Drawing the Line – Abrahams Path in Palestine

July 31, 2012 at 9:33 pm

  • Drawing the Line – Abrahams Path in Palestine

    In Palestine, history is not hidden away in books and museums. This is a place with a past full of commotion, riots and disorder, involving a variety of ethnic groups, conquerors, adventurers and cultures. The earliest traces of farming communities and of people keeping livestock were found here. Ancient religious temples, caves and ruins of once important palaces, settlements and hideouts all bear witness to the various beliefs and ways of life that were to become the cradle of modern civilization.
    Here, humans and spirits coexist in an array of dream-like, surreal and sometimes hard-to-believe visions. A trek through these lands is a journey through overlapping worlds and times.

    Masar Ibrahim (Abraham’s Path) is a community-based tourist initiative concentrating on a 125 km long walking path across the Palestinian territories. Built on principles of ‘ecotourism’ – a very new concept in Palestine – the project is also fused with cultural values and a community-based economic development plan. This new approach focuses on marginalised communities and rural areas, hoping to encourage increased connections between Palestinians living in all parts of the land, as well as cultural exchanges with foreigners from all over the world.

    These images, taken along the same path that Abraham is reputed to have once walked, reflect on the generally ignored and forgotten everyday life of the people in this land. They focus on how – despite major challenges – life does go on beyond media stereotypes of stone-throwing boys, of yet another demolished home or a veiled woman in front of the Separation Wall.

    These images attempt to show another reality: that seemingly mundane attempts to live a good life can turn into a political statement of resilience and hope.

    Abraham becomes an important symbol of hospitality; a customary attitude prized amongst the Palestinian families who are opening their homes, ready to receive international guests in the newly established ‘home-stays’ that are situated along the path.Tourism represents a new hope – a commercial incentive for the many communities that are linked to the path but who struggle financially: farmers who have been cut off from their land, Bedouin communities forced to live within constantly diminishing areas with strictly restricted water resources, or women’s cooperatives in refugee camps who are encouraged to continue cultural traditions such as embroidery and dance, as well as learning English.To receive tourists in their homes offers the possibility of financial gain, but is also an important opportunity for the whole family to meet and exchange with people from other parts of the world. A cultural identity is celebrated and reinforced simply by sharing stories and local cooking, historical sites, music and other aspects of Palestinian life.Whilst pushing an ecological stance and diversifying Palestine’s touristic scope for tourism, this is also a project that can help unify the Palestinian territories and conserve a patrimony and a connection to the land that the Palestinian people currently have increasingly few possibilities or rights to develop.——-This project was made possible with the help of the local NGO Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil, French NGO Tetraktys and the DevReporter Project with support from the European Union.

  • MD_ 027 View of Jerusalem from Bethlehem. “We consider the Masar Ibrahim a national project. The importance comes from its methodology. It is a completely new concept and a new approach. In Palestine our resources are cultural. 80% of tourism is pilgrimages. We have to diversify our tourism and find other resources. This project goes from the north to the south. It connects all the Palestinian areas together and the Palestinian people get connected as well. It focuses on marginalised communities and rural areas. As a government this precisely what we need to start working. The trail itself and the maps and promotional material are very important. The maps will help the ministry to enforce the paths legally.” Dr Ahmed Rjoob – Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities – State of Palestine Alrowwad Cultural and Theatre Society in the Aida Refugee camp, Bethlehem. General director Abdelfattah Abusrour: “I have always been looking for ways to show a different Palestinian face than the one a big part of the world is choosing to see. 99% of all our resistance is non violent. Our philosophy is la belle resistance. It started with theatre since I think it’s a great way to share and tell stories. Each person is a piece of the puzzle, a part of change. The Palestinian cause is not a humanitarian cause. Even the seemingly personal choice of whom you will get married to is a political act – a kind of resistance. Life becomes a resistance. In Palestine we have a strong artistic history. Arab cinema was born here and the first female Arab photographer was Palestinian. She was active in 1913. A Palestinian women’s liberation movement protested against the English in 1929. All of this to say that we were a civilized society back then as well, not just shepherds and farmers as we are sometimes described to have been. The Aida guesthouse is in construction. It will be able to host people walking the masar Ibrahim path, it will have a restaurant and ateliers. Tourism is political too. It is important for tourists to come here. Politics are everywhere here.”
