Optional Extension to Saudi Arabia – February 25 to March 3
In the year 621, the Prophet Mohammad, Peace be upon him, made a journey by night from the Great Mosque in Mecca to what is now The Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. On this journey, he rode a winged white horse, by the name of Buraq, translated as “Lightning” and he prayed with the great prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
So it is with us. Each year, Tree of Life travels to the Holy Land allowing travelers to pray with the prophets of old. In many of today’s prophetic voices of conscience – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – we have the privilege of sitting at the feet of those who work and pray for human rights, struggling to make this a better world for all Creation.
This year, in our extension, Muslims and Non-Muslims had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia as well. With emerging and startling changes in Saudi Arabia, our Non-Muslim travelers were able to stand in solidarity with our Muslim friends.
As we are overwhelmed by the darkness of the land, with all its political corruption, greed, nationalism, tribalism, fear, and war, we need to learn from the wisdom of the prophets, past and present, so that we too can add our own prophetic voices to this troubled world.
Leading this journey was Ghoufran Allababidi, President of Tree of Life Educational Fund.
UPDATE #1 – Monday, February 20th
Our Tree of Life travelers had a good first few days, meeting with our friends Ivan Karakashian, Jeff Halper, and Mustafa Abu Sway in Jerusalem, Breaking the Silence, Community Peacemaking Team, two of our young friends from Hebron, Sadeq and Dalia in Hebron, and yesterday, they had a warm welcome from our Bedouin friends in the Negev, Amal Abu AlKhom and Khalil Al Amour. Also, of course, on Friday, our Muslim travelers were delighted to offer prayers at Al Aqsa. Today was a very busy day, starting with prayers at the Omar Mosque in Bethlehem and the Grotto of the Church of Nativity. From there, they had a wonderful visit at Shepherds Field School, a place where Tree of Life supports a scholarship program to help the neediest of their children, regardless of race or religion. From there, they had beautiful 60 degree weather for a visit to Tent of Nations to meet with our friend Daoud Nassar. Daoud and Tent of Nations are still embroiled in a legal battle to maintain ownership of their farm.
Situated in a highly desirable location, the agents of settler colonialism/zionism have tried to force them out, buy them out, burn them out, and yet inspite of it all, Daoud still has a rock at the entrance to the farm that says, “We Refuse to Be Enemies.” After Tent of Nations, the group then returned to Bethlehem to meet with our friends from the Parents Circle, Rami Elhanan and George Saadeh. The 2 of them have traveled throughout the world to share their painful stories. Both lost children in the violence, and yet they stand together in friendship to say that the occupation must end. They have paid the highest price for the injustices of settler colonialism and as such, they speak with moral courage and authority.
UPDATE #2 – Wednesday, February 22nd
In this photo/video you’ll see our very good friend and former speaker for our Tree of Life series, Taiseer Maray. Taiseer lives in the Golan, and his home is surrounded by magnificent gardens and apple orchards, and over the years, we’ve been so grateful for Taiseer’s help in meeting with our groups to show houses, villages and mosques destroyed by Israel, fields of land mines where children, dogs and sheep have been killed, a heavily armed boundary near Mt. Hermon separating occupied Syria from the rest of Syria. In our journeys, we ask our travelers to remember that “Occupation” is not singular. It includes the West Bank and Gaza, but it also includes the Golan, and each year we try to visit the Golan to remember that truth. The occupation also includes our Halls of Congress that despite all the evidence so readily available still speaks of Israel as the “only democracy in the Middle East.”
UPDATE #3 – Saturday, February 25
Sadly, to show that “ethnic cleansing” and dispossession is not a thing of the past, when Najd left to fly home from Tel Aviv, the so-called Security at Ben Gurion subjected her to cruel interrogation and scrutiny and confiscated her purse (you’ll see it in the photos) and also her Apple Watch. How do we respond to such stories? Surely these stories tell us we have a moral imperative to tell these stories to our neighbors, our churches, synagogues and mosques. Surely, our elected officials need to hear these stories. As they are perpetually asked to show their support for the State of Israel and as even now, as several of you have reminded me, as they consider granting Israel “Visa Waiver Status”, they need to be reminded of how Najd, a proud Palestinian American, an American Citizen with a US Passport has been treated at their border.
When I speak with elected officials and share with them the stories of how Najd has been treated and how Reem and Rahaf’s hearts were broken when they were denied a visa, I will speak with all the authority I can muster that Israel is not a Jewish State. I can speak with authority because I can hear the lamentations of Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Abraham Heschel, Albert Einstein, Holocaust survivor, Hajo Meier and such contemporary heroes as Ilan Pappe, Jeff Halper, Rami Elhanan, Mark Braverman, Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Avraham Burg, Sahar Vardi and my good friends here in Connecticut, Elizabeth Aaronsohn, Sam Goldberger (with us in spirit!) Stan Heller and Shelly Altman to name only a few!