Reflections from our trip to the Holy Land in September 2016

Transformation was at the core of our latest three-week travel study program in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. We practiced deep listening as we heard clashing narratives on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, and exercised an openness to handle and heal conflict in our own lives. In the months since this experience, trip participants have continued to reflect on the life-changing lessons they gleaned along the way.

Everything I experienced on the trip was a source of amazing inspiration. It was a masterclass in understanding the complexities of the past, the challenges of the present, and the path to achieving a just, peaceful, and hopeful future in the Middle East, and for humanity.

— Alex H. – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Janet L. – Redding, California

Our tour was a life-changing glimpse into the politics of Palestine/Israel. We met daily with people from all positions and beliefs, and we intently listened to each one to understand their narrative. We primarily met with groups who are composed of Muslims, Jews, and Christians working together to find a solution to the conflict.

Among the Israeli settlers and kibbutz members, racism against Arabs was shocking. But even in the face of discrimination, oppression, denial of human rights, and uncertainty of the future, the Palestinians we met were positive in their resolve.

In view of all this, I had always believed that armed struggle was the only way to solve the situation.  But a young Palestinian named Shadi Abu Awwad, from an organization called Roots, taught me a new way to think. As he sat next to his friend, a Jewish rabbi, he told a heartfelt story of how he came to embrace nonviolence and cooperation as the only way forward. His story was so personal, so profound, that it touched me in a way I had never felt before. I began to understand that continuing to fight a war for self-determination will not bring justice in Palestine; but Palestinians and Jews working hand-in-hand with each other will create a peaceful world.

As the days go by and I have time to reflect, I grow more confident that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will work out. We met with so many groups in Palestine/Israel who are working to find common ground. Granted, many groups are small, but their message is very big. By working side-by-side with “the other,” they draw on the best of each side to create something new.

I came away excited by what I saw happening in Palestine/Israel, and I have continued to follow the groups we encountered. I learned that those of us in the West can support this process by educating our own population and pressuring the governments to come to the table to negotiate. I recommend this tour to everyone who wants to learn and grow.

Emily O. – Seattle, Washington

When you meet someone that changes your life, how do you continue your life as it was? I had to ask myself this recently, when thinking about the last few months and in particular, my trip with the Euphrates Institute in September. It was a remarkable time of learning, and especially listening to others that perhaps I wouldn’t otherwise take the time to get to know. We spent two weeks meeting with different NGOs and political groups who are making impactful differences in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. To discuss them individually would take all day. But perhaps what stood out to me most was this: even if we won’t see the results, we are going to take the high road anyway.

“Peace is power, not weakness” he said, “Even if peace won’t happen in my lifetime, I am doing it for the future generations.” (Quote by Shadi Abu Awwad, a member of the Roots organization.)

I shifted out of myself and mused on this. What struck me while listening to this man was that his own rights have been denied on many basic levels as a Palestinian. Water can be shut off at a moment’s notice, family members had been incarcerated and killed, curfews and the many military checkpoints keep indignity a constant. It takes courage to stand up and do the dirty work of peace building. Peace is not passive. Peace work is very often uncomfortable. It requires listening to someone whose viewpoint is different.

Often in my life when there is injustice, I feel that I may parade with it and marinade in it, and show what wounds have been accrued. But being a victim is not the path that most of the people we spoke with were taking. And they had been through much more than I ever have.

I think it’s too easy for me to become apathetic if I don’t see tangible differences taking place in my experience. Now, however, I can’t help but think of my friends half-way across the world. If they can be hopeful and peaceful amidst such injustices, I think I can start to do the same with smaller scale issues. It doesn’t mean I am passive to problems. It means I can address them with fearless resolve, and not timidity; with fierce grace, not apathy. After all, as my friend said, “peace is power, not weakness.”

The Euphrates trip was remarkable and a once in a life time opportunity. It opened up my understanding of a region so important to history and to present day politics. I was in awe of how Euphrates organized the trip as the speakers and Holy Land sights were packed full of interest. There was never a dull moment. Each individual we toured with and heard from was awe-inspiring. The trip expanded my interests in learning more about the region. It was truly one of the most blessed experiences I’ve ever had.

— Judy B. – Missoula, Montana

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