For more than 15 years the Abraham Path Initiative (API) has generated positive social and economic impact in Southwest Asia (“the Middle East”), by developing walking trails and community-based tourism. The trails benefit residents who may become professional guides, homestay host families, and small business owners that cater to walkers who visit their towns. Along these trails, travelers may enjoy authentic hospitality, make new friends, walk in breathtaking landscapes, and return home with positive stories about the region and its peoples.
Working with governments, communities, civil society organizations, and individuals, API has catalyzed the development of more than 2,000 km of walking trails in Palestine, Jordan, the Sinai, and Türkiye.
In 2006 we took an exploratory walk, beginning in Türkiye, bussing through Syria, visiting Hebron and landing in Jerusalem. Throughout, we visited sites related to the legendary journey of Abraham/Ibrahim and enjoyed the region’s legendary hospitality.
The next year we began trail development in Jordan and Türkiye. In Jordan, we connected with the mayors of small communities in Al Ayoun, where pomegranate and olive trees dot the hillsides and rivers rush, seasonally full. Women make soaps with homegrown herbs in Orjan. Families were glad to welcome travelers for lunches and overnight homestays in Baoun and Rasun.
In Türkiye, API invested about $250,000 in the development of Abraham’s Path, known locally as Ibrahim Yolu. Between 2007-2012, 170 km of trail were mapped and waymarked, five homestays were established in Kurdish and Arab communities along the route, and five local guides were trained in guiding and the English language. The trail introduced international walkers to Şanlıurfa, also known as Urfa, City of Prophets. Visitors walked to nearby Göbekli Tepe, a 12,000 year-old temple northeast of the city. (It’s estimated to be 6,000 years older than Stonehenge.) Abraham’s Path in Türkiye was suspended in 2011 due to the onset of the Syrian Civil War. In 2023, following massive destruction in the February earthquakes, API Fellow Ömer Tanık re-waymarked the section between Yuvacali and Kisas.
In Palestine in 2008, we explored existing walking trails and reached out to various NGOs to assess interest and capacity for co-creating a long-distance walking trail on the spine of the West Bank. From 2014-2018, API was awarded a $3.324m grant from the World Bank Group to complete a 330 km walking trail, initially called the Abraham Path, or Masar Ibrahim, in Arabic. Over the course of five years, we also developed dozens of homestay opportunities with families in villages along the route, and certified scores of walking and trekking guides. In 2020, Masar Ibrahim was renamed the Palestinian Heritage Trail.
Our investment of expertise and training in the eastern Sinai Peninsula brought three Bedouin tribes together to create a 225 km trail connecting their territories. In 2018, they saw a 66% rise in the number of Bedouin guides (from 16 to 24), while the number of Bedouin workers along the trail grew from 34 to 42. Walkers on the trail increased from 88 in 2017 to nearly 400 in 2018. From that place of strength, the three tribes, in a unified effort, invited five additional tribes to work with them. Together, the eight tribes doubled the length of the Sinai Trail. API’s investment in the Sinai was underwritten by grants from the Flora Family Foundation.
In 2018-2019, API completed a $240,000 trail feasibility study in the Asir Province of Saudi Arabia. Asir, north of Yemen on Arabia’s Red Sea Coast, boasts the highest mountain on the peninsula -- the 3,000-meter Jabal Sauda.
Currently, API is catalyzing a long-distance walking trail in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We bring technical expertise, training, capacity building, and publicity and marketing know-how to villagers in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, stimulating revenue generation with community-based tourism. API began exploring trail development in Iraq in 2018, when Abraham Path Fellows were engaged in cultural heritage preservation projects from the marshes in the South to the Nineveh and Kurdistan Regional Governorates in the North. With this important initiative, we draw attention to roots of global culture that emanate from the region historically known as the Fertile Crescent and Cradle of Civilization.
2003 - 2007
- Dr. William Ury, world-renowned mediator, believes stories have the power to connect us and heal conflicts. The story of Abraham emerged as a paradigm for walking and sharing hospitality.
- In 2006, Harvard sponsored a two-week study trip with 25 people that traveled from Harran in Türkiye to Hebron in the West Bank.
- In 2007, a board of directors formed and Abraham Path Initiative was incorporated as a 501(c) (3) US non-profit organization.
2008 - 2013
- Over the next six years, API partners visited towns and invited people to become part of a growing regional trend toward community-based experiential tourism and its economic benefits. The trail expanded, new jobs were created, and more visitors came.
- In 2009, Harvard Business School published a working paper “Negotiating the Path of Abraham.”
- By 2011, civil war put a hold on work in Syria and Türkiye. But not elsewhere.
2014 - 2018
- In 2014, the World Bank noticed the positive impact of walking tourism on fragile and marginalized communities in Palestine and began supporting Abraham Path Initiative efforts in the West Bank.
- In 2015, Bedouin of South Sinai revived a tradition of welcoming guests and escorting them safely through ancient landscapes.
- In 2018, API completed Phase I of the World Bank grant in Palestine, walkers traversed the Sinai Trail on a pilot trek, and API undertook a feasibility study in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
2019 - 2022
- In 2019, API fellows, staff, and local partners walked in Iraqi Kurdistan, laying the groundwork for the Zagros Mountain Trail.
- With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, API pivoted to online programming, launching the Meet Us on the Abraham Path webinar series, digital postcards, and LiveOnLine tours, which continue successfully through today.
- In 2022, new cultural heritage preservation projects in Nineveh, Iraq, were launched with generous funding from the ALIPH Foundation. The first technical thru-hike of the Zagros Mountain Trail was completed in Iraqi Kurdistan.
- The formal launch of the Zagros Mountain Trail took place in Erbil with ZMT leadership, local stakeholders, API Executive Director Anisa Mehdi, and diplomats in attendance.
- Following massive destruction in the February earthquakes in Türkiye, API Fellow Ömer Tanık re-waymarked the section of Ibrahim Yolu between Yuvacali and Kisas.
- Three books written by friends of API were published:
- Wounded Tigris: A River Journey Through the Cradle of Civilization by API Fellow Leon McCarron
- What We Remember Will Be Saved: A Story of Refugees and the Things They Carry by former API Fellow Stephanie Saldaña
- New Pilgrimage Routes and Trails edited by Daniel H. Olsen, Dane Munro, and Ian S. McIntosh, featuring a chapter by API Executive Director Anisa Mehdi
Abraham’s legacy continues playing out in the daily lives of residents and visitors along the now successful national trails that invite you to this heartland of hospitality.