Issue No.
196, August 2014 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
  Today's Events
   Tue. May 21, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

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French group from the Alpine Club on an ancient Canaanite route near Ain Samia.
Dina, American Student from Iraqi origin, near Dir Debwan
Participants of the first API Massar Ibrahiem at Mount Awrma between Awarta and Aqraba
Maps of the trails
Maps of the trails
Picture from the Nablus area

Palestine Walking Trails
By George Rishmawi
Walking trails in Palestine are as old as the stones of Jerusalem. Caravan routes used to cross Palestine through three different areas: the Jordan Valley (rift valley), the Central or Patriarch’s Route, and Via Maris. Caravans used to trade and exchange goods with the people who lived in Palestine through all ages and civilisations. The people of Palestine have always offered great hospitality to first-time visitors, not knowing where they come from or how long they will stay. Hospitality and offering the best of what they have is still the main characteristic of the people of the land. Building on the great hospitality and kindness of the Palestinian people, and on the same routes that people have been using for thousands of years, new hiking and walking routes have been emerging in Palestine.

The Abraham Path (Massar Ibrahim El-Khalil)
Researchers argue about the true story of Abraham, but the people of Palestine, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan want the memory of Abraham to remain alive in the areas he passed through and lived in. Although Abraham has found a place in holy books, he is not mentioned at all in history books. The research of the places where Abraham walked has been based on the oral history of the people living there. Abraham the shepherd did not travel alone. He travelled with his cattle and his family. So Abraham was a nomadic person for parts of his life. Following the steps of Abraham does not mean literally following his physical steps, as it is hard to discover where he really walked. Rather it is following the values of Abraham that are highlighted in the holy books.

Adopting the values of hospitality and respect for all cultures, a group of Palestinian organisations led by Bethlehem University began to research the Abrahamic route in the West Bank. Many scholars claim that Abraham arrived in Canaan during a flourishing of Canaanite civilisation. Canaanite cities were everywhere four thousand years ago. Abraham travelled in the buffer zones of these kingdoms and certainly used to trade with them in order to address his own needs and those of his family.

Today in the West Bank, one can find the ruins of many Canaanite sites, all the way from Jenin to Hebron. Phase one of the Abraham Path was to identify the possible places where Abraham had walked. It is very plausible that Abraham had taken what is called the Patriarch’s Route through central Palestine or Canaan, travelling from what is known today as Turkey to Hebron (El-Khalil). It was called the Patriarch’s Route because of Abraham and his family. Sadly most of the Patriarch’s Route in the West Bank today is occupied by illegal Israeli settlements. During the research phase of the Abraham Path it was necessary to deviate slightly from the historical path in order to avoid the settlements.

The first segment of the Path begins in Nablus, where a tour of the beautiful old city reveals its ancient history. When visitors walk through its bazaars and souks, it is as if they were walking in a large museum. The museum comes alive as visitors engage in friendly chats with shopkeepers, eat kanafa - the delightful Nablus specialty sweet, and visit the Samaritan community and Jacob’s well. One of the most important places to visit in Nablus is the ruins of the ancient city of Nablus, Tel Balata, believed to be where Abraham started his journey in Canaan. According to the Samaritan community he never left the Nablus area.

From Tel Balata, hikers can walk to the village of Awarta, famous for its maqqams. After experiencing the great hospitality of Awarta, and hearing about the existing maqqams in the village, hikers can continue to the unique Jabal (Mount) Awrma. Before researching the route we never imagined that there would be such a large number of significant abandoned archaeological sites. Jabal Awrma, is a special place with a type of water system that is very rarely found in Palestine. Its commanding views of Nablus and the surrounding area indicate that it could have been a fortress in ancient times.

Continuing on, travellers will walk through the village of Aqraba, located at the edge of the Jordan Valley. All the way from Aqraba to the village of Duma, hikers will be walking on top of the Jordan Valley, possibly having the opportunity to observe the many species of migrating birds that fly through the rift valley every year. From Aqraba to Duma, hikers can look out over the Jordan Valley to enjoy spectacular views.

The Abraham Path has been designed to be walked in three days or longer as individual hikers might decide to stay longer in various villages. From Duma the walk continues through the village of Mughayyar to the Ain Samia area. Ain Samia is one of the most beautiful areas in the West Bank. It is rich with the water springs and water systems that are built along the aqueducts of the ancient ruins in the area.

