At the height of the first intifada (uprising) in 1989, Nader Abu Amsha and a group of friends brainstormed how to help those who had been injured reenter society. The result was a voluntary initiative established at the YMCA in Beit Sahour to help rehabilitate young people. MCC has partnered with this project, which grew into the YMCA Rehabilitation Program, since 1990. Nader is the current Director of the East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program and the Director of the Beit Sahour YMCA.
“The view, this kind of open view is good for your soul, your vision, your imagination, your life.” Nader Abu Amsha speaks about the Cremisan valley with a deep reverence, and a great sadness, “Open space- green space- is shrinking.”
The Cremisan valley is divided between fifty-eight, mostly Christian, Palestinian families, a Monastery, and a Convent with a school for many local Palestinian children from the nearby town, Beit Jala. Currently, about 3,500 dunams of this open, green land is under threat of being seized by Israel through the expansion of the Israeli separation wall.
Nader’s family owns a 7,000 square meter plot of land that they have cultivated for six generations. It is currently co-owned by Nader, his brothers and sisters, and their cousins. They hope to be able to pass the land onto the next generation. Each year the family harvests the olives from their trees in order to both use and sell the fruits and the oil that they produce. The income is important to the family, undoubtedly, but Nader stresses that the land means much more to them than purely a financial benefit.
Nader fondly remembers working on the land as a child, harvesting not only olives, but also grapes and apricots. He highlights the emotional and spiritual importance of spending time cultivating the land. He reminisces about the community and the heritage that existed in the Cremisan valley, recounting his participation in football (soccer) teams there as a young boy. He remembers stories of family working the soil together and the creative ways that the community irrigated their crops from a nearby spring.
These memories stem from a time when his family had full access to the land; before all Palestinians in the valley were not allowed to build roads or residences, or bring in machines for cultivation and harvesting. The spring that for generations had watered Cremisan valley soil has been blocked. Palestinians cannot use it to cultivate their fields. The 1967 annexation of land for the extension of the Municipality of Jerusalem by Israel and building the colony of Gilo on Beit Jala land created rules and restrictions on building within the new borders. These restrictions have kept Palestinians from manageable access to their land, which makes the land susceptible to being grabbed by Israel. If the wall is built on its current path, it will further separate the people from their land.
The threat of the separation wall through the Cremisan valley has loomed over its residents for over nine years. Many Christian leaders, from local pastors and bishops, to international faith leaders, including the Vatican, have denounced the construction of the wall through this land.
Nader’s family has deeds showing their ownership of the land from the Ottoman, British, and even the Israeli legal systems. This proof of land ownership from Nader’s family, and from many of the other families in the region, may not be enough to stop the wall from being built, nor from having restricted access to the land. Nader knows that his is one of thousands of cases like this in Palestine. For Palestinians, one of the biggest consequences of Israel’s occupation has been, for decades, being removed from land, while simultaneously seeing the development of many Israeli settlements on that land.
The impending loss of this land by the extension of the Israeli security wall is painful for Nader. The beauty of nature, the history of generations, the connection to deep childhood memories, are all powerful motives to resist the wall’s construction. Nader’s passionate yet gentle resolve is tangible. He will continue to resist the loss of his land via the courts, and also through non-violent demonstrations that occur in the Beit Jala/Cremisan valley area every Sunday.
Nader believes that if this land is lost, it will be a real collapse of the legal system and of the morals of people. He is not ready to give up on this vital and sustaining piece of his life. “I won’t surrender… I will continue defending my land until the last day of my life. Even if the wall is built, I will keep defending it.”