This blog post has been contributed by Sean, a Leeds Beckett student who participated in the 2014 volunteering/walking trip in Israel and Palestine, organised by the university and supported by the UK Friends.
The Israel and Palestine conflict has been one of the most important political and social issues of the last three decades or more. The conflict has been widely reported, so it is very prominent in minds of the public and the suffering of everyone involved in the conflict is clearer to see. The result is that many may feel they want to help relieve some of the suffering and contribute to building peace in the area.
The Abraham Path trail and community service scheme, run in the UK through Leeds Beckett University and the UK Friends of Abraham’s Path (UKFAP), enables individuals to work in groups in communities on projects aimed at creating the environment where dialogue and understanding can flourish. UKFAP also aim to facilitate dialogue at home.
Leeds Beckett and UKFAP organised a trip to Israel and Palestine in the summer of 2014 that involved a mixed schedule of volunteering, hiking and educational outings. The volunteering was based in two places; in a Bedouin community in the Negev desert and at a Christian farm just outside Bethlehem.
The Bedouin community in the Negev desert is increasingly being pushed in to a small area of the desert. As a semi nomadic people, this has become an issue. When they have tried to settle in traditional villages, their homesteads are considered illegal so that new houses are destroyed by the state. The volunteering project in this community was focused on finding a way to build new houses, cheaply, quickly and out of natural material. Our group was almost used to test this project, which a local Israeli hopes to extend across the Negev. Visiting this community can also be viewed as an act of solidarity, showing the Bedouin that they are not forgotten. Our hosts urged everyone who visited to go home and talk about their plight.
The second base for volunteering was in the Tent of Nations, a Christian Palestinian family farm that aims to bring a message of peace within the community. Surrounded by Israeli settlements, they are exercising their right to remain and their motto is “We refuse to be enemies‘’. Groups from all around the world (Including Israel) come to work on the farm, see the consequence of conflict first-hand and show solidarity with the family. The work that was undertaken involved planting a small vine yard, and clearing a stony area for further planting of crops.
I believe the Leeds Beckett/UKFAP volunteering opportunity is important. It enables everyone who goes on the trip to gain a fuller understanding of the conflict and history of the area. It also enables us to help in whatever way we can in bringing hope to the people of Israel and Palestine.
The trip lasted 2 weeks and involved 60 hours of volunteering. We stayed with local families in the Negev desert, and were able to wander around historic Jerusalem and the modern capital of Tel Aviv. Along our journey we were able to see a Palestine and Israel that most other visitors would not. We gained first-hand accounts from people from all walks of life about the conflict. We worked alongside activists on both sides of the conflict and local people. Abraham’s Path aims to give a powerful educational experience that means people bring home a fuller view on the culture of both Israel and Palestine – a view that has the potential change people’s lives.