  • MD_ 014 My Beni Naim home-stay host Fiwyal Manasrah prepares bread in the traditional wood-fired taboon oven for the evening supper.
  • MD_ 034 The Barahmmeh Family, Jericho. Omar, the eldest son of 23 years works in a special police force in Hebron and a daughter, also 23 years old, work as a special police for president Abbas. “We will get by, but the most important thing for us is that our children are educated and can live a good life. I lost my job in agriculture when my land was taken away from me. I now run a small falafel shop. It is not enough to make a good living but it is something.” Ahmad Barahmmeh
  • MD_ 041 A car at dawn in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. Beit Sahour is a center of Palestinian political activism. The town played a key role in the First and Second Intifadas, with local activists pioneering nonviolent resistance techniques. During the First Intifada, the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between Peoples (PCR) issued an invitation to Israelis of goodwill to come and spend a weekend (Shabbat) in Palestinian homes using the slogan “Break Bread, Not Bones”. It is also in Beit Sahour that the concept of home-stay visits developed though the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG), an NGO specializing in tours in the Palestinian territories.
  • MD_ 022 Abu Ismael Mohammed’s son Farhan lay with his son Ali and his uncle Ali at Abu Ismael’s guest-house tent in Hasassa, Al Rashaydeh. The family is awaiting a big group of international tourists who will have dinner on the site, stay the night and go on a morning walk to see the sun rise over the Dead Sea. The Bedouin communities make their living keeping livestock like sheep, goats, & camels. However, with reduced access to water and land to move around on and keep their lifestock, tourism is increasingly important too: “We started receiving tourists very recently. It has not even been a year. Before I was living only off the sheep’s and the camels. It was difficult. The last night walk to the Dead Sea brought 30 people here. It is very promising for the future. We have received some English lessons as well thanks to this project.” Abu Ismael Mohammed’s
  • MD_ 020 Jamile Mfere, Nfares Intesor, Samah Mfere, Hanan Amash Njirad, at Lubna Santarisi’s house in the Aqbet Jabar Refugee camp, Jericho. Aqbat Jaber is the biggest refugee camp in Palestine. About 12.000 people live here. “We are a Women’s union with licence from the Palestinian authority. The aim of our Women’s union is to support women socially, give jobs and opportunities. About 150 women are part of our organisation. As part of the centre we have a kitchen, a fitness centre, a hair and beauty salon. The centre offers catering services and two years ago we received a scholarship from the Mitsubishi Foundation that allowed us to start preparing school lunches for the local school. Eight women cook every day in order to prepare about 150 meals daily. We also care for a number of handicapped people within the camp. The Women’s union also give other women in the camp small loans for community projects or to pay for tuition fees if somebody wants to study at university.” Jamile, Nfares and Lubna are all part of the current board of the Women’s centre association at the Aqbat Jaber Camp. Samah, 23, received a small loan to open a photo studio in the camp. She takes family portraits and photographs weddings. Lubna, 26, runs a small beauty salon parallel to studying at university: “The income from the salon allows me to go to university to study to become a teacher. People are spreading the word about the salon. I am hoping to open a bigger one in a few years. My husband is proud of me and what we are achieving at the women’s centre. It is important to engage with the community and to improve life in the camp.” Three years ago the centre started a guest-house project in order to receive visitors that are walking the Abraham path. Now, a traditionally built mud-house, located next to the women’s centre can receive 13 people. “We liked the idea of being able to connect with and receive people from around the world.” Says Rasha Wahdan, 25 year old English teacher.
  • MD_ 002 Local honey is being produced and bees are kept in the garden of the Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability (PIBS) in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. The Israeli Settlement Har Homa can be seen in the background. “This centre has existed less than a year. My wife and I moved back from the U.S to build the foundation of the museum and centre. We started this way in order to ensure our independent status. We have received a small support grant for the first three years from Bethlehem University to keep things afloat. Once we are established we can seek specific funding for specific projects. The idea is to have exhibitions that are interactive and hands-on. It will be a centre for people. We want to teach people to use their hands. We will build a green building for the museum. Maybe a room with plants growing on the walls, where one can step into a bio-system of butterflies. We have a lot of international and local volunteers. Recently we also have a few employees. We are also utilising academics to do research. Our mission of the museum is research, conservation and education. We believe we need to address issues by researching them, educating others and then, try to make changes on the ground. We are the only ones studying Palestine’s bio-diversity. Our (Palestinian) history has been repressed and we don’t get taught this in school. Yet, civilization started here. Planting, documenting, art, music, the alphabet, all began here. Jericho for example is the oldest continued inhabited village on earth. The people from Masar Ibrahim asked me to research Wadi Kelt. You can’t take visitors (tourists) on the path before we know it ourselves. We have identified 55 unique species in Palestine so far and we need more accurate data to inform tourists. At the moment nobody knows how many orchid species there are in Palestine.”
