[Palestine - Walking for Peace]
I went to Palestine not knowing what to expect and not particularly believing that peace could be achieved by the simple act of walking as proposed by William Ury (William Ury@ TED) the founder of the Abraham's Path Initiative (www.abrahamspath.org).
I joined API on their exploratory walk of the West Bank of Palestine in late February. My job was to walk Abraham's Path (Masar Ibrahim al Khalil) and document the journey through photographs. API's goal is to facilitate an experience of the other side of the Middle East. They believe that the simple act of walking and experiencing a community and its people first hand will connect people powerfully, and reinstate a belief in a shared humanity.
Our small group of 8 international people walked, ate, and stayed with the locals throughout our trip. We experienced their wonderful hospitality while on our 140 mile walk from Nablus to Hebron.
Not having ever been to the Middle East, the blank beige areas on a world map was the first image that came to mind. As I walked through the green fields dotted with blood red anemones, orchards of fragrant almond blossoms ranging from white to dark pink, and groves of ancient olive trees that have stood witness to history since the days of Herod, I realized I knew less than nothing about this land or its people.
We walked from sun up to sun down through worn paths, lonely goat trails and quiet somber villages. There was always a welcomed smile and an offer to share a cup of fragrant thyme tea and a tale of some sort from the locals. The spirit of Abrahamic hospitality was evident everywhere.
These are not the ramblings of a soft hearted naïve photographer. I deliberately kept my politics out of sight. I know the politics of the region, somewhat, but once there I felt them. There is more in this land than simple politics as portrayed by western economic and political influences. There is a vibration that lies beneath the surface, in the dust, in the air, between the welcoming smiles that smells of history like I’ve never experienced. It transcends tribal politics and cultural hegemony.
As an agnostic I struggled to understand why I was here. What did walking through this land have to teach me? Palestine is the heart of the world's 3 major religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, a place of intense modern conflict and terrible passions and beauty. What else was I missing?
5 days into my walk it dawned on me that I was not here to find anything but to let go. This journey wasn't about the land or the people it was about me, my story and my understanding of myself. What was I holding on to so tightly that prevented me from moving forward in my life? The very things in life you think are not negotiable actually are. There is nothing, I am nothing. Heat and exhaustion does strange things to the mind. As I trudged up the 'Valley of Death' in the hot sun, my thoughts were a ball of confusion, my camera hung like a heavy chain by my side. Each step I took up the canyon resounded in my head like a chant, there is nothing, I am nothing.
This is what being on a pilgrimage is about. I began to understand. This is why Abraham moved around a lot, why the Buddha hit the road without a suitcase, why Gandhi and
Martin Luther King Jr. put on their shoes
and walked. Syncopation, it's a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm. Being here was syncopation in my life. It forced me to open my senses to a new perspective,
to be present, in the now. The offbeat, suspension of the even-note, the anticipation caused a transformation within me. This forces reflections and allows for new perspectives
and understanding. My pilgrimage from Nablus to Hebron uncovered a deeply hidden connection I held within me to the land and the people. It encouraged me to relax into and expand my sense of my shared humanity. Until I walked the path, did I get that I was connected to the dirt beneath my feet,
to the olive oil in my food, to people of Palestine, to the conflict and amazingly to the resolution. This connection isn't about choice, it just is. Ignoring is our choice. Syncopation, pilgrimage, a walk, call it what you will. The guys I mentioned knew all about it. Action is powerful and important no matter how simple.
This is how ideas of peace begin within and without,
simply by walking.