The demolition of the trees led to an outcry in Christian communities around the world.
Here is what really happened.
On May 11 2014 Nassar received an order from the Israeli authorities to stop cultivating the orchards. The order stated that the orchards were on ‘state land’ and that cultivating the land was forbidden by law. The authorities ordered the removal of the trees. The plots in question are situated in a valley hundreds of meters away from Nassar’s farm.
COGAT- the Israeli body responsible for civil administration in the parts of the West Bank under Israel’s responsibility (called C-areas) – maintains that Nassar is not the owner of the valley, but that it is ‘state land’. Nassar disputes this assertion and claims he has ownership papers dating back to the Ottoman period which were later recognized by the British authorities.
Following the removal of the trees, Daoud Nasser placed the following message on the Facebook page of The Tent of Nations:
This is an information from our Attorney Mr. Sani Khoury.
Destruction of Trees
The Nassar Family has been in a legal battle to protect its land and trees for many years.
A short while ago the Military Authorities placed a warning on the land of the Nassar Family declaring that the trees were planted on “State Land” and therefore constituted a trespass and should… be “evacuated” ! On 12.5.2014 the Nassar Family filed an appeal with the Military Court against the order and clarified that the land was not State Land and that the trees were planted on the family land. Furthermore they clarified that the Supreme Court had declared that the Nassar Family should continue with the “re-registration” process of their land. The Nassar Family has being trying to complete the process for years – however the Israel Military Land Registrar has been delaying the process endlessly without any explanation.
According to the law no demolition or evacuation is allowed once an appeal is filed and until a final verdict. In spite of the fact that an appeal was filed on 12.5.2014, and no verdict has been issued the Military Authorities rushed to destroy the land and uproot all of the trees on 19.5.2014 !
This action is illegal even according to the draconian military laws in place. The Nassar Family have been advised to file a case demanding compensation for the illegal actions of the Military Authorities.
We decided to research this matter, and visited the farm of Nassar where we talked with his brother, Daher, and Benjamin Baars, a Dutch volunteer who worked for Nasser three months earlier and returned to Israel after he heard about the removal of Nassar’s trees.
We also spoke with COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) and consulted an expert on the domestic law.
According to Daher, the dispute over the land of the Nassar family has been running since 1992 when, he claims, Israel declared all the land of the Nassars to be ‘state land’.
Actually, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the dispute began a year earlier:
The grandfather of Nassar, a Lebanese Christian, bought the land ( a hill top) on which the farm is located in 1916. Nassar is in possession of ownership deeds which date back to 1920 and also have been certified by COGAT. In 1991, however, about half of the land of the Nassars was designated as ‘state land’. The family then appealed to the Appeal Committee of the military court in the West Bank. In 2002 the appeal was rejected.
This was followed by an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court. According to Daoud, the Supreme Court ultimately determined that he could re-register the land, this time under Israeli law.
This dispute however was not about the valley where the trees were planted.
About the current dispute COGAT reported that in a proceeding before the Appeals Committee, which came to an end in 2012, the Tent of Nations failed to establish its ownership. COGAT wrote:
The December 2012 decision states clearly that the encroachers did not succeed in proving their claims of ownership in the Appeals Committee and therefore their petition was rejected, making it possible to remove the trees. As noted, this plot is designated public land.
Nassar claims that the Israeli judges refused to recognize his ownership papers of because they said that the land has been given to the Jews by God. In fact, the judges made no such reference in their decision. The argument was used in 2002 by some of his Jewish neighbors during a dispute about a road next to his farm
Some remarks can be made about the land purchased by Nassar’s grandfather during the Ottoman period.
First, after 1967 Israel continued to apply Ottoman law to the Arab Palestinians in the West Bank, in accordance with the so-called Hague Regulations of 1907. Secondly, Ottoman law distinguished between different types of land. One is mulk – this is private land, which it is not necessary to cultivate in order to retain ownership.
The other type of land under Ottoman law is so-called miri land – state-owned land to which individuals can obtain limited rights through continued cultivation. Both Nassar and the media that wrote about him, refer to Nassar’s cultivation of the orchards as proof of ownership. This could indicate that it is a matter of miri land at best. (Survey of Palestine, vol. 1 page 225-226). The limited rights to this land (a kind of lease) expire when it is no longer cultivated.