  • MD_ 037 Morning drive-by coffee stall, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. “We need to change the way we deal with tourism, we should not allow Israel to be the sole player in this field. We need to show what we have: our hospitality, culture and history. This kind of tourism creates a direct link with the people here. In Beit Sahour 40% of the population work in tourism (shops, hotels – we have 600 rooms here, next year 1000 rooms). We have the lowest unemployment figures in Bethlehem council – only 5%. The agriculture sector is getting squeezed because most of the area is Israeli controlled Area C. In 10 years time I don’t think we will have any more agriculture here. It is too difficult. The Area C status prevents us from building or growing the land. Har Homa (the neighbouring settlement) is constantly expanding. It is important for people to come here and to see this, these facts on the ground, this is the only way of really understanding what is still happening. People who come here will see the history, the beauty of the land and they will inevitably experience the occupation. 55% of Beit Sahours population is under 24 years old. Our main target now is to educate our children, they need a university degree.” Hani El-Hayek, Mayor of Beit Sahour
  • MD_ 006 The Boaz or Sheperd’s Field in Beit Sahour east of Bethlehem is known for being the place where the angels announced to the shepherds that Jesus was born.
  • MD_ 019 Iftar-dinner (breaking of the Ramadan fast) with the Bader Family in Battir. After sunset, the fast is broken with a big, festive meal amongst family and friends. “The choice of using Abraham as a symbol for this project was simple; he represents travel, hospitability and friendship. We want to show a positive side of Palestine. The Palestinian challenges will inevitably be part of the experience as well, indirectly, it will be navigated by walking, which provides a slow, more grounded introduction.” Raed Saadeh – President of Masar Ibrahim
  • MD_ 007 Tala Manasrah, 10 years old, dances in her living room after having had the iftar-dinner (breaking of the fast during Ramadan) at the Manasrah Family in Beni Naim.
  • MD_ 051 Bedouin women herding sheep in Hasassa, Al Rashaydeh.
  • MD_ 012 Post-iftar-dinner and prayers at the Manasrah Family home-stay in Beni Naim. According to the Bible Abraham watched the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from a hilltop hamlet in Beni Naim. It is also supposedly the resting place of Lot, Abraham’s nephew in the Book of Genesis.
  • MD_ 039 Boy in car at the parking lot outside the Beit Sahour Fun Fair in Bethlehem. Ush Ghurab, a hill occupied by an Israeli military base until 2006, is now the site of a fun fair, a restaurant, a climbing tower, a football field and a park.
  • MD_ 017 Tayseer Abu Mefreh, Teqo’a deputy mayor, walking on the hills of Kirbet el Ur. “Teqo’a is famous for its surrounding archaeology sites, for example in Kirbet el Ur. Also Teqo’a has the second biggest water reserve in Palestine. Israel is now controlling all the water around here. They take 80% of the water for the settlements and in the summer the pipes are often completely closed for us. 15 000 people live in Teqo’a. Most people are farmers originally but our agricultural land has been cut off by the settlements so now we can’t reach it. 30% of our land has been classified as Area C, including all the archaeological sites so we are not allowed to restore or use them as resources. 50% of our population are unemployed. Three Israeli settlements surround us: Teqo’a, Maale Amos and Nukodina. Almost every day there are clashes with settler soliders. Because the settlements have surrounded Teqo’a, three of our five schools are located on the shared road that the settlers use. There are confrontations on that road every day. 65 young people 12-24 are currently in jail. 30% of everyone working in Teqo’a work in Israel. Many work in construction in the settlements. It is hard to make a life here right now. Palestinian people are very hospitable and welcoming. We really like the idea of the Masar Ibrahim project and we hope people will come here. It is a good project both economically and in terms of opportunities for cultural exchange. For us the importance is good relations both locally and internationally. The tourism sector represents these possibilities. Bigger cities in Palestine are now connected as well and we have already had several international groups here. This program will be very good for us.”