From there, following an ancient Canaanite route, hikers can walk to the village of Kufor Malek and be hosted by the local women’s committee after arriving at the top of the hill where the village is located, affording amazing views of Palestine. Walking from Kufor Malek to Taybeh through gorgeous olive groves, near Dir Jarir, one can rest in the shade of centuries-old olive trees while listening to local storytellers. One can hear the whispers of the trees, the whispers that recount the history of this land and the care that Palestinian families have given to this holy tree of Palestine.

On arriving in Taybeh, travellers can enjoy staying at the church guesthouse, touring the beautiful old village, and hearing the story of the famous visit of Salah Eddin to the village. From Taybeh, travellers can walk through the village of Deir Dabwan to the village of Bitin and visit the Tower of Bitin and the ancient ruins of the church, near the historic sites where Jacob dreamed of the ladder and the angels.

The Abraham Path is a unique experience for hikers and local Palestinians. It represents a true exchange of culture and history and builds strong links between Palestine and the rest of the world.

The route today is open to groups and individuals who should coordinate with the local chapter of the Abraham Path in Palestine. Since July 2008 the route has been walked by hundreds of people from Palestine and all over the world. The local chapter of the Abraham Path has been organising a student group from Palestine who will be walking the Path on a regular basis, in part to discover their country and in part to develop the route.

The Nativity Trail
Being from Bethlehem is a unique privilege. Joseph and Mary walked from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and according to Biblical tradition there was no place for them in the inn. It is surprising to hear that Joseph would want to stay at an inn and not with his extended family who live in the town. Anyone who travels to a distant city or country usually wants to stay with relatives rather than in a hotel. It seems that since Joseph went to Bethlehem during the time of the census the homes of his relatives would probably have been full of guests - other relatives who were in town to register as well. Joseph needed to find not only a place to sleep but also an appropriate place where Mary could deliver her child. It is probably for reasons of privacy and space that Joseph chose to take Mary to the stable where the family cattle were housed.

We normally hear about the birth of Jesus but we do not hear much about the trip of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Today, almost two thousand years after this historic journey, one can still walk the 160 kilometres from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary probably walked it in about 3 to 4 days, but today we need approximately 11 days to follow the steps of such a journey.

The idea of retracing the steps of Joseph and Mary came from the Bethlehem 2000 project, and today two leading Bethlehem organisations are responsible for organising the walks for internationals, tourists, and local people.

Starting from the old city of Nazareth, travellers visit the Basilica of the Annunciation and then walk through some of the oldest historic towns of Palestine. Along the way, they will enjoy climbing Mount Tabor and be rewarded with the spectacular and unforgettable view of the Marj Ibn Amer (Jezreel Valley). From the mount where Jesus spoke to Moses and Elijah, one can see the occupied West Bank and the Israeli apartheid Wall. Today’s political realities - checkpoints, closed military areas, and the separation Wall - would make it impossible for Joseph and Mary to walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Crossing to Jenin in the northern West Bank and staying overnight in the village of Faqua’ north-east of Jenin, one begins to experience the culture, the people, the day-to-day life of Palestinians and their rootedness in their land. Faqua’ is famous for the most delicious cactus pears (saber) in Palestine, which remind us that much saber (steadfastness, patience) is needed in order to live in Palestine and to continue the walk to Bethlehem.

After twenty more kilometres of walking, hikers can rest in Zababdeh, a major Christian town in the northern West Bank, where they are hosted at the guesthouse of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees. The next day’s walk is to Faraa. Ten years ago, it was possible to walk from Zebabdeh through Faraa to Aqrabaniya. Today, however, due to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, the trail in that segment had to be rerouted. The travellers stay overnight in Faraa Refugee Camp and are hosted by local Palestinian families who were displaced from their lands in 1948.

It is obvious that walking this path is a very rich experience that introduces travellers to Palestinian history, archaeology, geography, agriculture, flora and fauna, etc.

 From Faraa, the walk continues to Nablus, passing through Wadi Bathan, one of the most famous places in the West Bank, with its water springs and local tourism. While in Nablus, travellers walk through the old city, rest and relax in the Turkish bath, and enjoy a Nabulsi dinner that ends perfectly with kanafa. Going on to Duma, overlooking the Jordan Valley, travellers are hosted by local families. Duma is known for its traditional Palestinian lifestyle. Families remain very close to each other, and one can smell the tantalising scents wafting from the taboun (traditional Palestinian oven). Duma is one of the few places where women still use the taboun. Habib, one of our guides, is from Duma, and he usually introduces the visitors to a number of villagers with whom they can have very interesting conversations.

