From 8 – 29 of November, a group of 80 international, Israeli and Palestinian people walked together from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, mainly through the Westbank along the Jordan River. They walked in the name of Grace. Only some kilometres away, bombs fell on Gaza, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. While hatred and fear arose and helicopters flew above their heads, the pilgrims were seeking to lay a base for peace and reconciliation at a deeper humanistic level. Their vision is to found a Peace Research Village in the Middle East.
Eighty people started the walk at the Sea of Galilee, honouring the water, praying and meditating at sunrise on the shore. Rico Lütscher, one of the initiators described how: “We could feel the holiness of water. Water is life, specially in a region like this. We could also see that the Jordan River has been made into a sewage dump. Raising awareness for different water systems, for a different way to live in the Holy Land, was one of our purposes. Ecological sustainability is most crucial for peace.” The pilgrims stayed in Palestinian villages, in Israeli settlements, at campfires, many times walking in silence, connecting deeply with the land.
When the first bombs fell on Tel Aviv and then Israeli bombs hit Gaza, the commitment for peace became very tangible in the group:
Mara Vollmer: “One night two Israeli soldiers came to our campfire. We invited them to join us under the condition that they left their guns behind. They agreed. One of our Palestinian pilgrims, an old farmer, burst out in tears. In his heart he saw all the Israeli soldiers coming back from Gaza, putting down their guns and joining our pilgrimage. A deep, heartfelt sharing followed. The Israelis that are presently, or had previously been soldiers, were deeply moved. I am sure that these kind of encounters will change the people on a very deep level.”
While the pilgrims walked, the tension rose in the country. Tanks passed by their sleeping places, helicopters over their heads many times, on their way to Gaza. They visited an Israeli settlement, a big challenge for forgiveness and reconciliation, especially for the Palestinian people of the group.
Uri Ayalon: “In the name of Grace it is important to listen to all kinds of people and not create any borders.”
Dina Awaad from Bethlehem said, “It was the first time I visited a settlement, and it was hard for me.” At the end she was happy that she went. She even felt sad for the people that have to close themselves inside of such a little world. Talking with settlers and listening to them, she felt in touch with their hearts, understanding that also for them it is a challenge to welcome Palestinians – the so-called enemy.
In some Palestinian villages they were not welcomed anymore, because they had decided not to join the boycott and to visit an Israeli settlement. There was a night that they could not find a place to stay. As a group of universal refugees they went from place to place trying to find somewhere to stay, eventually walking out into the desert to sleep in nature.
Mara: “We were so happy to leave all the borders and regulations and separations behind and be free. We danced, sang and had a big celebration. In this moment we received the message, that the ceasefire was just 40 minutes away. This was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
The PRV group´s vision is to build a Peace Research Village, a place of internationals, Israelis and Palestinians, working together for peace and showing how ecological and social sustainability in the Holy Land can look like.