Nor is it to say that believing such propaganda makes one anti-Semitic by default.
But it does mean that, very sadly, more and more Christians are partaking of what I have called the Israeli/Palestinian conflict syndrome, a syndrome characterized by people feeling entitled to have very strong opinions and feelings on a conflict they know exceptionally little about, and for which historical context and complexities are so crucial to understand. The result is too often taking headlines and ginned up stories far more seriously than they deserve, and the unjust de-legitimization of the one and only Jewish state.
There is perhaps no better recent example of this phenomenon rearing its ugly head in Christian circles than in the case of the Palestinian Christian farmer, Daoud Nasser. Daoud owns a parcel of land in the West Bank, south of Bethlehem, that Israel declared state land in the early 1990’s. The land has been in his family since the days of World War I. He has been in litigation ever since then in order to keep it, and has dubbed the parcel the “Tent of Nations,” a place where “people build bridges.” It has since become a regular tourist attraction for a number of Christian groups, particularly those funded by George Soros and other left-wing interest groups.
By way of preliminaries, it is important to note that, on the surface, Daoud is doing some good things: he runs children’s camps, and in many ways exhibits an outwardly congenial and benevolent personality, all of which I saw with my own eyes.
However, based on the research I have done, including visiting the land and interviewing Daoud himself, his claims are simply untenable, and the way in which the “Tent of Nations” has been used to delegitimize Israel is entirely unjustified.
Not all deeds are the same
First, Daoud claims that the land is his because he has a “deed” to it. This is true, he does have a deed. But there is an extremely important caveat: not all deeds are the same. Just because someone has a deed does not mean they own a piece of property outright. In American law, there are many types of estates that can be transferred by a deed, and only one of them vests full and absolute ownership in the person to whom the deed is conveyed.
Daoud’s family obtained a deed to the land in the early 20th century under the Ottoman Empire. The details of all the legalities can be reduced to this: Ottoman law had five categories of land ownership. Those that are of relevance to this case are mulk and miri. Mulk land was full private ownership (full title), what in American law is called a “fee simple absolute.” Miri land, on the other hand, was only partial title. Under a miri deed, title remained with the Sultan/state, who had the right to reclaim the land if it was not cultivated for any three-year period. The idea behind miri land was that the government wanted it to remain cultivated and productive, and thereby provide tax revenue. If it wasn’t used accordingly, the government would reclaim the land, and auction it off to someone else who would make it productive.
So what kind of deed did Daoud’s family obtain? According to a very pro-Daoud BBC article, he obtained a miri deed. The article never stated this, but they included a picture of one of the original deeds, and sure enough, it was classified not as mulk (full private ownership), but as miri, which is only partial (and revocable) ownership.
Thus, under their miri deed, Daoud’s family never had full title to the land, and the government had every right to reclaim it if it was not cultivated for any three year period. As it turns out, Daoud’s land was not cultivated for a number of years (far more than three), which is proven by numerous satellite photos taken in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s.
Therefore, Israel, as the state in effective control of the West Bank after the Six Day War of 1967, and applying the law under which the deed was originally conveyed and was applied by both the British and Jordanian occupiers of the West Bank prior to 1967, had the right under the terms of the deed and according to the legal property interests it conveyed to reclaim the land as “state land.”
Near Daoud’s land, there is a famous Israeli “settlement” named Efrat. I visited with one of its residents, who showed me a sizeable piece of land that divided two portions of the settlement. It was beautiful, and contained a gorgeous and fruitful vineyard. Sure enough, this land belonged to a Palestinian, and though it would be ideal for the further expansion of Efrat, the Israeli government, and the residents of Efrat themselves, do not touch it. In fact, relations between the Palestinian and his Israeli neighbors are good. The reason for this is simple: the Palestinian farmer has proven that he in fact does own the land, a fact which, as happens frequently in a part of the world that has been slow to adopt a uniform and written form of land registration, can be quite difficult to prove.
Who is Daoud calling ‘evil occupier’?
Second, Daoud claims that he is being oppressed by the evil occupier Israel, and that he simply wants Israel to see him as a human being. He frequently appeals to Evangelical Christians, claiming that despite being oppressed, he loves his enemy anyway. This all sounds quite noble until one actually digs into the facts.
Does an evil occupier go through nearly 25 years of litigation in order to get a piece of land, or do they simply take it? Does an evil occupier allow a case by those they occupy to go to their nation’s Supreme Court? Does an evil occupier allow the occupied, against the greater weight of the evidence, to re-register their land under Israeli law (as Israel has now done for Daoud), and thus better secure the rights of a Palestinian farmer to that land? Such was the conduct of the “evil occupier” in this case.
Since the land has not been surveyed in more than five years, Daoud has to have one done in order to re-register it, a process that will cost him approximately $10,000. But land surveys are expensive everywhere, including the United States. So Daoud can hardly claim that the expense of the land survey, or the fact that it is required, is unique to Israel, or the result of the “occupation.” This is a normal feature of property law in every civilized portion of the globe.
Daoud frequently points to the fact that the Israeli Army bulldozed approximately 1,500 trees on “his” land a few years ago. Again, the problem with this claim is not that it is false, but that it has been disingenuously de-contextualized: this land was in dispute, and it was going through litigation. Israel declared it state land, and the matter was being resolved, and as it turns out, it was never Daoud’s land to do with as he wished from the very beginning (per his deed). Daoud planted on it anyway. Israel has engaged in the exact same actions when it came to illegally built Jewish settlements, outposts, and other buildings in the West Bank which lacked the proper permits. An example is the Migron settlement in 2012, in which Israel expelled hundreds of “settlers” who had illegally built on private Palestinian land.
At the same time, if Daoud were to sell his land to Israel, or give it up in any way, he would likely be in the crosshairs of the Palestinian Authority, which has made it illegal, under penalty of death, to sell or transfer “Palestinian land” to Israel, or to any Jew whatsoever.
Which, for both Daoud himself, and those Christians who naively and without any critical eye whatsoever accept such anti-Israel propaganda at face value, begs the question: who is it that actually sees Daoud as less than a human being — Israel, or his own fellow Palestinians?