Dear Siraj Team,
We are enjoying to stay in a family while learning spoken Arabic at Bethlehem University. For us the stay in a family increases our possibility to learn Arabic, and also to better understand how an ordinary life can be here.
The day to day conversations and interactions with family members challenges us to speak the language.
The outstanding service with meals served at breakfast and dinner gives us more time to study which is well-needed.
Jonas and Karin Bodin
Our trip in Palestine was as always very appreciated by the entire group.
The program allowed us to experience a deep understanding of the environment of the country, and gave us the opportunity for a real full immersion in the local lifestyle.
The whole group especially appreciated staying with local families. The night at Bedouin camp and the opportunity to meet locals on the way and at various local culture centers, such as Arab women unions, the boy scout group in the refugee camp of Fara'h, the Mosaic Center in Jericho, etc. We also enjoyed the local traditional Palestinian food.
Dar Ramot family in Neve Neeman
“We got to hear the prospective of the conflict from an Israeli family with a son in the army. We learned about why they felt safer with the wall being built and their perspective on whether peace can be achieved.”
“The narrow and labyrinth like streets in the Old City had merchants along the sides selling candy, fresh fruit, clothes, and jewelry. We were led by our tour guide to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and to the Wailing Wall (the Western Wall).”
This is my third time organizing a spring break trip for my Harvard classmates with the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies, and I could not ask for a better partner to help share the Palestinian experience with my fellow students. I have taken over 200 Harvard graduate students to Palestine, and without the Siraj Center’s dedicated work, the three trips would not have been a success. Every year we have visited both the West Bank and Historic 1948 Palestine, going to cities and villages such as Al Khalil (Hebron), Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nabi Saleh, Al Walaja, Nablus, Nazareth, Haifa, Yaffa, and the Naqab Desert; we have even conducted a Skype call with activists and students in the Gaza Strip.
On Saturday December 28,our trip began in Tel Aviv as we exited the plane. The bus was waiting for us and then we headed towards the St. Vincent Guest House in Bethlehem. We were able to begin the next morning with Mass in Arabic at the Church of St. Catherine. The singing of the people and architecture of the church was beautiful. After Mass, we traveled to the excavation site at Herodium. We were able to see the tunnels, the cisterns, and the private burial ground of Herod. In addition, we saw Solomon’s Pools. After lunch at the Christmas Tree Restaurant, we drove to Shepherd’s Field. Walking through the park, we came to the small chapel with a cave showing the nativity scene.
In Nablus, we first visit a soap factory in the middle of the modern city. We are allowed to wrap some soap. Fascinating! Then we walk around the old city, a university lecturer, joins us, and we see more of the old city, including a wall of photos of local martyrs. We have coffee in a coffee shop recently opened in the old city; it is also a sort of local history museum. Lots of talking, including a fascinating political discussion about Palestine. Café is full of young people, although all in single sex groups. Visit the hammam; it is men’s day so Brigitta and I just see the main hall, a lovely old building.
Under this title IMBACH-REISEN in Lucerne, a pioneer of hiking holidays and tours, presented a new destination to their customers.
A friendly Palestinian guide took us to villages and refugee camps,at some distance Jewish settlements. Again and again we got in touch with the Bible and the Holy Land : Abraham and Jacob, miracles by Jesus, the woman at Jacobs well.
While we were walking from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we were able to observe the way of living of the people in Palestine, their hopes, their achievements, their sorrows. We experienced the smell and taste of the food, the smoothness and roughness of the soil under our feet crossing the fields, along the path, down the ravines. We touched and sipped the water in pools and wells. We drank Arabic coffee or tea, during our rests. We listened to stories of the places we traveled through, of the people who used to live there and of those who live there now.
Describing the beauty of the Palestinian landscape and its fascinating diversity, the privileged witness of timeless scenes, the shepherds driving their herds across thousand-year-old landscapes of cliffs, the Bedouins in their traditional daily life, would all be incomplete and inequitable toward those women and men met along the trail and who bring to this journey all its powerful humanity.
Abraham’s Path is as well, a rich encounter with each person involved in the project, the local guide who bridges the voyageur to his family, and the communities the voyageur will meet on the way.
The Abraham Trail in Palestine took our group of 8 through barren landscapes in Awarta, lush olive orchards between Awarta and Duma, scrubby desert-like terrain and fertile farms planted with a variety of fruits and vegetables in the terracing of the Aqraba hillsides. In Taybeh, we had a private tour of the only microbrewery in the Middle East! And we will never forget Nablus with its traditional soap factory and the delicious “kanafa”. But the best part was the people we met, conversed, laughed with and learned from.
A new place to walk, in the olive groves and wadis of Palestine. It was too late for wild flowers, but we caught the end of the olive harvest. It is a small and encircled place, with a wall and the Jordan river as its effective boundaries. But the people we met were kind and generous, both the guides who led us and the people in whose homes we stayed.
The Siraj Center helped organize a memorable tour of the Holy Land for seven Canadian citizens of varied backgrounds trying to make sense of their government’s policies toward Palestine/Israel. While we did expect to visit unique historical sights we were definitely not interested in a package from a glossy travel brochure. We hoped, rather, to see and experience the reality of the issues and hear informed points of view from all sides. Our hectic two week schedule certainly met and exceeded our most optimistic expectations.
Departing Jericho we had our final walk which was perhaps the most stunning of them all. We walked through an area so barren that it felt we really had been transported back to Biblical times. The only life we saw was a baby owl sleeping quietly in a crack in the rocks.
We completed our four-hour hike with an astonishing view across a canyon to the Mar Saba Monastery which is built into the rock and is simply one of the most impressive sights we have seen to date. Upon arriving in Jerusalem we headed straight to the Mount of Olives and took in the impressive view of East Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock taking centre stage.
I did a four day walk on the Abraham Path this April, starting in Nablus and ending in Taybeh with a side trip to Bethlehem at the end.
I absolutely would recommend it.
June 26th 2007
As you may or may not have heard I am in the most dangerous part of the world. I am a stranger in a strange land, sending out and SOS! to major Tom. We are is plunged into intrastate strife and hellfire, aliens, awaiting the apocalypse, shivering in the dark jungles of Guatamala with Mel Gibson and the whole damn crew of Tribulacion 99.
But no, actually I am deeply in love with the social work of painting and eating arabic food, as well as colloqual arabic classes here. The years I took Arabic at Princeton don't help me much on the streets of Palestine b/c that was standard/formal arabic. My teacher here is a fanatic from al-Quds (Jerusalem) and he's good at getting us to jive with the locals and their lingo.
I am at the halfway point in the one month programme and in a good position to reflect on the plethora of experiences here in the Bethlehem area. The overnight flight and subsequent four-hour wait in Israeli immigration at Tel Aviv airport now seems a distant memory, but an amusing one. Departure on Sunday and arrival on Monday merged into one and devoid of sleep Hisham made the bleary eyed 3-part journey to Bethlehem after reaching landside at 8am. First we got a taxi to Jerusalem along with a mix of Americans and, surprisingly, two guys from Northern Ireland. We took a short trip round to Damascus Gate where we tried to arrange travel to Bethlehem. Unable to call our taxi driver we fell back on Hisham’s father in England who somehow managed to have success despite calling from England. We made it, and just in time for our first Arabic lesson at Bethlehem University – any thoughts of bed were delayed by another two hours.
Article for Catholic Radical - "A Witness in Palestine"
by Emily Neumeier