  • MD_ 021 ‘Crazy Abed’ runs a famous souvenir shop in Hebron’s old city. He is the only Palestinian left on this street and his shop is located right in front of the Jewish entrance to the Tomb Of The Patriarchs. “I have been offered a lot of money by wealthy Jewish people to leave this shop and to go to America but I keep refusing. This is why they call me crazy Abed, I have refused millions of dollars. Our family has lived in this old home since 250 years. I am blacklisted since I live here. In February this year a settler who was filmed by Israeli television tried to enter my store, I see all people as my friends but not the settlers. I would not let them enter the shop so there was a clash. Me and my son got arrested. We were told we did not show respect and we were given a fine. They broke a lot of my goods.” Hebron is the city with the biggest population in Palestine; 850 000 people. It is also Palestine’s biggest economic capital. Hebron and Jerusalem are the most sacred places for the Israelis so these places are under a lot of pressure. Currently, 27 settlements surround the Palestinian-ruled area. As part of the 1993 Oslo agreement Israel agreed not to build any more settlements. Since, more than 120 new ones have been built and many have expanded.
  • MD_ 029 Sheep and Solar panels at Ali Salame’s home-stay in Al Auja. “The Israelis have forbidden our banana fields. The whole camp is considered illegal since it is located in Area C, which is under Israeli military control. We have a lawyer who is defending our case – if not we wouldn’t be here today. 25 years ago the Israeli government destroyed the whole camp. Having rebuilt everything again one year later, we got into another process, pushing us to leave. The camp was destroyed again. Yesterday the Israeli army came and gave demolition orders to 8 different houses. For 35 years we lived here without electricity, but now, thanks to the solar panels that the Masar Ibrahim project has brought we have electricity. Since we are no longer allowed – or capable due to the lack of water – to grow the land, we have to buy everything in Jericho. All the ancient farmers now work in Israeli settlements (for example in the neighbouring settlement Yitav) or on Israeli-run plantations for 60 shekels (15 euros/day). They work on banana, dates, vines or cucumber plantations. We hope the Masar Ibrahim project can provide us with another way of living. We don’t want to work in the settlements.” Ali Salame, Bedouin resident of Al Auja has created a home-stay guest tent for people walking the Masar Ibrahim.
  • MD_ 025 Woman walks through the old town of Battir, the first Palestinian village that received the UNESCO world heritage site status in 2014.
  • MD_ 030 Two Palestinian men make a stop at the only remaining water source in Al Auja that is accessible to Palestinians. The source used to be much bigger. An old roman aqueduct shows testament to the dramatic decrease in water. “Before year 2000 all of this area was fruitful farmland with plenty of banana plantations. Now, since the Israeli settlements arrived we have no more water. There are six water wells in this area and the Israelis have taken five of them. We have to go high up in the mountain to reach the remaining source, pump up water and fill tanks.” Ali Salame, Bedouin resident of Al Auja has created a home-stay guest tent for people walking the Masar Ibrahim.
  • MD_ 008 Boys in garage, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. “The infrastructure aspects are important, from making maps, marking the trail, to making sure there are guest-houses with basic services to stay in and also to educate local trekking guides. Also, what I call the non-guide-guides are important, these are the local people that will also meet the tourists. Palestine has a negative perception in the world and to change this we need guests, not visitors.” Raed Saadeh, President of Masar Ibrahim
  • MD_ 032 Shepherd and his herd, Al Auja.
  • MD_ 015 Sunrise at Salim Abu Nasim’s house in Teqo’a. The family offers several rooms for home-stay visitors but prefer to sleep together outside, on the terrace under the stars during the hot summer months.
  • MD_ 038 Visitors at the local Fun Fair during the Fakkus Festival in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. The hillside Ush Ghurab was occupied by an Israeli military base until 2006 when it became part of the Palestinian Beit Sahour municipality. Now, the hillside is the site of a development project including a park, a garden, a restaurant, a climbing tower, a football and basketball pitch a playground a small zoo and a fun fair. The establishment was under threat to disappear because of an Israeli settlement plan but it was contested.
