Earth Caravan’s 2017 Middle East Tour
Earth Caravan is a global, interfaith organization whose mission is to share peace, happiness, and healing in the world through words, art, music, shiatsu therapy, and interfaith prayers. Earth Caravan started in 2015 and every year travels to cities and places around the globe, sharing a strong message of peace, hope, and ways of living that will help heal the wounds of war, violence, and disaster. You can read about our 2017 Middle East journey and adventures below. Please consider joining us next time!
When our Caravan entourage landed in Israel on July 30, some people went to visit the Mount of Temptation in Jericho and the Dead Sea. Also, we were immediately and spontaneously asked to come and delight the Bedouin children of the Jahalin tribe in Mishor Adumim. At a summer camp organized by the Rabbis for Human Rights organization and nuns from the Catholic Comboni Missionary Sisters of Italy, Caravan participants rejoiced with the local children through music, dance, acting, and creating origami.
On July 31 there was a peace activity in the morning—we played with children at Azhar Abu Al-Nowwar Kindergarten, and that evening we toured the old city of Jerusalem in small groups.
Accompanying Bedouin Shepherds in Jordan Valley
On August 1, a day tour of the old city of Jerusalem was conducted with the purpose of better understanding the complex challenges faced by both Palestinian and Israeli residents.
We went to the Jordan Valley on August 2, where we met with Bedouin shepherds from the al-ʿAuja area. The Israeli army is preventing them from entering their natural grazing areas. With the temperature at 45 degrees Celsius, and the grass all dry and thin, we witnessed a situation where, for no apparent reason, the Israeli army is limiting the Bedouin’s habitat areas.
A Photovoltaic System in the Village of al-ʿAqaba
We continued on to the village of al-ʿAqaba, which today numbers 35 families. We were shown around the village, which is run by its residents as a cooperative, and in addition to a hostel, the local economy is based on revenue from the production of fine cheese and yogurt and a factory for packing herbal tea bags.
We gave Tao Shiatsu treatments to the residents and added a mural to the village walls, which are painted decoratively with great charm. In the evening there was a small concert.
We were happy to stay in the hostel and thus both support al-ʿAqaba’s economy and enjoy its wonderful food. We were also able to enjoy the splendid scenery during our stay.
As a result of Earth Caravan’s visit, a photovoltaic system was established that provides electricity for a family on the border of the military zone. Because they didn’t have lights at night, they were frequently attacked by gunfire. Now the family lives in safer circumstances and the children can read and study after dark.
Rehabilitation of a Water Well in Jordan Valley
At the break of dawn on August 3, an expedition of local shepherds, Earth Caravan members, and Guy Hircefeld from the peace organization Ta’ayush set out from the village of Al-ʿAqaba to help the shepherd community in the area to clean and restore one of the surroundingwater wells. According to international law, all water sources in the occupied West Bank belong to the occupied residents of that territory and only a small part of that water may be used by Israel.
In actual fact, however, Israel has taken over all the water sources in the Palestinian Jordan Valley. One of the first edicts signed by the Commander of the West Bank on August 15, 1967, forbade the Palestinians to use water sources throughout the West Bank without permission.
As a result of this, to provide drinking water for their animals, farmers and shepherds depend in part on small, handcrafted wells that are more like water holes. These wells gradually fill with silt and need to be cleaned, bucket by bucket, because heavy technical equipment is either not available or not allowed to enter into the area.
It was a genuinely gratifying experience for Earth Caravan members to dig into the mud until fresh and clear water reappeared from the ground. Everybody was grateful to be able to participate in the process and share the blessings of the life-giving water wells.
Bethlehem Street Festival
Toward evening, the Caravan drove south and arrived in Bethlehem. Bethlehem’s Holy Land Trust organization and the Earth Caravan Interfaith Pilgrimage have been cooperating for three years, since the very beginning of Earth Caravan’s visits to Palestine and Israel, and they are total and active partners in the Bet Lahem Live Festival held in Bethlehem.
The Holy Land Trust always opens its doors to Earth Caravan participants and gives them a deep sense of welcome, as friends. The Holy Land Trust centre is located in an impressive arched stone structure and includes a complex of rooms, courtyards, and balconies overlooking Bethlehem. During our stay, all the spaces in the centre were turned into points of activity and creativity. On the roof terrace floor, music and dance were performed by Japanese and Austrian Tao Sangha members. Traditional sushi dishes were prepared in the adjacent kitchen. One floor below, a tea ceremony was offered, and tables were set up for Chatranga games. And in the inner rooms, the art of origami, kimono dressing, and calligraphy writing could be experienced. Tao Shiatsu treatments were offered on the lower floor. Prior to all these great activities taking place, Tao Sangha members chanted Nembutsu and invited everyone to join.
August 3: From the Holy Land Trust centre, the Caravan left to spend two days at the refugee camps of Aida and Dheisheh. Anyone who wanted to could experience a Tao Shiatsu treatment as well as intercultural exchange through music, games, and talks.
Road Construction in the Southern Hebron Hills
On August 4 we went to the village of Umm al-Khair in the southern Hebron hills, where the Bedouin Hathaleen clan, part of the larger Jahalin tribe, lives. They left Israel after the War of Independence in 1948, after which they came back and legally purchased some of their original land. In 2003, an Israeli settlement called Carmel was built just at the border of their land, without taking the local residents into account. The settlers took over the surrounding land as if the Bedouin residents, who already lived there, did not exist.
The new Israeli community put a stranglehold on any progress the locals tried to make, with the sole purpose of trying to force them off their land. They were given neither the possibility nor the means to build their lives. Any attempt to deal with their existing reality was met with hostility and violence. The residents of the village try to organize and build shelters for children and extended families, but demolition orders are immediately arranged, allowing the army and the Civil Administration authorities to come and destroy existing structures.
We arrived at the centre of the village in the morning to help construct a road connecting the two parts of the village. Limestone materials, which we helped to finance, were used. The fastest and easiest way to construct a road is by using heavy engineering machinery and tools that are made for such tasks, but here this cannot be done, because as soon as the Bedouins bring a heavy vehicle, such as a tractor, into this territory, a confiscation order and fines are immediately issued by Israeli authorities.
So, with rakes and buckets, and three hours of vigorous work, the road was built. Encouraged by cheers, joy, music, and singing, this accomplishment was celebrated with the local residents taking a car ride on the new part of the road.
Interfaith Prayer at Bethlehem University
A remarkable and visionary interfaith prayer chant was held at the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability at Bethlehem University.
After a profound and deeply moving talk about the peaceful resistance in occupied Palestine, which was given by internationally renowned Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, interfaith Nembutsu peace chanting united all participants—Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic—in the common wish for a positive and peaceful future for all countries.
Singing and praying the mystical words in unification to overcome our human history of political and religious separation is changing attitudes. Working together in many different aspects of science, religion, economy, health services, and education is changing the way we look at each other. Growing friendship rather than nourishing prejudices is a hallmark of Earth Caravan, and it occurs throughout the Caravan’s journey.
Earth Caravan’s 2017 Middle East Tour imprinted on its participants a sense of elation and inspiration from their interactions with the local people, who do not normally receive respect, attention, and love. These encounters created infectious waves of enthusiasm, joy, and creativity.
The Bedouin and Palestinian communities are connected to the earth in organic and unique ways. Being present to witness the difficult realities in their daily lives made our hearts beat as one and increased our yearning to continue to be in touch with them so that we can create a bright future for all of us.
Here’s a link to the photo album for the 2017 tour, which shows pictures of the above events and activities: