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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

“We Are More than Brothers”

 

“We have been friends since the day our mothers gave birth to us. We are more than brothers.” Habib and his cousin Anwar have spent their entire lives adventuring together; recently, many of those adventures have taken place along the Abraham Path.

Both from the village of Duma, Habib and Anwar learned the trails in their region by following their fathers through the mountains to collect wild honey. “We were very young. I was about seven years old when I used to follow my father on the donkey as he and Anwar’s father would track the bees to their hives,” remembers Habib. More than forty years later, Habib and Anwar still wander the trails of Duma and the surrounding areas in search of wild honey, carrying on their fathers’ longstanding traditions.

Their wanderings also reflect another aspect of their heritage, though: the commitment to warm hospitality and friendliness. Habib and Anwar can’t remember a time when their grandparents treated a new visitor as unwelcome or a stranger.  “The Roma people used to come through Duma, and they would set up tents here,” they recall.  “All the families in the village would take turns cooking and offering them food as guests in their land.”

Today, the two cousins love to welcome visitors to their land much as their grandparents did.  Like the villagers of previous generations, Habib and Anwar often share food, water, and their special herbal tea with hikers.  They’ve also discovered that taking these newcomers to some of their favorite places in the region is a wonderful way to introduce them to the land and to make them feel welcome.  One of these special places is called Fasayel; it’s a place both men hold very dear.  “We like to take people to Fasayel because it is a place that quiets the heart,” Anwar says.  “When I feel burdened by life, I go to Fasayel and sit on a rock, make tea, and give the mountain all my troubles.”

Many visitors have enjoyed walking with the knowledgeable men; and through their experiences, the two are slowly learning how best to utilize their combination of skills in order to function as an effective guiding team.  “Habib is an expert on all the natural habitats, and he’s good at discovering alternative routes.  I can speak English.  So when people come, Habib gives the explanation of things and I translate,” explains Anwar.

The opportunity to share information is one Habib cherishes.  “There is a pleasure in being a guide,” he reflects.  “I feel a satisfaction when I share information about plants and animals with people who have never been here before.  I feel that I am sharing the generosity of my elders, who passed down this information to me.” The two cousins have experienced much since the days when they used to follow their fathers through the hills, searching for honey; but their family heritage and traditions continue to shape their paths and adventures.

A Walk Away from Fear

By Stefan Szepesi

In her book Wanderlust, on the history of walking, Rebecca Solnit writes that perhaps “the mind, like the feet, works at three miles an hour” and that if this is so, “then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.” Walking is the time-tested engine of the mind: when done alone it opens a unique thinking space; when experienced together, it brings out the conversations you would not have when sitting down facing each other as opposites. Most of us know this. The question is why, in the haste of daily life, is walking so frequently regarded as the slowest of transport options and so rarely as the most liberating of human conditions?

I learned about the power of walking in a place probably least associated with its merits: the Middle East. In the spring of 2008 I drove up with five friends to Tubas, a sleepy agricultural town above the Jordan Valley and in between the Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus. We parked our cars to the side of the road and started walking. As seasoned foreign residents of the Middle East, we thought of ourselves as more curious than naive. We had no idea who we would encounter along the way, whether there were any pleasant rural paths out there, or whether we could pass through the area unhindered by the check points that are the concrete manifestation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What we found during that first walk, and during the hundreds of walks that have since followed, still amazes me. Walking through a region generally portrayed as uninviting, if not hostile, was not only practically possible. It was also beautiful, inspiring and safe. It felt as if we had finally stumbled upon the obvious, something that could give us — diplomats, journalists, development workers — a new way of connecting to the Middle East: to apply the world’s oldest method of human encounter in a region that is the pinched nerve of civilization. Walking allowed us to know both the region and its people anew.

Over the course of five years, we walked over 6,000 miles through the West Bank and we were not the only ones. A mosaic of walking groups, local and international, has been venturing out to explore a different Middle East than the one framed by mainstream media. Not to deny the misery and strife that is unmistakably a part of this region, but to become familiar with its hidden beauty and nuance, with encounters not through the lens of headlines and history, but through the personal and the particular. In recent years, the first long distance walking trail across the entire region, the Abraham Path, began to take shape. Over 250 miles of accessible route now connects communities across seven regions and four countries. People from near and far are walking these trails. And as in the story of the patriarch Abraham, some are stepping out of the their comfort zone to do so, connecting to the communities of the Middle East step by step.

But why is it that after five years of safely walking across the region I still hear that same little voice when preparing my backpack in the morning: “this time something will happen. Someone will happen.” A message from the stomach to the mind. “Someone will harm me because I am not from here. I look different. I may be mistaken for ‘the enemy’.” The voice contradicts both reason and experience; it is underwhelming but present. It is gone by the time I start my walk, and deeply buried under conversations and encounters by the time the sun sets at the end of the day. And yet, the difficult question I must face is: after five years of crossing the Middle East on foot, after countless instances of hospitality and kindness, why is that voice still there? Or, more painfully, why is it there in the Middle East but absent when I venture out for a walk in the Alps or the Rocky Mountains? Is deep anxiety of this region a quiet but natural steady state for me, only temporarily off-set through these beautiful walks. Is the concept of “the other” so hard-wired that no path is long enough to walk it entirely out of my system? Ever?

Perhaps this is so. Or perhaps it is not about a culmination of time and distance to overcome some of our most deeply rooted fears. Perhaps a walk towards “the other” is really a daily ritual of mind and feet; daily footsteps outside our comfort zone, and towards ourselves. Each time, away from fear.