  • MD_ 003 Abu Ismael Mohammed’s son Ismael, sat on the cliffs in the desert looking down onto the Dead Sea.
  • MD_ 040 George Bannoura, 16 years old, at the Beit Sahour Football pitch. The pitch is closely surrounded by the Separation Fence and the Israeli Settlement of Har Homa can be seen in the horizon. Although George is not allowed to go to Jerusalem, he has once visited London with his soccer team (Beit Sahour Orthodox football team) to play a tournament and he is about to go on a school trip to Germany. He likes to travel and meet new people. He has accompanied his uncle Mohannad who is a Masar Ibrahim tourist guide on two walks; a night walk to the Dead Sea and one in the Wadi Kelt canyon. “It was the first time in my life that I have met a Bedouin. Their lives are completely different. You could really feel a sense of freedom on these walks. I already told my friends about the walks and I have asked my uncle if he can organise another trip for us. I want to show my friends these places. Nobody told me about this before, we are so used to stay in the cities.” The Palestinian youth wants to discover. The Masar Ibrahim project proves that they can find an adventure right outside their doorstep. To get out in nature is a way to get rid of some of the everyday tensions that the Palestinian youth are under.
  • MD_ 011 Shirin Bader, 23 year old law student, Battir. “When my father was 16 he was imprisoned with no trial. He was kept for two years without knowing for how long he had to stay or what he had done. He was accused of having participated in demonstrations but he claims he was at home and that a solider came to search for him in his house. This was before 1994 so after this incident he was not allowed to go back to school (due to a dot on his ID card). This experience has pushed him to put a great amount of effort into making sure we, his six children, are getting a good education. I decided to study law because it is needed here. Too many people are innocently put in prison, like my father was. Every family here have another example to give you. When you live with the occupation you have to make a choice to fight it somehow in order to stay sane.“
  • MD_ 010 Bicycle boys standing outside artist Sultan Shami’s shop Sultan Hand made art in Battir, recently recognized UNESCO world heritage site (2014): “The UNESCO status has brought a lot of tourists here – we want to expoit this further. This will bring and develop businesses and it will turn Battir into a meeting point. By 2020 we have certain goals to achieve. For example, we want to become Palestine’s nr 1 tourist location and we want to run solely on electricity from sun and wind.”
  • MD_ 018 Ancient caves in the desert are still used by sheperds in Kirbet el Ur, Teqo’a. “Historical, cultural and religious sites are all part of our cultural heritage, which represents an added value to us. We respect all religions. We respect the Jewish heritage (that is part of our varied cultural heritage along with the Roman, Ottoman and Christian heritage) but we don’t respect that the Israelis are trying to claim it. This is Palestinian heritage and every nations identity should be protected. The tolerance has to be there. But it has to be a fair tolerance. Even an artificial tolerance is ok. I am ok with an Israeli 1948 green line separation but if you want to keep occupying my land and ask me to be tolerant, that is simply not fair. The Masar Ibrahim project is a symbol of hope. Quality and sustainability are the most important factors.” Dr Ahmed Rjoob – Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities – State of Palestine.
  • MD_ 042 Nfares Intesor and Jamile Mfere, members of the Aqbet Jabar refugee camp Women’s Centre walking on one of the camp’s streets in Jericho. “This is a project that respects the local communities and that will highlight its specific issues. We want to connect these neglected rural areas and protect important historical sites (not easy because of the Area C markings). The local families (house-stays) will be an important human presence for the visitors, with the developmental potential for the community. Both parties win. Jericho should be an area that is protected for its rich bird-life. We hope that this project will bring further initiatives and business potentials, beyond the path. These things can be instigated by the path, developed by the path.” Raed Saadeh, President of Masar Ibrahim
  • MD_ 035 At the footsteps of the Wadi Kelt canyon a small group of Bedouin families still use and entertain the slightly modernized, yet ancient water irrigation systems that were built by king Herod in 35 B.C. to lead water across the desert all the way to his Winter Palace in Jericho. The canyon is also home to a few Greek orthodox monks, living in the famous St George de Choziba monastery, located a few kilometers further along the canyon. The end of the Wadi Kelt canyon opens up to the Judean desert.