LB students return to Israel and Palestine

This blog post has been contributed by Sean, a Leeds Beckett student who participated in the 2014 volunteering/walking trip in Israel and Palestine, organised by the university and supported by the UK Friends.

The Israel and Palestine conflict has been one of the most important political and social issues of the last three decades or more. The conflict has been widely reported, so it is very prominent in minds of the public and the suffering of everyone involved in the conflict is clearer to see. The result is that many may feel they want to help relieve some of the suffering and contribute to building peace in the area.

The Abraham Path trail and community service scheme, run in the UK through Leeds Beckett University and the UK Friends of Abraham’s Path (UKFAP), enables individuals to work in groups in communities on projects aimed at creating the environment where dialogue and understanding can flourish. UKFAP also aim to facilitate dialogue at home.

Leeds Beckett and UKFAP organised a trip to Israel and Palestine in the summer of 2014 that involved a mixed schedule of volunteering, hiking and educational outings. The volunteering was based in two places; in a Bedouin community in the Negev desert and at a Christian farm just outside Bethlehem.

The Bedouin community in the Negev desert is increasingly being pushed in to a small area of the desert. As a semi nomadic people, this has become an issue. When they have tried to settle in traditional villages, their homesteads are considered illegal so that new houses are destroyed by the state. The volunteering project in this community was focused on finding a way to build new houses, cheaply, quickly and out of natural material. Our group was almost used to test this project, which a local Israeli hopes to extend across the Negev. Visiting this community can also be viewed as an act of solidarity, showing the Bedouin that they are not forgotten. Our hosts urged everyone who visited to go home and talk about their plight.

The second base for volunteering was in the Tent of Nations, a Christian Palestinian family farm that aims to bring a message of peace within the community. Surrounded by Israeli settlements, they are exercising their right to remain and their motto is “We refuse to be enemies‘’. Groups from all around the world (Including Israel) come to work on the farm, see the consequence of conflict first-hand and show solidarity with the family. The work that was undertaken involved planting a small vine yard, and clearing a stony area for further planting of crops.

I believe the Leeds Beckett/UKFAP volunteering opportunity is important. It enables everyone who goes on the trip to gain a fuller understanding of the conflict and history of the area. It also enables us to help in whatever way we can in bringing hope to the people of Israel and Palestine.

The trip lasted 2 weeks and involved 60 hours of volunteering. We stayed with local families in the Negev desert, and were able to wander around historic Jerusalem and the modern capital of Tel Aviv. Along our journey we were able to see a Palestine and Israel that most other visitors would not. We gained first-hand accounts from people from all walks of life about the conflict. We worked alongside activists on both sides of the conflict and local people. Abraham’s Path aims to give a powerful educational experience that means people bring home a fuller view on the culture of both Israel and Palestine – a view that has the potential change people’s lives.

Project celebration on 20 November

UK Friends are warmly invited to a celebration of the Abraham Path on 20 November in Leeds.

The event will include stories from those who have walked the path and an open panel discussion with a light food and soft drink reception celebrating Middle Eastern culture.


WHERE – Leeds Beckett University Broadcasting Place, Room BPA101

WHEN – 5.30 PM (Reception) for 6pm Panel discussion

The event is organised by the UK Friends of Abrahams Path in collaboration with Politics and Applied Global Ethics Festival, Leeds Beckett University.

To register for the event, click here

Abraham Path - Project celebration

Palestinian students in London

By Louise Sibley

It was an opportunity to pay back. How many times in the past five years has the generosity of the Palestinians overwhelmed me? So, when a distressed email dropped into my mailbox this Spring, I didn’t give it a second thought: “Stay at my place. Might mean mattresses on the floor and a bit of chaos, but we can make this work.”

