Category Archives: Culture

Walk in the Negev

We had to postpone the planned UK Friends’ walk this autumn due to the walk leader encountering some family challenges that had to be dealt with.  We are hoping to re-instate this walk for the Spring of 2016.

Here is the outline itinerary. As usual, we have tried to add that little bit of something special to help us get to know both place and people in our walks.

Drop an email to if you might like to join us.

If it seems this is not the time to go for a walk – that is just why we should

This blog on the current situation in the Middle East has been contributed by Mia Tamarin who has just completed an internship with the Abraham Path Initiative and the UK Friends, aimed at extending support for the path in the UK and co-ordinating the UK Friends activity. Mia was born and raised in Tel Aviv. She holds a degree in Peace studies & International Relations and a Masters in International Law. She is currently living and working in the UK.

The fragility of the current situation in the Middle East is exceptional in many ways. Large and ongoing processes that were not always present before – revolution and destruction alongside some state-building – are having an impact on the region as a whole.

However, to those living there everyday life cannot be ‘exceptional’. Especially now when the so-called Middle East ‘situation’ has lasted so long: it is not just out-of-the-ordinary to be engaged with political life – living within some sort of conflict, resistance, or struggle is, in this region, ordinary. This is not to normalise the harsh realities that are daily life for people. It is not ‘normal’ by any stretch of the imagination to exist in survival mode every day. No-one, no matter where from, should have to accept this as the ultimate reality of life.

Nonetheless, it is important that the rest of the world, and in particular those countries who play a big role in the region and are passionate to reach solutions, do not alienate the everyday reality for many. Life in the Middle East goes on: surviving crisis is part of the ordinary day’s work – and often the life-long project of people. There is no ‘putting things on hold’ when a particular conflict kicks off; the conflict becomes the reason to keep going. Life itself is the only stream of hope for many; who hold on to a vision that one day the struggle will end and another kind of living prevail. And we must also appreciate that there is no a-political for those who live there; all life is political in this part of the world. Even staying silent, for those who turn from expressing political views, is taking a strong political stance.

That life itself is hope allows those of us who wish to engage in the region – without engaging in its politics – potentially to have a more meaningful impact. It is precisely through locally-focused and sustainable developments such as the Abraham Path represents, that the region slowly transitions towards peace in its cultural and structural sense.

Our partners in Palestine have continued their work in developing the path and engaging with the local communities throughout the year. To do otherwise would mean giving in to violence. For us living in the region, this is what life is about. There will never be a ‘good time’ to go out to walk. And while our reality may never attain the standards or stability that outsiders deem normal, we can work together towards progressive change.

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

Welcome to the UK Friends’ co-ordinator

Mia Tamarin
Mia Tamarin

A very warm welcome to Mia Tamarin, who has joined us on an internship as the UKFAP coordinator. She will work with us until the end of the year to help build connections with individuals and groups in the UK who are interested in walking and supporting the Abraham Path.  Mia, from Tel Aviv, is completing an MA in international law at SOAS, University of London, following her Batchelor’s degree at Leeds Met University in peace studies and international relations. Mia is a United World College scholar, a global educational movement for peace and a sustainable future, and studied for two years in New Mexico with UWC-USA.

Mia says: “I believe that, while these are challenging times for anyone from or engaged with the Middle East, the Abraham Path is a place where people can learn about the region, see it through different eyes, experience its magic and connect with the diverse range of cultures it embraces. It is the AP vision – to inspire understanding, communities that can prosper, and hope for humanity – which attracted me to this position.

“Although this isn’t a great moment to invite people to walk, we hope people will join us and continue to support this unique project. I shall be doing everything I can to promote our vision for the path and to encourage supporters and walkers.”

Walking AP in Jordan

Penny Cowell from East Sheen writes about the UK Friends walk in Jordan in May:

Tinkling goat bells, the smiling welcome of our Jordanian hosts and their wonderful hospitality, the muezzin’s call to prayer, ancient ruins lying long forgotten on the hillside, the laughter of refugee children – these are some of my abiding memories of a week in Jordan, walking along the Abraham Path, a long distance walking trail across the Middle East.

There were eleven of us from the UK branch with a local guide.  We spent three days trekking and it was like stepping back two thousand years as we walked amongst the olive groves and watched the Bedouin shepherds with their flocks on the hills. We stayed with local families, enjoying wonderful Arab hospitality.  On one day of unheard of rain we visited the vast ruined city of Umm Qais, where Christ cast out the devils and they entered the Gadarene swine.

