Hiking the Path of Abraham Through Unseen Corners of West Bank

The West Bank is much more than the Israeli military occupation that has come to define it for the outside world. From the Byzantine ruins of Sebastia to the lush flora of Wadi Qelt to the vast Jericho desert, the West Bank is a varied and dazzling landscape. You might break bread with Palestinian families in Jericho’s Aqbat Jabar refugee camp, at a women’s cooperative in Burqin, or in an apartment building in Nablus.

The West Bank hiking route is actually a small portion of a new long-distance walking trail called Abraham Path. It is intended to span vast portions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. The path follows the ancient caravan route of the patriarch Abraham, improbably linking countries in conflict with one another or mired in domestic wars. Run-ins with the Israel Defense Forces are rare, except for in Hebron, where Israeli troops guard hundreds of Jewish settlers.

William Ury, a Harvard-based negotiation expert, came up with the idea for the trail in 2006. He wanted to find a way to overcome suspicion between Easterners and Westerners in the wake of September 11 and the war in Iraq. Ury’s Harvard team studied other cross-border trails, such as the Santiago de Compostela in Spain and France. Then they charted a path that would loosely trace the sites visited by Abraham on the fabled journey from his birthplace in the ancient city of Ur, in present day Iraq, to the Promised Land in the Bible. Abraham is central to three major Middle Eastern religions — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — and according to Ury, the legendary hospitality of the patriarch infuses the project.

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