“A Chance for Palestinian Women to Be Self-Dependent”

Few people speak more eloquently and passionately about the Abraham Path – or Masar Ibrahim – than Rola Ibrahim Jadallah, or Dr. Rola, as she is known in her community of Arraba.

As a mother of four and an assistant professor of biology at the Arab American University, Dr. Rola has plenty to keep her busy. On top of that, she was recently elected as Arraba’s deputy mayor.

In all these roles, the path means something special to her: “I like the name Ibrahim. It was my father’s name. People with that name have a certain personality. They are leaders and broad thinkers. Ibrahim is the father of prophets.  Because I love this name and I saw how the name affected the personality of my father, I named my son Ibrahim. His personality is different from others. He’s a leader who wants to help others. I am telling him: you are Ibrahim.”

Hospitality is one of the most important values associated with Abraham/Ibrahim, says Dr. Rola. “According to our traditions you must be generous as a host. There is an old saying that states that any guest should be able to stay with you for at least three days without any questions asked.”

As deputy mayor, Dr. Rola welcomed the recent extension of the path to the Jenin region that included Arraba in the Abraham Path. “The path allows us to be connected to the world. It can increase income for local families, and it provides a chance to introduce people into other cultures, to listen to the happiness and sadness of the stories of others. This type of tourism is a chance for Palestinian women to be self-dependent, create their own businesses. I look at the Masar Ibrahim as cultural exchange. Young people are speaking English with visitors and being guides from their own home; you can imagine how that affects their self-confidence.”

The image of the Middle East in the rest of the world is often negative. For Dr. Rola, this is an additional motive to make the project succeed: “We cannot separate our lives from political issues, and at the same time we are not the ones representing politics in the media. So my dream is to divide the issue in two: at the top are the people who make the decisions. But the bottom is the community. The Masar Ibrahim allows for an exchange of ideas between regular people. That will provide the real picture for visitors and those will be your ambassadors. Maybe after some time it will affect the people at the top.”

 

Walking towards the Sun God

On the third and fourth day of our journey on the Abraham Path, we venture into the Tektek Mountains, a curious title for a desert landscape of nomads, desolate temples and ruins of empires long past. But no mountains. Apparently tektek means “particular,” perhaps to signify particularly rocky and hot. We are in the midst of a seven day walk-and-talk journey with seven friends exploring the Abraham Path in southeastern Turkey.

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After the gentle cultivated hills earlier on, this landscape provides for a different walking experience all together. Our group is the first exploring this two-day route, aided by Kurdish guide Fatih and his Arab colleague Hussayn. It is rough and solitary terrain, a moonlike landscape that must be unforgiving in summer for the lack of shade. Today it is sunny and 25 degrees Celsius, pretty warm for the start of winter; we hike in T-shirts and make frequent water stops.

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A few hours later, in the midst of nothingness, the small village of Sogmatar appears, surrounded by pagan temples, mystic wells, caves and the ruins of grand towers. This is the center of Marelahe, the Chief God of the Pagans. It is surrounded by the ruins of seven temples built in worship of the Sun, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury.

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After millennia of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the remnants of these older religions are still visible here.

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There is a beautiful story about Abraham inviting a stranger into his tent for a meal. Ordering the best food to be prepared for his guest Abraham asks the man to pray with him to the One God. The man refuses to do so and then tells Abraham he is a fire worshipper and he does not believe in Abraham’s God. After Abraham sends him away, God speaks to him angrily and says “I have fed this man for his entire life and you refuse to provide him with just one meal?” Abraham then hastily leaves his tent to find his guest and bring him back. Enjoying the meal, the man asks why he changed his mind and Abraham tells him about God’s intervention. The man then answers: “Now that is a God I can believe in.”

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We stroll through a village that is nearly empty. For years, archeological protection has stopped any new construction inside the community; whilst preserving the heritage of Sogmatar it is also gradually depopulating the town: the old buildings are often unfit as living quarters. Climbing on top of the “Holy Hill” that rises above Sogmatar we find Syriac inscriptions of an amazing clarity. I wonder how on this hilltop it has survived centuries of sun, rain and wind.

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We see two rock carvings: one devoted to the moon, the other to the sun. We then ramble around for long enough to see it set in the west.

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That night, we settle down for our first Arab homestay. It is run by the father of our guide Hussayn, Halil Ibrahim. Yet another namesake of Abraham on our path this week. Our large rectangular guest room is modern, fitted with large carpets and a flat screen TV on the wall. Halil Ibrahim puts on a channel with a Turkish movie; none of us speaks the language but we understand courageous policemen to be hunting down evil terrorists. The Turkish version of Homeland. We know that story and decide to play an impromptu quiz about Abraham; two teams of four compete around questions such as “what was the name of Abraham’s father” and “which US President walked the Abraham Path?”. As expected the team with our guide Fatih wins, not entirely fairly given his advantage of touring various groups around this region.

