BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- On a hilltop to the west of Bethlehem a plot of land has become a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness in the face of Israel's settlement policy.
Since 1991, the Nassar family has been locked in a legal battle with the Israeli authorities to hold onto 400 dunams (100 acres) of land that has belonged to them nearly 100 years.
Despite their precarious position, brothers Dawood and Dhahir Nassar claim that they are not suffering.
"Those who love their land and their homeland should stay in it without any complaints, without weeping, grieving and appeals for help," they say. "This is our property in which we live and will remain firm."
The land was first bought in 1916 by their grandfather, Dhahir Nassar, a Christian Palestinian who bought the plot in the last days of the Ottoman empire.
He officially registered the property with the Ottoman authorities, and renewed the registration under the British Mandate, obtaining an ownership deed.
The farmer lived with his wife in a small cave on the land, three by three meters large, in which they had two sons, Nayif and Bisharah.
Despite the harsh living conditions there, the two sons chose not to move to nearby Bethlehem but to remain on the land.
They were able to live off their own produce, and continued to live in caves until their parents passed away.
The two brothers buried their parents on the plot of land, and continued a basic, agricultural lifestyle. Bisharah married, and together with his wife, raised their sons and daughters, including Dawood and Dhahir, on the land.Endless pressure and harassment
In 1991, the Israeli authorities declared thousands of acres of private Palestinian property in southwest Bethlehem to be state property, including the Nassar family's plot.
Local Palestinian residents suddenly found themselves prevented from construction and their agricultural work subject to continual disturbances by both Israeli forces and settlers.
The Nassar family was thrown into a fierce legal battle in a bid to hold onto their land.
They have ownership deeds from both the Ottoman and Mandate periods, but their case has met strong resistance as illegal Israeli settlements -- part of the vast Gush Etzion bloc -- have come to surround their land.
Under the Israeli occupation, the entire landscape around them has been transformed. The main road leading to their land is now blocked.
Dhahir and Nasser continue to live in nearly the same conditions as their grandfather, only with more wells and the use of solar power, but they told Ma'an that they face endless pressure and harassment from the Israeli authorities.
"Whenever we plant a new tree, or plow the land, or install a sunshade to protect us from the head of the sun, they take photos from the air," Dawood says.
An Israeli court ordered the demolition of an old stone shack on the land, although the family was able to successfully appeal the ruling.
Separately, they have received 12 demolition warrants relating to a sunshade, a tent, and a shipping container.
As part of the larger case to hold onto their land, Israel has requested maps marking out their land. Dawood said that they submitted the maps in 2007, but the Israelis claimed they went missing.
He said that this was a means to exert pressure and extra costs on the family, although he added: "As long as the land of my father and grandfather is protected, nothing matters."Building 'bridges of hope'
The brothers say their family has not at all been deterred by Israeli efforts to push them from their land.
International activists regularly visit the family to express solidarity, and the family is eager to build as much international support as possible.
Referring to their land as the "Tent of Nations," they encourage foreign and local activists to live on their farm, saying it is "a way to build bridges between peoples, and to strengthen the bonds between humans and land."
Dawood told Ma'an that his family organizes "educational and cultural gatherings in the field where people from different cultural backgrounds exchange experiences and thoughts seeking to build bridges of hope."
The gatherings, which include summer camps, have been attended by Palestinian and international activists from diverse backgrounds.
Dawood says that when people live under dire conditions they often resort to violence, take on the role of victim, or attempt to ignore the problem.
However, he says that the Nassar family has instead "organized a positive nonviolent initiative whose goal is to turn all the negative energy into a positive and useful reaction."
The family sells fruit and vegetables in an attempt to cover their costs and maintain their land, and their children attend schools and universities in Bethlehem.
However, they return on weekends to help farm the land.
"Our children love this land the same as we do," says Dawood.Translated by Abdul-Hakim Salah.