Serendipity is a strange thing.   Only a few days earlier, with other members of the Abraham Path Initiative (API), I had been greedily tucking into a feast in the little village of Araba in the West Bank. I had sat quietly at the back while Deputy Mayor Dr Rola welcomed us, explaining how pivotal the path was in their vision. Later, I heard her enthuse about a forthcoming trip to England.   She was arranging a cultural tour with a British university for a media studies group at Jenin University where she teaches.  As we left, I slipped her my card: “if you come to London, please get in touch: you have given us such a welcome here.”  We hadn’t really met. But, along with my fellow-walkers, I had been moved by her speech and how positively she had reflected on the issues facing her village.

And that’s how it came about in late May, the original planned trip cancelled at short notice, that Dr Rola and four undergraduates left their homes in the West Bank and made their way to a suburb of West London. What struck me then, as now, was the act of trust. For a first trip abroad they were putting themselves in the hands of a complete stranger.

A view over Araba
A view over Araba
From Jenin to a West London suburb
From Jenin to a West London suburb

What followed was five of the most memorable days of the year. In glorious sunshine, we walked, ate, explored – London and each other – and became friends. My son Bren took the role of full-time escort, walked them from Westminster to Camden Town and, to my horror, kept the students out appallingly late at night; I took them to Sunday church and a Rotary Club meeting. Fellow UKFAP trustee Anam toured Brick Lane; Rukiyah – veteran of a Leeds Met journey in Israel and Palestine – crafted a whistle-stop tour of just about everything from British-style arcade shopping (no such thing in Jenin) to the Olympic Park. They breakfasted in style in Victoria to meet API Executive Director Stefan. Finally, in a pub overlooking the River Thames, Graham – one-time BBC employee – led a Q&A about media in the UK, from newspapers to reality TV.

Eye over London
Eye over London
South Bank skate park
South Bank skate park

So what do I reflect on now? First, the trust: coming from a land where offering welcome and shelter to strangers is a holy rule handed down from Abraham, our Palestinian visitors took it for granted they would be well looked after. They never questioned where they were taken, nor worried about the tight accommodation, strange food and the long days crossing London. They embraced every experience (particularly the shopping) and trusted they would get home at night even though they had no idea where they were.  At times it must have seemed very strange. Where in Jenin do you end the evening in a pub listening to an old-fashioned trad jazz band? What do you make of a post-service cup of tea with some puzzled but very welcoming parishioners of a small riverside church?

Second, OUR welcome. The people whom I asked to help didn’t miss a beat. Bren, Anam, Rukiyah, Graham, All-Saints Church parishioners, Rotary and, even though he wasn’t around during their trip, London-based API director Lionel whose generosity funded their travel cards and some classy meals out. We know about hospitality too. I’m so proud that, with no questions asked, we are able to mirror the experiences we all have on the path.

Finally, the magic that happens when people from completely different backgrounds and cultures get together. We know this. Anyone who has welcomed a stranger to dinner (even a friend of a friend) or crossed the equator has experienced this magic. So why is it so difficult to weave it into our daily lives? Why are we still so protective of our own? What would be different if every day, every week, every year we took a step toward genuine hospitality; the type that isn’t paid for, or measured, or expects thanks; the type that is just an open handed, open-hearted reaching out to strangers that makes them feel at home. And what if they responded with trust, without expectation, and without exploiting the gift. What would our world look like then?

Scaling the heights in an East End play park
Scaling the heights in an East End play park

Learning at Limmud

This blog was contributed by UK Friends’ trustee Debbie Young-Somers

This August just gone (well a bit longer gone) the UK Friends were excited to be able to help sponsor the participation of a Muslim Jewish story telling duo at Limmud in the Woods –  an annual Jewish popup learning experience combined with camping and creativity.

Jumana Moon and Adelle Moss offered story telling from both traditions, exploring the stories of Sarah and Hagar, telling bed time stories under canvas and warming the crowds around the campfire. They represented the Abrahamic values of welcome and interfaith co-operation, and drew their listeners in with magical instruments and participation- the open tent of Abraham and Sarah would have loved to offer such warmth and togetherness. After a difficult summer in the region and continuing tensions across the lands of the Path itself, this was a welcome message of hope and cooperation.

UKFAP hopes to reach out to many models of community and with the help of our new intern – Mia Tamarin – intend this to be just the start of a busy year!