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Painting Landscapes along the Abraham Path (gallery)

Last month, art students from Bethlehem visited the Bedouin community of Reshayda in order to paint landscapes from key spots along the Abraham Path. It was a diverse group, with participants  from bigger cities as well as smaller villages and in a lot of cases it was their first opportunity to spend time in nature and interact with the local Bedouin community. “It was the first time I went to the desert. I didn’t imagine that I would like it so much. I learned so much about the Bedouin culture and I had a chance to compare it with ours. My artwork is about two children I met there. Thanks to them, I discovered a new place and got to know people from my country who are living very close to us and yet according to us in an inaccessible place,” commented Manal Awwad from Beit Jala.

The completed paintings were displayed at an art exhibition at their school, The Dar Al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, where the audience could appreciate the artwork as well as learn about students’ interactions with the local community and nature. The soaring views of the Dead Sea and the stories they heard clearly provided plenty of inspiration to create a wonderful exhibit. We have collected the paintings in this gallery, and we hope you enjoy the works.

Abraham Path Initiative Receives World Bank Grant

$2.3 Million Grant Bolsters Economic Development on the Abraham Path in the West Bank

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Autumn 2014 has seen a bustle of new activities popping up along the Abraham Path between Jenin and Hebron. Girl and boy scout trail clean-up events, university photography competitions, guided weekly walks, homestay trainings, trail analysis thru-hikes, and educational meetings with Palestinian municipalities are just a few examples of the hive of activity that is energizing the path.

These activities are largely possible thanks to a two-year, $2.3 million grant from the World Bank State and Peacebuilding Fund for a project entitled “Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim: Economic Development Across Fragile Communities.” The Abraham Path Initiative and Palestinian partner organizations will utilize the funds to engage more communities, bring more walkers, and increase job creation and income generation on the path, especially for women and youth.

“This investment by the World Bank allows one of the most innovative social change projects in the Middle East to grow to scale,” commented Stefan Szepesi, Executive Director of the Abraham Path Initiative.

The main elements of the grant include:

  • Investment in People and Institutions, including a comprehensive one-year guide training program by Bethlehem University and capacity building for local partner organizations
  • Path Development, including increasing trail distance in the north and south and improving maps and other practical hiker materials
  • Marketing, Business Development, and Communication, including outreach to tour operators, profiles on points of interest, and production of marketing materials
  • Action Research, including the publication of 10 research papers which analyze the impact of the Abraham Path and capture lessons about job creation through trail development

API partners with Masar Ibrahim al Khalil, a Palestinian nonprofit developing the path in the West Bank that is comprised of a union with the Rozana Association, the Siraj CenterPalestine Wildlife Society and Bethlehem University Institute for Community Partnership.

For more information on the World Bank grant, see www.worldbank.abrahampath.org. Follow our progress on social media!

 

Photo Credits: Sumaya Agha/API

In the Footsteps of Ibrahim/Abraham

By William Ury

Today is our last full day of walking to Hebron — al Khalil — the City of the Friend. After eleven days for many of us, four days for others of us, we are arriving…

We rose early, had breakfast prepared by our hosts Mohammed and Ibrahim, and set out with blue skies and the bright sun to climb the last stretch up to the distant hill line where the village of Beni Naim sits. It is steep but we set our backs to it. After an hour, we see our first destination in the distance, a simple ancient brown building set off from the village and commanding the heights. It is the maqam of Ibrahim, the place where Abraham is believed to have witnessed from afar the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah far below in the Jordan River valley. It is the perfect destination for a pilgrimage — simple and beautiful. The view from the top is breathtaking — looking over the rolling spring green hills down to the desert wadis — valleys — all the way to the lowest point on earth — the Dead Sea — and in the distance faintly the mountains of Jordan — of biblical Moab and Edom.

As we stand outside the shrine, taking in the views, George Rishawi, our friend, colleague, and guide, explains to us that this village is the first place on the Masar (the path) where he heard the words: “We have been waiting for you.” Beni Naim is indeed the place of Ibrahim, a beautiful bead on the necklace of Abrahamic sites that stretches from Mesopotamia to Hebron and, eventually, onto Mecca. George also explains how Abraham was known as a peacemaker among the four Canaanite kingdoms that constituted ancient Hebron — and it was for this work that they willingly agreed to his request to buy an ancient cave in which to bury his beloved Sarah.

I feel deeply moved, recalling the ancient story of how, as the Bible describes, Abraham negotiates with God, challenging him about the justice of the destruction. “If I can find fifty good people, would you still destroy it?” “What about forty-five?” And so on, until the number is ten. Sadly, Abraham cannot find even ten. So I can imagine what a heavy heart, filled with compassion, he must have had as he witnessed the destruction. A human being negotiating with the most powerful on behalf of human life — this may be the earliest such story in the ancient scriptures. To challenge the all mighty might normally mean risking death and worse but Abraham is the friend, after all. And in my book, this story makes him the father of human rights and the father of negotiation. And in this time, in this place, where there is so much conflict and injustice, what more important values to invoke and walk into life than the values of Abraham — of justice and peace, of human rights and negotiation?

The maqam, mentioned in old pilgrims accounts from a thousand years ago, could not be simpler. There is no one but us to visit. Inside there is a little enclosed section with a piece of rock with two footprints, two handprints, and the print of a forehead — the place where Abraham is believed to have prostrated himself. It is a place of humility and awe.

From the maqam, we set out for Hebron along such a lovely little valley with blossoming almond trees, olive trees, oak trees, stone fences, the green fields of spring, flocks of sheep, and ancient ruins and caves where people once lived…. We had a picnic lunch under an old oak tree, reminding us of course of Abraham and how he sat under a spreading oak and received the three divine visitors with such hospitality, washing their feet. We looked for acorns, which have become the symbol of the Masar Ibrahim, Abraham’s Path and found a few at last that had been eaten by the goats.

After lunch, we walk into the town another hour or two, reaching the city streets. George leads us to a place where we take in the vista of the old city and its ancient stone buildings nestled in between four hills. Prominently standing out is our destination — the ancient tomb of Abraham/Ibrahim and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob and Leah, encircled by huge stone walls erected two thousand years ago.

As we wait outside the Tomb for a service to end, a large group of young school girls emerges, smiling and asking questions of us, practicing their English. Not long after we find ourselves inside the Tomb, a place of awe, honoring its three generations of men and women. It is an ancient tradition that here in the cave below lies the entrance to the Garden of Eden. Adam discovered it by its sweet fragrance and here he buried Eve. Generations later, the story is repeated with Abraham and Sarah. And then when Abraham is laid to rest here, his sons Ishmael and Isaac come together, a hint of the potential for reconciliation.

May it be so! And may the travelers and pilgrims who follow this ancient path each contribute to the remembrance of common humanity, to the urgent need for justice and peace, each in their own small way! Step by step….. may we all get there!