2000 Kilometers of Trails in Southwest Asia

2000 Kilometers of Trails in Southwest Asia

For more than 15 years the Abraham Path Initiative (API) has generated positive social and economic impact in Southwest Asia (“the Middle East”), by developing walking trails and community-based tourism. The trails benefit residents who may become professional guides, homestay host families, and small business owners that cater to walkers who visit their towns. Along these trails, travelers may enjoy authentic hospitality, make new friends, walk in breathtaking landscapes, and return home with positive stories about the region and its peoples. 

Working with governments, communities, civil society organizations, and individuals, API has catalyzed the development of more than 2,000 km of walking trails in Palestine, Jordan, the Sinai, and Turkey. 

In 2006 we took an exploratory walk, beginning in Turkey, bussing through Syria, visiting Hebron and landing in Jerusalem. Throughout, we visited sites related to the legendary journey of Abraham/Ibrahim and enjoyed the region’s legendary hospitality. 

The next year we began trail development in Jordan and Turkey. We connected with the mayors of small communities in Al Ayoun, Jordan’s northeast, where pomegranate and olive trees dot the hillsides and rivers rush, seasonally full. Women make soaps with homegrown herbs in Orjan. Families were glad to welcome travelers for lunches and overnight homestays in Baoun and Rasun. In Turkey, we introduced international walkers to Şanlıurfa, also known as Urfa, City of Prophets. Visitors walked to nearby Göbekli Tepe, a 12,000 year-old temple northeast of the city, estimated to be 6,000 years older than Stonehenge. Abraham’s Path in Turkey was suspended in 2011 due to the onset of the Syrian Civil War. We are beginning to rehabilitate that trail together with Nomad Tours.

Sogmatar in Harran, Turkey (photo by Jodi Hilton)

In Palestine in 2008, we explored existing walking trails and reached out to various NGOs to assess interest and capacity for co-creating a long-distance walking trail on the spine of the West Bank. From 2014-2018, API was awarded a $3.324m grant from the World Bank Group to complete a 330 km walking trail, initially called the Abraham Path, or Masar Ibrahim, in Arabic. Over the course of five years, we also developed dozens of homestay opportunities with families in villages along the route, and certified scores of walking and trekking guides. In 2020, Masar Ibrahim was renamed the Palestinian Heritage Trail.

A Bedouin guide identifies local flora in the Sinai Desert

Our investment of expertise and training in the eastern Sinai Peninsula brought three Bedouin tribes together to create a 225 km trail connecting their territories. In 2018, they saw a 66% rise in the number of Bedouin guides (from 16 to 24), while the number of Bedouin workers along the trail grew from 34 to 42. Walkers on the trail increased from 88 in 2017 to nearly 400 in 2018. From that place of strength, the three tribes, in a unified effort, invited five additional tribes to work with them. Together, the eight tribes doubled the length of the Sinai Trail. API’s investment in the Sinai was underwritten by grants from the Flora Family Foundation

In 2018-2019, API completed a $260,000 trail feasibility study in the Asir Province of Saudi Arabia. Asir, north of Yemen on Arabia’s Red Sea Coast, boasts the highest mountain on the peninsula -- the 3,000-meter Jabal Sawda

Asir Province, Saudi Arabia

Currently, API is catalyzing a long-distance walking trail in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We bring technical expertise, training, capacity building, and publicity and marketing know-how to villagers in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, stimulating revenue generation with community-based tourism. API began exploring trail development in Iraq in 2018, when Abraham Path Fellows were engaged in cultural heritage preservation projects from the marshes in the South to the Nineveh and Kurdistan Regional Governorates in the North. With this important initiative, we draw attention to roots of global culture that emanate from the region historically known as the Fertile Crescent and Cradle of Civilization.

2003 - 2007

  • Dr. William Ury, world-renowned mediator, believes stories have the power to connect us and heal conflicts. The story of Abraham emerged as a paradigm for walking and sharing hospitality.
  • In 2006, Harvard sponsored a two-week study trip with 25 people that traveled from Harran in Turkey to Hebron in the West Bank.
  • In 2007, a board of directors formed and Abraham Path Initiative was incorporated as a 501(c) (3) US non-profit organization.

2008 - 2013

  • Over the next six years, API partners visited towns and invited people to become part of a growing regional trend toward community-based experiential tourism and its economic benefits. The trail expanded, new jobs were created, and more visitors came.
  • In 2009, Harvard Business School published a working paper “Negotiating the Path of Abraham.”
  • By 2011, civil war put a hold on work in Syria and Turkey. But not elsewhere.

2014 - 2017

  • In 2014, the World Bank noticed the positive impact of walking tourism on fragile and marginalized communities in Palestine and began supporting Abraham Path Initiative efforts in the West Bank. 
  • In 2015, Bedouin of South Sinai revived a tradition of welcoming guests and escorting them safely through ancient landscapes. 
  • Abraham’s legacy continues in the daily lives of residents along the national trails that blossom in this heartland of hospitality, awaiting your visit.