 From Duma, travellers walk to the Jordan Valley. Although it looks close enough to touch, it is actually more than 25 kilometres away, which makes this day of the Nativity Trail the longest. The spring of Auja awaits the hikers, who are normally hosted nearby by Bedouin families. A highlight of the stay in Auja is the first-hand experience of Bedouin lifestyle and hospitality. Greater insight is also gained into the challenges that Bedouin face due to the Israeli occupation.

Walking through the Jordan Valley, the lowest spot on earth, one can notice thousands of birds that migrate in large numbers through the Jordan Valley every year. Arriving in Jericho, the oldest city in history, from its northern entrance, travellers quench their thirst at Ain Sultan and then walk all the way to the top of the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus was tempted by the devil two thousand years ago, and where today humanity is reminded of the temptation of wars and killing. At the end of the day in Jericho visitors always like to visit the Dead Sea where they enjoy floating in its therapeutic waters.

Leaving Jericho from the site of Tlul Abu Al-Alayik, the ruins of Herod the Great’s famous palace, one can better understand the amazing architecture of the palace that was build on both sides of the river. Continuing on, through the famous Wadi Qelt, the sounds of birds and animals provide gentle accompaniment on the way to St. George of Koziba Monastery. It is not difficult to imagine the tears of joy shed by those who fled persecution as they were welcomed with the traditional hospitality of the early Christians - and to relate that to the persecution of the local population in the West Bank today.

The first desert experience of the Nativity Trail will be from Wadi Qelt to Nabi Musa, about a three-hour walk. Nabi Musa is a shrine that commemorates the prophet Moses. It was built in the twelfth century by Salah Eddin. From Nabi Musa to Mar Saba Monastery will be the real desert walk. Hikers will walk through the Jerusalem wilderness to Mar Saba, located on the edge of the wilderness east of Bethlehem. During the five-hour walk, one can meet with local Bedouin children who are always wondering which direction the group will take. Accommodations in the area of Mar Saba are provided by local Bedouins. Although everyone is welcome to stand across the valley to take in the view of the monastery nestled in the desert hills, only men are allowed to enter the monastery, a custom that was begun by St. Saba who founded the monastery.

The day before the excursion ends, hikers will walk from Mar Saba into the town of Beit Sahour, which means “shepherds’ field,” passing through the village of Ubaydiya and visiting the monastery Deir Inin Ubaid. Legend has it that the three Magi who came from the east following the star to Bethlehem hid from King Herod in this monastery. Indeed, the local population has been offering hospitality to strangers for generations; and strangers, although they may not always find a place at the inn, will always find a warm welcome in Palestinian homes.

In Beit Sahour, hikers visit the Shepherds’ Field, meet with Palestinians who live in the town, and spend the night with host families. As stories about life in Beit Sahour are told, visitors gain a greater understanding of the message of peace that was announced to the shepherds two thousand years ago. For more than a generation, the people of Beit Sahour have been active in using non-violent means to resist the occupation.

After being hosted by the “shepherds” for the night, hikers begin the last day of their journey with a walk to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, take a tour around the old city, and, of course, find a place at the inn.

The people of Bethlehem consider that any person who follows the steps of the holy family and walks from Nazareth to Bethlehem is a genuine Bethlehemite. Each hiker will be given a certificate of honorary citizenship signed by the mayor of Bethlehem. What an honour and privilege to be from Bethlehem! And what a responsibility. Given that one understands more deeply the reality of life for the inhabitants of Bethlehem and the rest of Palestine, one has a responsibility to communicate this understanding and advocate for justice and genuine peace. Be assured that the homes of your compatriots will always be open to welcome you whenever you return.

George Rishmawi is the coordinator for Siraj, Center for Holy Land Studies (www.sirajcenter.org). He organises the Palestine Encounter Program which brings international visitors to Palestine. Rishmawi also has expertise in non-typical tourism activities including cultural tours, political missions, and environmental hiking tours. He can be reached at george@sirajcenter.org.

Photos courtesy of Siraj.
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