Since then, Israel has vastly expanded the kibbutz's pre-1948 holdings by seizing agricultural land from long-settled Palestinians and turning it over to Jewish settlers, a practice replicated across the West Bank.
Most West Bank Palestinian families lack formal land titles. In theory, Israeli law allows them to keep rural land acquired without title before 1967 as long as they keep it cultivated. In practice, Israeli and Palestinian lawyers say, titled and cultivated land is often seized.
"The burden of proof is always on the Palestinians," said Sani Khoury, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian lawyer who handles land holders' appeals. "The other team makes the rules."
Palestinians often learn they are being dispossessed when Israeli bulldozer crews with military orders and police escorts start clearing the land in question, the lawyers say. By then it is too late for legal recourse.
Parcel by parcel, Israel is taking control of farms, pastures and underground water sources to expand the Gush Etzion settlements for a growing population that now totals more than 55,000. According to Taayush, a Tel Aviv-based organization that advocates Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, the region's 20,000 Palestinian residents have lost at least one-fifth of their land to the settlements, which sprawl closer to their homes by the day.
If Israeli planners get their way, the Nassar property, eight nearby farming villages and the 10 Jewish settlements in their midst will end up on the Israeli side of the barrier being erected between Israel and the West Bank, making them a de facto part of the Jewish state. Israeli leaders want to annex the enclave formally under any peace accord that would yield the bulk of the West Bank to an independent Palestinian state.
That would enclose the Nassars and the villagers in a mostly Jewish enclave, cutting them off from Bethlehem, the West Bank city that sustains them.
"They would be severed from their places of work and education, their medical services, their extended families and, indeed, the rest of Palestine," said Ghiath Nasser, a lawyer who is challenging the planned barrier route on behalf of the Palestinian villages. "I don't believe that these small communities could survive for long."
Showing a visitor around his property -- a scattering of vineyards, orchards, livestock and cave dwellings around a low cinder-block house -- Daoud Nassar recalls the sinking feeling, on his first day in court, that he was about to lose it all.
In 1991, the Israeli military committee had ordered three-fourths of the farm taken by the state, claiming it was neither privately owned nor actively cultivated. The family went to court to challenge the order with land ownership papers dated and stamped 1924. But the military judge rejected the challenge, ruling the hand-drawn map inadmissible as evidence.
The ownership papers had been honored by Turkish, British and Jordanian rulers who came and went. And until the 1991 order, there had been no hint of trouble with the new Jewish overlords.
"I had nothing against the Israelis as a people, but to see them coming from other countries and trying to take this land, which we had owned for generations, it really frustrated us," said Nassar, who was a 21-year-old undergraduate at Bethlehem University when the case went to court. "What else did we need, a document from God?"
Nassar, who has since married and fathered three children, sprinkles his conversation with biblical citations. He speaks with the upbeat certitude of someone who, not unlike the Jewish settlers, views his land battle as a matter of religious faith.
"There is a goal behind why we are here," he said, explaining what he accepts as a Christian calling: While mounting a legal defense, he has plowed his frustration over judicial setbacks and delays into a project that uses the farm as a center for nonviolent activism.
With help from volunteers in Germany, where he did postgraduate studies in accounting, Nassar and his wife, Jihan, have started a summer camp called Tent of Nations, where children 12 to 16 years old, from war-torn countries, are invited to come learn about cross-cultural understanding and reconciliation. They also play host to visiting peace groups.
"We have to move out of this circle of blaming others," Nassar said over tea on his wide porch as a large group of European peaceniks unloaded camping gear from a bus. "Frustration is a power. It can prompt us to react violently, or to despair. We need to invest it creatively, building something, even if it is small."
The Nassars returned to military court with a new survey map and scores of witnesses to back their land claim. The case languished until 2002, when the judge, without explanation, ruled against the family.
Few Palestinians have the money, will, know-how or faith in Israeli justice to challenge land takeovers in court, much less to appeal the military courts' routinely unfavorable rulings. But Nassar tapped his family's modest wealth and a peace-activist network that includes interfaith organizations in Europe and the United States, the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights and his own Lutheran congregation in Bethlehem.