Nassar claims that he planted the trees 15 years ago. Aerial photographs, however, indicate that the valley was not cultivated until 2007. Images from 1990, 1999 and 2004 (see below) show the land was not cultivated at these times. This helps explain why the Appeals Committee ruled the way it did.
Facts on the ground
Daoud Nassar asserts that COGAT had no legal right to remove the trees because his lawyer had appealed on 12th May against the order to cease cultivating the orchards.
As a matter of fact it appeared a week earlier that COGAT could be legally entitled to execute such an order even if the owner has taken legal proceedings against the order. This was the case of the demolition of illegally built homes in the Ma’aleh Rehavam outpost in Gush Etzion. The Jewish owners of these houses appealed against the demolition order of COGAT, and presented the Israeli Supreme Court ‘purchase-deeds’ which were meant to prove their ownership rights. However, the Legal Adviser of COGAT gave permission to execute the demolition order despite the appeal.
Disputes over land and illegal building or planting on ‘state land’ are not a new phenomenon in Gush Etzion and elsewhere on the West Bank. In fact, through the creation of facts on the ground, people continually try to change the status quo in the area. The scale of the problem is best visible in the Arab part of Jerusalem, where more than 50% of the houses have been built illegally.
Illegal construction and cultivation of land is carried out both by Palestinians and their supporters as well as by Jewish groups. As a result both groups face demolition- and stop orders.
Earlier this became apparent when the organization Women in Green started to plant trees in Gush Etzion on ‘state land’. The organization decided to do this in response to the actions of Palestinians who began to cultivate land in Gush Etzion everywhere in the area that, according to the Oslo agreement, is under Israeli Administration (so-called
C-area). Also here COGAT put an end to the illegal planting.
The claims of Nassar and his supporters that the trees were removed to make room for the expansion of the neighboring Jewish settlements Neve Daniel and Betar Illit is entirely untrue. The Nassar’s orchards are situated in a valley on the northwest side of the hill where he has his farm. That valley is adjacent to an Arab village and is a considerable distance away from the nearest settlement of Neve Daniel. For years already the expansion of settlements in Gush Etzion is only allowed within existing municipal boundaries.
Furthermore Nassar claimed that Israel destroyed 1500 fruit trees but the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds and POICA a pro-Palestinian NGO reported that 300 trees were uprooted. This number is supported by the aerial photographs of the area.
Missing Peace has previously reported about The Tent of Nations. The project of Nassar suggests that he seeks co-existence and peace. In reality, he has made no attempt whatsoever to achieve co-existence with his Jewish neighbors, and he contributes to the disinformation campaign that aims to demonize Israel.
On The website of The Tent of Nations Nassar wrote that Israel ‘every day confiscates land to build new settlements or to expand existing settlements.’ That is a downright lie.
Furthermore he presents the lack of running water and electricity on his farm as a means of repression that Israel uses against him. Few will know that in Israel illegal buildings and buildings that do not meet the construction requirements may not be connected to public welfare facilities. It is only when a so-called tofes-4 (a special form) is issued, that a building can be connected to water and electricity. This form is proof that the building is legal and fulfils the building requirements. Nassar did not get a tofes-4 for his project (The Tent of Nations) because it was constructed without a building permit.
Daoud also previously did not tell the whole truth about demolition orders he had received for illegal structures on his farm. In the current case he held back information too.
Missing Peace questioned Nasser per e-mail about the procedures at the Court and about his ownership deeds. However, he did not respond.
Actually The Tent of Nations is a family enterprise fully funded by donations from Christian communities abroad, Benjamin Baars told.
Nasser leaves the actual work on the farm to foreign volunteers. A significant portion of his time he himself travels abroad to raise funds and to give lectures. One of his statements is: “The most effective way to achieve peace is to meet people personally”.
Despite these words, Daoud Nassar has not attempted to establish ties with the large Jewish community of Gush Etzion. He mentioned earlier during an interview with us that he knew nothing about the many places in the area where Jews and Arabs give real substance to daily co-existence, as this video shows:
CAMERA contributed to this report