At the end we had the opportunity for three days community service. We spend one day working at a Friends of the Earth Middle East ecopark and two days with Syrian refugees. Jordan has one and a half million living in the country and 600 more arrive every day, most of them hoping to return. We entertained children in a tented city and delivered food parcels to families living in a squalid concrete shopping mall within sight of the Syrian border. I was struck by their quiet dignity and welcome.

It was altogether an amazing experience and I felt immensely privileged to have been able to go. As the leader of our group summed up:  step by step we are all walking side by side towards a common goal. Yahweh, Allah, God. Shalom, salaam, peace.

National Geographic rates the Abraham Path the #1 New Walking Trail in the World!

Photo courtesy of Abraham Path Initiative

Ben walked with Habib, a long-time guide on the Abraham Path in the Palestine.
Ben walked with Habib, a long-time guide on the Abraham Path in the Palestine.

National Geographic Traveller rates the Abraham Path the world’s #1 new walking trail. The path truly comes to life in this beautiful traveler’s piece which you can read here.

National Geographic‘s Ben Lerwill writes, “The landscape has a hardiness that conceals gifts: mistletoe, wagtails, dragonflies and pink cyclamen. … We sleep in welcoming homestays. I learn that lamb-filled flatbreads and pomegranate juice make good hiking fuel, and the valleys glow gold at first light.”

From Harran to Urfa

By Jeanne Coker

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Our journey on Abraham’s Path (AP) took us to the very start of the four thousand year old story of the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) – to his (contested) birth place in Sanliurfa, Turkey, and to Harran, where he is recorded as receiving the call from God to set out on his wanderings Our journey took us through remote rural villages some of which were opening their doors for the first time to international travellers.


Our starting point was the Kurdish village of Yuvacali where Alison Tanik (originally from Burton -on-Trent and now an Abraham’s Path representative) lives with her husband and two young children. Here she has set up a local tourism business to encourage visitors to her adopted homeland and supported the establishment by the local community of a 105-mile (170km) walking route in South Eastern Anatolia.

The village has been settled since the dawn of civilization. Sumerian cuneiform tablets have been found in the mound, created by humans and dominating the village. Its more recent settlement is by Jews, Armenians and Kurds. Remains from 9 000 BC have been uncovered in the neighbouring village of Nevali Cori. The fields are literally littered with materials from earlier civilisations – outlines of the buildings, pieces of pottery, Roman roof tiles, very early cutting implements, etc. A piece of a (small) Roman column is used to roll the earth on a flat roof.

The once-abundant river water supply has shrunk due to the Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates and the implementation of the South-Eastern Anatolian Project known as GAP, a multi billion dollar project of Turkey. Instead, households have piped water but water for irrigation is some 100m below the surface.The Turkish government has made recent improvements in the area so we found piped water and sewage systems, although toilet and washing facilities are still simple. Sleeping on the floor on mattresses was very comfortable. We sat on the carpeted floor for our meals.

School starts aged seven, but if you have not registered the birth until your child is two years old then your child starts school at nine! There is a primary school in the village – one class where younger children are taught in the morning and older ones in the afternoon. All education is in Turkish so these Kurdish speakers start with a disadvantage. There is no concession to dual language teaching. Adult literacy and Turkish speakers are both about 50%. Kurdish speakers are disadvantaged as, for example, they cannot speak to a doctor or the police. The pre-school from the age of four was opened in 2009 and equipped by visitors on Nomad tours and now supported by travellers on Abraham’s path.

Average life expectancy is 70 in Istanbul but here it is 58. The last generation had up to twenty children. This generation is now seven. Infant mortality runs at 20% – 30%. The village is home to four extended families and 80% marry cousins. One of the prevalent outcomes is gestational diabetes (large babies).

Most people are self-sufficient in many foodstuffs but average income is less than a dollar a day which is well below the poverty line. Home-stays, which are well established here, make a huge difference to the participating families – eight households are involved in the project. Due to the income from travellers home-stays now have immersion boilers which was a pleasant surprise!

Typical jobs created are:

  • Drivers – pick up from the airport, luggage carrying service
  • Providers of breakfast, dinner and packed lunches
  • Households for home stay – 2 involved for a maximum of 12 guests.
  • Escorts – a local person walks with the group each day but is not, by Turkish law, a guide as such. Our escort, Orhan, accompanied us and was invaluable – talking to local people en route who allowed us to use their toilet and offered us the invariable glass of tea.

In the household where we stayed both parents are illiterate. Life has been transformed for their children. Faruk is at university, Fartih is developing the tourism business and Aylin is at boarding school. The role of women has also been changed. Pero (the mother of the household) is very confident interacting with her guests. She encouraged us women to help her make the unleavened bread. We were not very good at it – it needs a lot of strength!

