Tree of Life Journey – January 2016

A Three-Fold Cord is Not Easily Broken:
A Tree of Life Interfaith Journey

Journey Reflections      Journey Photos

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes offers a powerful metaphor for interfaith relationships when he declares that “a three-fold cord is not easily broken.”  That image is especially appropriate when considering the plight of ordinary Palestinians living under a brutal occupation in Israel. Too often, religion is used as a tool to silence voices of conscience speaking out about the dehumanizing conditions of the occupation. Not only that, religion has all too often been co-opted by extremists, who distort various traditions for narrow ideological ends.  But each of the Abrahamic faiths contains an ethical core rooted in social justice. This year’s Tree of Life trip concentrated on resources within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that enable people to resist the culture of violence and discrimination practiced against Palestinians. The travelers met with distinguished representatives from all three faith traditions, and had opportunities to learn how religion, as well as visual art, music, drama, and poetry assist in creating enclaves of beauty and resistance amidst terrible degradation in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Gaza. In so doing, they reclaimed the prophetic roots of the Abrahamic faiths in a contemporary vein, demonstrating the wisdom of those ancient words from Ecclesiastes: a three-fold cord is not easily broken.

The journey to Israel and Palestine took place from January 9 through 19th 2016.  It was led by Rev. Dr. Steve Jungkeit (Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut), Dr. Reza Mansoor (President of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford), Dr. Bob Gelbach (Chair of the New Haven chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace), and Jiries Atrash (Tree of Life Coordinator for Israel Palestine). Representatives from all religious traditions were welcome to join us, as well as travelers from no particular religious tradition.

In addition, there was an optional extension trip to the Andalusia region of Spain, an opportunity to explore the gifts that Islam provided to European culture.  It was also a chance to learn about a region in which the Abrahamic faiths managed to forge powerful alliances for hundreds of years.  The extension took place prior to the time in Israel and Palestine, from January 4-9th


Below are reflections on the trip by some of the travelers:

From Ali and Nazy Shakibai

Holy Land, indeed!

Vast sky. Serene hills and valleys. Plush- and not so plush!- fields.
Birthplace, resting place and visiting place of Messengers and sincere pilgrims. 

East Jerusalem! Jewel city of Abrahamic religions. May it bring Peace and Justice for all. May it receive the proper respect that it deserves.

Beautiful alarming bell rings from the churches, reminding us day after day that we ought to, ‘ Love Our Neighbors.’ Or at least try to deserve love of our neighbors. May listeners understand.

Heart warming assurance from the minarets that, ‘God is Greater.’ That He is Seeing. He is Hearing. He is aware of the intentions and actions of the oppressors, and sufferings of the oppressed. And He is Just.

We are certain that similar messages are given to people in synagogues and in front of the Wailing Wall.

Holy Land! Desecrated, polluted and bruised by ugly Walls, tall and crooked. And massive barbed fences. And imposing watchtowers with bulletproof small windows; self -imposed prisons.
One side of the wall, covered with graffiti of defiance and resistance. Unclean.
The other side, most likely, well kept, plush and care free.
Disgusting Walls, blocking the horizon and, callously, denying the people of either side from beholding the sunrise and sunset of their Holy Land and creating hatred by separating the bodies, minds and hearts of the same people.

And road blocks, wherever there was a road, or entrance to places of worship. Inducing humiliation, intensive search, coercion and long delay.
And young men and women wearing thick bulletproof vests, carrying frightening loaded large machine guns. Walking back and forth, startled, and sometimes aimlessly. Watching everyone from all corners, giving rise to the impression of anxiety, suspicion and fear, instead of having the joy of caring respect for each other, as brothers and sisters in faith. Alas!

And Palestinians! Proud, resolute, content and patient. With contagious sweet smiles, albeit at the midst of calamities. And feeling of spirit of tolerance, compromise and forgiveness.

And children! Vibrant, lively and hopeful. So innocent! So kind! So Sociable! 

And not infrequently, nonverbal expression of resentment, desperation and helplessness.

And wonderful hospitality along with unspeakable shameful imposed economic difficulties.

And heartbreaking abject conditions of so many thousands of innocent people–children, young and old, men and women–who are struggling to make a decent living.

Such an honor to meet conscientious clergies and teachers. Courageous leaders of our time, enlightening and encouraging us to become more active in defense of oppressed people of the world. And to become less preoccupied and more care free with the possibility of hardships and or failure.

Constant contact with tight security gave us the irksome feeling of fear and insecurity.
When, finally, we landed in Istanbul’s airport, we felt lighter, less startled and breathing easier. Thinking about hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children who, constantly, have to deal with humiliation, coercion, intimidation and fear of losing their properties and even losing their lives. What a pity! What a shame!

And a final statement.

A contemporary Iranian port, Prof. Shafii Kadkani has said:

” No grief for a leafless but lively tree,
Grievous, indeed, is a leaf without a tree.”

Palestine has always been a lively tree and will remain so.
May Truth, Justice and Peace prevail.


From Mary Tomassetti

As I arrived at Tel Aviv Airport a few weeks ago, I wondered how different this experience could be, having just visited Israel and Palestine in March of 2015. 

My answer came before I even left the airport. Back in March of 2015, one of our fellow travelers, a Muslim leader,  was held for 2 hours, mostly waiting to be questioned. This time, four of our Muslim friends were detained, for 3 hours and many questions. “What is the name of your grandfather? Who do you know here?  Why are you coming?” 

Why are we coming?? Perhaps because it is one of the most holy sites in the world? Perhaps to witness the horrific effect of the occupation? To see the street vendors in Hebron, desperately trying to make a living under the nets catching garbage thrown by settlers above? To witness 20 soldiers standing on the side of the road at an intersection, around the pool of blood from their latest Palestinian victim, likely a person just trying to get to work, pulled over, pulled out of the car and brutally shot?  

In less than one year everything was different. The Bedouin camp with houses demolished, the backhoe and loaders looming on a hill. The stench of tear gas greeting us in Bethlehem. The anxiety on the face of my friend who had just learned of a child shot in the head, along his usual path to school. Everything was different. 

On our way out of the country, 23 security agents at the Tel Aviv airport gave our group of 10 the special treatment–a 3 hour search of our persons, our luggage and our minds. Perfectly orchestrated, they finished just as final boarding was called for our flight. A lovely goodbye. 

Of all things different this year, our country is supporting this oppressive violence more than ever. Over $10 million per day and rising. With presidential candidates promising more support. 

When will we say no more? When will our united voice be loud enough to make change?  

The Palestinian people are strong and resilient, hopeful, surviving the best they can through a brutal occupation, funded by my tax dollars, and yours. 

This year, I hope we can make change in the direction of humanity, decency and respect. I hope we can all be in action, in some way, any way, to make a better world for all.


From Ghoufran Allababidi

I can’t believe that we are back home, I enjoyed every moment being there with all of you
learning about the way of life in Palestine,
Until now I’m still enjoying all the touchy memories to all places I visited,
I will never forget the hardship life that our brothers and sisters are suffering alone
and also all the treatment that we received at the check points and at the airport,
these difficulties really didn’t do anything other then increase my motivation to go again & again


Journey Photos