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London, 17/11/2015

MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series: ‘The Abraham Path: A Trail of Dignity Across the Middle East’ by Stefan Szepesi

Stefan Szepesi, economist and Executive Director of the Abraham Path Initiative

The MBI Al Jaber Foundation hosted its second lecture of the 2015-16 series on Thursday, November 17th. Stefan Szepesi, economist and Executive Director of the Abraham Path Initiative, gave an inspirational talk at the MBI Al Jaber building, speaking of how he traded conventional diplomacy for diplomacy ‘on foot’, when he moved from working with the EU and the UN to something he describes as ‘this audacious project’!

The Abraham Path Initiative created the first long-distance walking trail across the Middle East and traces the cultural memory of Abraham, the legendary ancestor of over half of humanity. The project aims at bringing socio-economic development to the 150 communities along the way. Step by step, throughout its eight years of existence, the path is now accessible through Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and the South Sinai Peninsula, and has been travelled by more than 5000 people to date. This is a project that creates a connection between the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Stefan talked about how, in the current geopolitical climate, the combination of walking and the Middle East might seem absurd…. ‘And yet, in no place is it more necessary, more fulfilling and more hopeful than there’. He recounted the story of his walking in the region when he worked as a diplomat and discovered the powerful impact of ‘… walking in the West Bank every weekend …. What was generally framed as a dangerous and hostile region turned out to be different in practice; beautiful and human’.

As Stefan stated, however, ‘the Abraham Path is no silver bullet solution to the grand crises in the Middle East’. It does, however, carry an important message. In various ways, ‘it is a live experiment of what happens when we literally walk to the other, and gradually put ourselves in someone else’s shoes’. In various ways, the path can be seen ‘as an antidote to Fear, Ignorance and Separation between East and West. It can be seen as an anti-dote consisting of 3 actions that reinforce one another: Story, Walk and Hospitality’.

Stefan spoke of the Abraham Path as celebrating the cultural memory of Abraham and the peoples of the Middle East in the widest sense, ‘a path that connects East and West by showing travellers, hosts and guides the other face or the face of the other’. It is a path of dignity at a time when raging conflict is deeply harmful to individuals, communities and nations.

Stefan Szepesi is also the author of Walking Palestine: 25 Journeys Across the West Bank.

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