Our wandering starts

We were driven to Harran where Abraham lived (about 2,000 BC) before answering God’s call to go to Canaan – “When Abraham was 75 years old he set out from Harran”, Genesis 12 v.4. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, also lived in Harran: “Jacob left Beersheba and went to Harran”, Genesis 28 v.10. Jacob’s sons (except Benjamin) were born in Harran. It was a caravan city at this time – a nomadic time. Jacob’s well is being turned into a tourist attraction. Islam’s first university was built here during the 8th Century and many important scholars of natural science, astronomy, and medicine originate from Harran; they were non-Arab and non-Islamic ethnic Assyrians.

From there, like Abraham, our walk started.

Walking to Bazda

Having sampled the sights of Harran we set off on our 20km walk to Bazda. For most of the journey we see the structure and product of the GAP project. Green fields which once were desert (the crops look very healthy to my urban eye!); water troughs alongside the road; flexible irrigation pipes with sprinklers that farmers move from field to field – and one huge artificial channel not yet filled with water.

We sit under trees in Koyunluca where local women come to “talk” to us. Sign language leads to an invitation to sit on chairs on the veranda of a local home and drink tea. The women are all wearing beautiful traditional dress. One – a newly wed – has a stunning outfit but does not want to be photographed. She has come to live with her husband’s family and is still rather shy. This is quite a prosperous home with a tiled toilet attached to the house. Nearby is some sparkling new farm machinery and I observe someone using the road grader on the back of a tractor to flatten the approach to his house. These people seem to have benefited rapidly from GAP. We are told farms are becoming larger: families are losing their smallholding and work for the larger landowners.

The desert hills appear as we approach Bazda. On arrival we are surprised to see a village shop. We sit at a table and sample the ice cream!

Here are fantastic caves where rock has been hewn for the buildings in Harran. Overnight we stay with a local Arabic family – Arab communities now dominate. We are privileged to be their first home-stay guest.

On to Suayb

Well fed and rested, we set off next day for the 18km stretch to Suayb and the shrine of Jethro (father-in-law to Moses). The scenery is rocky desert with occasional green fields, lots of sheep and occasional cows. Families club together to pay a shepherd for the year. Mid morning we pass through Goktas and the remains of Han el Ba’rur caravanserai, built in 1128 to accommodate passing traders and their animals. This is a well-marked historic site so people, used to visitors, demonstrate washing and pounding their grain. Children follow us around the site and I notice one with very blue eyes – evidence of the mix of people who have passed through this place.

Arriving in Suayb we are met by some young people who took us to our home-stay where people are also hosting visitors for the first time and make us very welcome. After resting our weary feet for a short time the children take us to explore their historic site – a hill that hides a whole underground village stretching from hillside to hillside. The children demonstrate this by disappearing underground and then popping up all over the place. One area is still used as a place of worship. We visit Jethro’s shrine where there are wall drawings.

 A night in Sogmator

Another 18km to travel to the isolated village of Sogmator, where once sun worship was the order of the day. We are now firmly in rocky desert. There are a few irrigated fields. I see where the irrigation pipes go under the road and there are women moving the flexible hoses in the field. This appears to be the furthest reach of GAP. It is a lovely day and I am intent on making the most of this wonderful scenery. There are desert flowers in abundance and I note sixteen different flowers (but cannot name any of them!). The village was important in the cult of Sin. Hilltop temples to various planets litter the landscape. A cave with moon god statues is in the centre of the village. There is script carved into some of the rocks on the top of the hillsides. Coptic? Syriac?

To rest in Sanluirfa

On our final day we make an early start to reach Gobekli Tepe by bus before the main tourists arrive. It is a temple dating from 9,500BC, discovered in 1994 and still being excavated. The discovery of this temple has altered the way archaeologists and anthropologists think of the development of civilisation. It was thought that places of worship were built after people became agriculturalists but there is no evidence of agriculture around the temple site.

And so finally we are taken into to the city centre of nearby Sanliurfa (or Urfa) to visit the birthplace of Abraham and the sacred fishponds. It is strange to be back in the traffic and in a town once again.

But for all that GAP has brought almost instant wealth to some and that Goblekli Tepe will soon have one of a worldwide chain of hotels built nearby, the area is still very conservative. Long trousers were the order of the day for walking and long skirts for the women inside the house. Women are not allowed out of the house on their own and family ties are strong.

And so, far from the Mediterranean resorts which for so many characterise a holiday in Turkey, our visit has taken us to a world apart, and a culture still embedded in a time traceable to man’s earliest settlements.