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Abraham Path Initiative Study Tour: A Successful Mission!

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*Abraham Path Initiative Study Tour: A Successful Mission!*
*from Bill Ury -
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       November 15, 2006

       Dear Friends,

       As I fly home from Jerusalem, I am happy to report to you that
       the first Abraham Path Study Tour has successfully completed its
       mission. Twelve days ago, my colleagues and I, over twenty of us
       from ten countries, began our journey in Urfa in southeastern
       Turkey, the place where many believe Abraham was born in a cave.
       We travelled by bus from Turkey to Syria, Jordan, Palestine and
       Israel, retracing the footsteps of Abraham. The day before
       yesterday, after passing by Jericho and Jerusalem, we reached
       the West Bank city of Hebron/Al-Khalil, where Abraham is buried
       in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Our journey began in a sacred
       cave and ended in another, goi ng from womb to tomb, so to
       speak. On a personal note, after years of dreaming of this
       Abrahamic journey, I am feeling grateful, enriched, moved, and
       humbled

       The purpose of our Abraham Path Initiative, as you may remember,
       is to study the possibility of creating – or rather recreating –
       an historical route, a path for travellers and pilgrims, that
       might last for generations. On this trip, we have sought to
       deepen our understanding of the obstacles, which are very real
       and not to be underestimated. Conflict and violence in the
       region, multiple international boundaries, worldwide perceptions
       of insecurity deterring visitors, volatile political situations,
       stretches of inhospitable desert, lack of infrastructure for
       tourism in the countryside – these are just a few of the
       principal obstacles we have encountered.

       However great the obstacles may appear to be, the potential we
       have discovered in our study is even greater. The Path can serve
       as a catalyst fo r mutual understanding across cultures and
       religions, including sister city exchanges, fostering an
       alliance of civilizations. It can serve as a magnet for tourism,
       service projects, and economic development. And it can become a
       focus for books, newspaper articles, and films that highlight
       the rich heritage of this region and the deep hospitality of its
       peoples.

       On our trip, we had a chance to consult with a wide range of
       leaders from deputy prime ministers to ministers of tourism,
       governors, mayors and parliamentarians, to university presidents
       and scholars to muftis, patriarchs, imams, bishops and rabbis to
       business leaders and of course the heads of many NGOs. From our
       consultations with national leaders at the highest levels and
       local leaders, governmental and nongovernmental, we emerge, if
       anything, more hopeful about the long-term benefits such a Path
       could engender and the local and national support it could enjoy.

       We experienced first hand the story of Abraham, who is present
       not only in places where his memory has been revered for
       centuries, but also alive, as we found, in the hearts of
       ordinary people. In the village that lies astride the ancient
       Mesopotamian ruins of Harran, where Abraham heard the call to go
       forth, the mayor and it seems almost the half the town is called
       Ibrahim. People invoke his name in daily life and in daily
       prayers. He is a companion and friend, a symbol of hospitality
       and faith. I remember in particular one visit we made to a cave
       associated with Abraham that is inside a private house in a poor
       neighborhood. The site is tended by an elderly widow, the owner
       of the house, an animated soul with a bright smile who charges
       nothing for the visit. “If you want to bring a rug to add for
       the floor, that would be good,” she beams as she talks
       delightedly about Abraham and sings his praise as an intimate
       friend of God.

       We also came to appreciate more deeply how travelling the Path
       is not just about the stories of old, but about the tragic
       present-day conflicts among the children of Abraham. In Syria,
       where we met hospitality and welcome as tourists, we were
       requested not to have meetings to discuss our project because of
       the delicate present political situation in the aftermath of
       last summer’s war in Lebanon. In Jordan, our conference was held
       in a hotel ballroom which, as we were reminded by our hosts
       during the meeting, was the very same room where almost exactly
       a year earlier, forty innocent people at a wedding were killed
       by a suicide bomb. In Bethlehem, the deputy mayor took me aside
       to tell me how three years ago, he and his family were driving
       and tragically caught in a crossfire and his twelve year old
       daughter was killed and he himself was wounded. “But I forgive.
       I am for peace. I support this Abraham Path Initiative.”

