Reflections on a journey in the Middle East

Organised by Leeds Met University and UK Friends of Abraham Path

By Max, Matthew, Felix, Nathalia & Noushin

Photos courtesy of Max Farrar

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Max Farrar, Board member of UK Friends of Abraham’s Path, writes:

Leeds Metropolitan University linked up with what was then called the Abraham Path Initiative back in 2007. The Vice Chancellor at that time, Professor Simon Lee, could immediately see how important this project was. I was Head of the Community Partnerships and Volunteering office at Leeds Met. Simon suggested we took a party of our students to help develop the Path in north Jordan. This was to be one of our ‘international volunteering’ projects, enhanced by joining with a party of students from Yarmouk University in north Jordan. In June 2008 seven Leeds Met students, the Yarmouk students and me worked with the API team on road-and-home stay-testing the path in the Al Ajloun region. It was a life-changing experience for us all.

As a result, with help from Daniel Adamson, the British member of the API staff in Jordan, I started the process of forming the UK Friends of Abraham’s Path. I retired from Leeds Met in 2009 but the university wanted to continue its international volunteering in the Middle East. So the UK Friends partnered up with my old office, now run by Chloe Hudson, and we developed, with great input from Daniel, a trip to Israel and Palestine, which duly took place in the summer of 2013.  We learnt a lot from the students’ responses to the 2013 trip (some of them appear below) and a different version of that experience is happening in the summer of 2014.

 

Matthew :

The sheer amount and impact of what I learnt and experienced in those short two weeks will stay with me forever. From the highs of the breath-taking scenery of Abraham’s Path to the lows of a refugee camp created a trip of a lifetime for me. Having been lucky enough to go on a number of other volunteering trips, even I was surprised at how emotional, complicated and deep the trip was for me.

Two immediate and practical outcomes: I have cut down the time I spend in the shower knowing of the dire water shortages on the Palestinian side; and I talk about the beauty and safety of the region we hiked, travelled, home-stayed and laughed in.

My aim from now on be able to confidently answer back to the shocked faces and stern enquires of ‘Why the hell are you off there?!’when I told the bank manager, friends and colleagues that I was off to Israel and Palestine for two weeks. It is a place of historical importance, beauty, culture, entrenched politics, the centre of the three Abraham religions and key to the future as we all know of the efforts that have gone into securing peace in the Middle East. The people are so friendly which I am especially happy to report due to the fact most will have either lived in fear or oppression all their lives.

I have learnt that hope is an immensely powerful emotion – one that people spend their entire lives living by and, for some, justifies their very existence to HOPE for a solution and for the Palestinians at least the hope to, one day, return to their homes. The state of Israel was formed by the hope of the Jewish people for somewhere to finally call home and somewhere safe for them in the Land they believed was promised to them by God. I will never use the word ‘hope’lightly anymore or lessen its use in future.

I’ve learnt that no peace can come without justice too. How can there be a two state solution when there are Palestinians who have no access to water or electricity? Those basic needs were always in my head even in the relaxing times on the beach in Tel Aviv and in the historic city of Jericho. I almost could not stomach the Herculean admiration and awe for an ancient water cistern hand-carved in the rocks beneath the ground on the Israeli side, as we knew they were still building and using them to collect rain water on the Palestinian villages and farms scattered across the land. It was either ignorance or the human emotion of simply forgetting, especially in this case, that made me feel so ill. It will be extremely difficult to find a solution due to the politics and views that are entrenched from birth about the opposing sides.

If only the path to a solution and true peace was as beautiful, thought-provoking and inspirational as Abraham’s Path itself we would be in a much better position.

 

Felix :

One thing that I definitely got to appreciate a lot more after having seen all the injustice, segregation and deprived living conditions in general of the Palestinians, is that we in Western Europe have real democracies, with fair and (politically) independent jurisdiction.

I experienced injustice. I also experienced hope.

I remember Hamsah (a guide) saying that he was still full of hope for the return to his family’s house/land one day. And if not him, then maybe his children or grandchildren…this hope I find is good and inspiring although it might hold worrying potential in the future. This hope is what keeps them going: alive, calm and mostly peaceful – for now I’d say. But what happens with future generations who will get more and more detached from the original conflict?

It is truly admirable that people like Hamsah or Amal (from the Tent of Nations) can still be so positive and are able to transform negative feelings into something that can actually have a great positive impact on their local communities but also inspire visitors like us with their great attitude!

I’ve also learned that it is difficult to talk about this conflict with many Israelis. There are a lot of very open people and those against what their government does, but I feel it is a topic where the general rule is “Don’t ask them about it.”

Other things I learned: how perfectly safe it is to travel and be in the West Bank (at least with a good guide like Dan). I never thought the food would be so amazing….I’ve never experienced such hospitality towards total strangers! That moment of being invited to a cup of tea on my first night definitely was a key moment.

I felt very welcome in the West Bank and liked the overall atmosphere and environment the people create with their mentality.

It was also great seeing what kind of skills Muhanned (another guide) has with regard to our senses. He smelt a cadaver ten minutes before we got there; he knocked out that scorpion; he made tea and made a fire with a few stones and wood he collected on the way. If there was to be any big catastrophe he would definitely know how to survive and feed his family. We’re already starting to be useless and feel helpless if we don’t have our phones or the internet around all the time.

 

Nathalia:

First of all I would like to say that I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity. I have learned so much about the conflict in Israel-Palestine, and we were welcomed by lovely people everywhere we visited. The experience that we’ve had is beyond what anyone could learn from an academic course and also beyond the news headlines. I was very touched by the stories we heard and I have great admiration for the resistance and strength of the Palestinians despite the oppression imposed by the Israelis. Unfortunately, when we visited Israel I didn’t feel that the Israelis had much compassion for the Palestinians and they seemed to be unaffected by the conflict, but it was important that we visited both sides.

I will continue to share what I have learned with my colleagues, friends, family and hopefully raise awareness of the conflict. The experience has also made me appreciate having running water, electricity and overall freedom of movement. I now feel that I have a strong connection with the areas we visited and I would love to go back and help the people who are affected by the conflict in any possible way.

 

Noushin:

It has been an amazing journey and a life changing experience. Over a small period of time I felt I was fairly educated about the conflict and the situation on both sides which was one of my main objectives. It was physically and mentally challenging but I believe the amount of time, effort and research put behind each activity really facilitated us and made it such a joyful experience.

We worked with the communities on the ground  and had dialogues across the borders. This was a great sense of achievement as we felt that we contributed to making a differences by reducing the barriers and bridging the gaps in a most divided community. We worked with people with such positivity and spirits who taught us that in spite of suffering , injustice and oppression their determination to do good has only become stronger and stronger.

It was wonderful to know that in spite of on-going struggle a large number of organisations are striving  so hard to promote non-violent resistance and bridge the gap between Palestine and Israel.

We have had some of the most amazing memories to take away such as playing with children at refugee camp; visiting Batir; the home-stay in Kufr Malek and the Palestinian wedding; the visit to the Dome of the Rock and the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

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