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The following morning we explore a new route connecting Sogmatar to another ancient enclave in the desert, Shuayb City, and then move southwards by car, 15 km from the Syrian border, to walk around the ruins of mythical Harran, just in time for another sunset.

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Here the world of pagan worship that Abraham rebelled against fuses with the order of monotheism. For centuries, the two existed side by side; a place of religious tolerance where one of the world’s first universities was founded. The remains of the minaret of Ulu Cami, the Great Mosque from the early days of Islam, tower above Harran’s ruins. T.E. Lawrence was here in 1909, calling it “the City of Abraham” and mistaking the minaret for a church belfry.

It is from Harran that Abraham starts his long quest, a walk that spans across the entire region to places such as Damascus, Jerusalem, Nablus, Beersheva, Egypt and Mecca. Abraham as the first pilgrim, the first backpacker, the first long-distance walker.

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Photography by Stefan Szepesi, David Landis and Lubna Ghneim

University Exchange on the Path

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A group of 12 walkers took to the Abraham Path this past month on a trip co-organized by Leeds Metropolitan University and the UK Friends of Abraham’s Path. The students, led by Leeds Professor Max Farrar, UK Friends Chair Louise Sibley and longtime Abraham Path trip leader Daniel Adamson, braved the summer heat to walk the Abraham Path; visit places like Bethlehem, Taybeh, Kufr Malek, Jericho, Wadi Auja & Wadi Qelt, Jerusalem, Hebron, and the Negev desert; volunteer at community development projects at both the Tent of Nations and Har Amasa village…and, naturally, indulge in a dip in the Dead Sea.

“If you have the chance to experience the Abraham Path, then I would say DO IT! Having gone to experience the culture, history, people and views in the historic land that Israel and Palestine cover, the trip exceeded my expectations… and I went with high ones!

As Dan mentioned to us we were ‘more than tourists’- we were not being ‘bused’ from place to place- we were walking from point A to point B and, at many times, on the path. The fact that we were walking allowed us glimpses into the intimacies of everyday lives that ordinary tourists would whiz by in a taxi or coach – children playing in the street, farmers herding their goats, women knitting outfits to sell to their friends.

Walking the Abraham Path allows you to really see Palestine and Israel and interact with the people living there. Though it is such a fought-over part of the world, it is now part of my job to spread how welcoming, wonderful and beautiful those areas are.

For now my physical journey on the path may be over, but the experiences and emotions from it will impact me and my own personal path from now on. And I WILL return to walk on the Abraham Path again.” – Matthew

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In April the group rappelled (abseiled) down the side of a building on the Leeds campus in order to raise funds for the community development projects they would visit on their 2-week trip to the region in July. The group will reunite back in the UK later this year for a hike to thank the UK Friends for their sponsorship and, with that hike, try to raise some funds for the next youth group to go.

“Literally a few hours into the journey I was able to experience genuine hospitality for the first time, when I was invited by a local shop owner to have a cup of tea with him and we sat down to talk for a while…Many hospitable encounters would follow along the way and, for me, those unprecedented moments of hospitality towards a stranger; the beautiful, scenic hikes enriched by our guides’ great knowledge of flora, fauna and history of the area; and, of course, the amazing food made this an unforgettable journey along the Abraham Path – a journey that has only just begun.” – Felix

Springtime Walkers and Runners

Gulf for Good Walkers

An international group of change-makers took to the Abraham Path this month for a 9-day walking trip. Our local partners of the Masar Ibrahim al Khalil took them hiking through remote highlands, wadis and deserts where they discovered ancient communities, bronze age ruins, Muslim shrines, cliffside monasteries, and even Palestine’s own microbrewery along the way. They stayed with Abraham Path family homestays and even in a Bedouin camp under the stars as they made their way, village by village, from Nablus to Bethlehem.

This group was just one of many who have been walking the Abraham Path this spring. Start planning your trip and check out the autumn weekly walk schedule for day trips and the schedules for 4-day trips in the northern West Bank and southern West Bank (there are even schedules for next spring!) See the Gulf for Good group’s full itinerary here for some extra inspiration!

I had a fantastic experience. Thank you! I had expected a trek but it was a life changing experience. I learnt a lot.” – Arabella Zane Anani, Abraham Path traveler 


womenrunnersWomen Inspired to Run for the Abraham Path

Joanne Jones and Laura Kardasinski are two travelers inspired by their trip to the Urfa region to run a half marathon on June 23 in Istanbul to support the development of the Abraham Path.
“We decided to pledge the proceeds to Abraham Path after a humbling and deeply moving visit to one of their projects in Eastern Turkey.  The sunny dispositions of the villagers that we met, in the face of adversity, was truly inspirational.”