       Everywhere we met hospitality – the hospitality of Abraham –
       courtesy and warmth from people and invitations to pe ople’s
       homes. Nowhere did we appear to be unsafe, whatever our prior
       fears and concerns had been. All the countries along the way are
       eager to receive more tourists, seeing tourism as a vital
       foundation for their economies. In Palestine, the number of
       tourists has greatly decreased since the intifada began in 2000,
       and is just beginning to recover a little. Where once there were
       long lines to visit the birthplace of Jesus, now there are
       virtually no lines at all. One story comes to mind. At the
       destination site of Abraham’s tomb in Hebron/Al-Khalil, our
       group, as a symbolic gesture, placed at the foot of an olive
       tree a sprinkling of soil that we had collected from Harran and
       all the places we had visited retracing Abraham’s footsteps. A
       local man stood there watching us and asked, “What are you
       putting near my tree?” After we apologized and explained what
       the earth was, the man was touched and vowed that he would tend
       that soil for years to come. “But please don’t just brin g
       earth,” he said. “Bring people.”

       And that is our aim and hope — to bring people. It is to serve
       both hosts and guests, enabling each to learn about the other
       and allowing both to benefit enormously, as we did on our
       journey. What the Abraham Path has going for it are some of the
       most extraordinary and revered sites in the world from the
       Ummayad Mosque in Damascus to the Holy Places in Jerusalem to
       the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Path serves like a
       golden necklace on which are strung rare jewels of astonishing
       beauty and power. Add to this the intense global interest in
       these lands – whether because they are a cradle of civilization,
       the sites of the stories of the Bible and the Koran, or the
       stage for the wrenching present-day conflicts of the children of
       Abraham. Not least of course is the compelling and deeply
       meaningful story of Abraham, known to three billion followers of
       Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – fully half of humanity.

       In a fundamental sense, we are not creating the Abraham Path,
       for it already exists. We are merely connecting the dots and
       dusting off the footsteps. And the travelers are beginning to
       come. Around the world we have discovered in the last three
       years of our study process, there is enormous interest among
       people, particularly the young, in coming to walk and visit the
       Path. We share the strong sense that our study tour is just the
       leading edge of a coming wave – and it may arrive sooner than we
       imagine.

       Those of us who are working on the Path have come to understand
       the virtues of flexibility, patience, a step-by-step approach,
       and a consultative approach. We have a deep commitment to
       rooting the Path in the local communities through which it
       passes. We acknowledge that, while those of us from outside the
       region can study and connect and serve, the real leadership and
       organization of the Path will come from those who are its hosts
       in the region. While holding the large r vision, we will seek
       the strategic opportunities for moving it forward that exist at
       any particular time.

       One of our purposes on the trip was to discern the next steps in
       the development of the Path. We received a great many
       suggestions from our hosts: a dedicated week to celebrate
       Abraham in Urfa and Harran, including a walk by youth between
       the two cities, a proposal to open the first way-marked
       multi-day segment of the Abraham Path in Jordan, a walk with
       youth from around the world including Israelis and Palestinians
       from Jerusalem to Hebron/Al-Khalil. We are studying the
       possibility of having these walks all take place within the same
       two week period in the fall with a global delegation moving from
       walk to walk along the Path. At the same time, people from
       around the world could join in Abraham walks in their own
       communities. The walks could be accompanied by such events as
       interfaith dialogues, music concerts, academic symposia, and
       tourism trade fairs.

       One step at a time, the Path is being created. We have already
       begun mapping the Path on the ground and begun to create the
       beginnings of a guidebook. As our working motto goes, “less
       talk, more walk.”

       Developing the Path will require a lot of work; we are still in
       the very beginning. We invite your involvement and support in
       walking the Path with us, literally and metaphorically, in your
       communities and in the Middle East. If you have any questions or
       offerings, please contact my colleagues Josh Weiss at
       josh@abrahampath.org or Martha Gilliland at martha@abrahampath.org.

       One thing is certain: this initial journey along the Abraham
       Path was life-changing, an adventure of the body, mind, and
       spirit for everyone who was on it. And it marked a definite step
       forward for our common dream. No longer can skeptics easily say,
       “You can’t go from Harran to Hebron.” Because we have – and
       countless others, including many of you, we hope, will do the
       same in the years to come. As one of our hosts announced on our
       last day in Jerusalem, “with this first study tour, the baby is
       born.”

       My colleagues and I are deeply grateful for your ongoing support.

       With respect,

       William Ury