Holy Land Living Water was a week-long event conceived by UNITY EARTH to help raise awareness about the work of regional environmental peacebuilding organization EcoPeace Middle East, in particular on the ecological rehabilitation and sustainable development of the lower Jordan Valley. The event was presented in partnership with the United Religions Initiative and also celebrated UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, an annual celebration in the 1st week of February. An international delegation of almost 100, representing a myriad of countries, cultures, communities, faiths and philosophies, arrived in the Middle East in February 2020, for what would be a historic pilgrimage that included visits to sacred sites, music, ceremonies and ecological tours.
Saturday 1 February
The week-long program officially commenced in the evening as delegates shared a welcome dinner at their hotel in Jordan.
Sunday 2 February
Delegates visited Mount Nebo in the morning and after lunch participated in lively half day conference (‘Dead Sea Convergence’) on the importance of the Jordan River to Abrahamic religions and the environmental challenges it currently faces. The day culminated in a water ceremony on the Dead Sea where leaders were invited to share how their tradition understands the relationship humans have to water.
Monday 3 February
The morning program brought all members together through an interfaith ceremony at the Al Maghtas Baptism Site on the Jordanian bank of the Jordan River. The prayers called for everyone present to remember the value of the holy waters at the Al Maghtas site—waters holy to generations past, generations present, and generations to come. Silence from the tour members conveyed the personal, emotional, and spiritual depth and breadth of the prayers’ effects on the group. Mira Michelle, founder of the Sacred Female Rising Institute, was one member of the tour held in rapture during the interfaith ceremony by the river. She reflected on visiting the site as part of the EcoPeace, Unity Earth, and United Religions Initiative tour, “It was rather special to go with a group who have their own ways to feel, to see, and to perceive the energy we call God. This was magical.”
Following the interfaith prayer, Kristin Hoffman, conscious musician and activist delegate on the tour, led the group to the river itself with a song. Her song remembered the role of water in prayer for all three Abrahamic religions by calling everyone to pray at the river together. Singing together, the tour members moved to the steps of the holy waters of the Jordan River for baptisms and prayers from faith leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and indigenous traditions. The song on the Jordan bank paired in spirit with the cheering of groups seeking baptisms directly across the river on the Palestinian bank. Following this visit, EcoPeace staff led discussion on the demise of the Jordan River and the need to identify markers towards its rehabilitation, such as the reintroduction of the willow tree along its banks.
Song continued to guide this day of the tour as the group departed from the baptismal site for lunch in a Jordanian town near the Abu Obeida Mosque. Through a lively lunch, reggae artist Patu Banton volunteered an impromptu performance of his work. As the visit to the baptism site was guided with joyous prayers blessing the river and asking for its blessings in return, lunch was a time for songs calling for peace, blessings, and a radical love for all living beings on Earth. We carried these songs for peace to a visit to the Abu Obeida Mosque in Jordan. We arrived in time for an afternoon call to prayer, when the men and women of the group separated for different experiences within the mosque area. Men from the tour entered the central hall, while women explored a smaller shrine and tomb to Abu Obeida. This visit ended our time in Jordan, and prepared the group to cross the river into Palestine and Israel.
Tuesday 4 February 2020
At the beginning of the day we progressed from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, we started with reflections from spiritual leaders representing traditions from across the world. Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai, Thai Buddhist monk and chairman of the Thai Interfaith Foundation for Social Development, set the premise of using this day focused on Bethlehem and Jerusalem as an opportunity to develop his work in finding and communicating similarities between Christian and Buddhist traditions. Pixie Byrnes, a representative of the Eastern ranges of Australia, additionally contributed to the circular reflections to remind everyone of the importance of keeping in mind the sacred waters carried within us as we travel on this tour to holy sites in the Jordan Valley.
EcoPeace Palestinian Director, Nada Majdalani, and External Affairs Officer, Bashar Al Shawwa, focused the day on highlighting the ancient historical and cultural importance of the Jordan Valley region. They educated the group on the emergence and development of organized agriculture in the Jordan Valley and its importance as the food basket of the region and a place of high biodiversity. The beginning of the death of the Jordan River in the 20th century caused by the conflict and the restrictions imposed by the occupation, as was explained, impacted the region’s agricultural tradition and ability to support residents of the Valley. The cost of water for Palestinian residents and refugees in the area is the main challenge resulting from the weakening of the Jordan River, combined with restricted access to its waters and underground water resources, and further exacerbated by the impacts of climate change on the region.
We visited the Mount of Temptation first. The energy of excitement and thankfulness for the opportunity to visit a place central to the Christian faith was palpable, with tour members exchanging short embraces and blessings for each other on the line to the cable cars up to the Mount itself. Within the mountain, everyone had the opportunity to take a few moments of reflection in the cave representing the place where Christ refused the temptations of the Devil, as described by Luke and Matthew.
Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai found the time at the Mount of Temptation rewarding for his interfaith work between Christianity and Buddhism, and led a blessing chant in the cave. He reflected on similarities between the lives and teachings of Christ and Buddha, particularly regarding “the real nature of life, the real nature of the world…and being the teacher and great father of [Christian and Buddhist] religions.”
The tour progressed to the Church of the Nativity following the Mount of Temptation. We had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Governor’s Office of Bethlehem outside the Church, who welcomed the interfaith tour and remained with us through the end of the afternoon. Following lunch, the tour presented the Governor’ representatives with a Peace Poll to stand in Bethlehem.
Wednesday 5 February 2020
The fifth day of the tour focused on visiting central holy places of the three Abrahamic religions. We viewed the Al Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall; before we passed on to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we spent most of our time in the Davidson Archaeological Park near the Western Wall. Rev. Deborah Moldow led the group through an interfaith ceremony for the divine feminine in the park. One of the women who led an aspect of the interfaith prayers, Pooki Lee, director of the Gateway to Agape organization, reflected, “in that moment [during the divine feminine ceremony] I was feeling the pain of the Earth through the land where I was standing.” An Ho’ooponopono prayer was how Pooki Lee responded to the combination of pain felt from the land in the conflict-prone city of Jerusalem, and of recognizing the healing power of the divine feminine called on in the ceremony.
We moved from this prayerful space in the Archaeological Park to a meeting with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and representatives of the Ethiopian Orthodox community in the Old City. Two tour participants, United Religions Initiative to the United Nations, Ambassador Mussie Hailu, and Prince Ermise Hailessie of Ethiopia, joined the Jerusalem Ethiopian community in their comments to the group, emphasizing bring peace through interfaith harmony to the region. The Prince, Ambassador, and Fumi Stewart of Unity Earth presented a Peace Poll to this community. We passed from this meeting to collecting outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, before exiting the city for the day.
Song ended our time in the Old City. Grammy-nominated African roots artist and UN Goodwill Ambassador for Africa for UN Environment, Rocky Dawuni, led the tour members through a song reinforcing the importance of remembering the solemnity and importance of Jerusalem for the Christians, Jews and Muslims living in the Middle East; Rocky’s lyrics “I cannot forget you Jerusalem” called on the voices of both those in the tour and others passing on the street nearby the “I love Jerusalem” sign in front of Jaffa Gate.
We progressed from the Old City and Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee that evening. Over dinner, EcoPeace Israel director, Gidon Bromberg, and Mayor of Jordan Valley Regional Council, Eidan Breenbaum, spoke on their respective works addressing pollution and water quality decline in the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. In particular, the Mayor spoke at length about his desire on pairing his community with other cities globally through a sister-river program. Unity Earth closed the event with an award given to EcoPeace for their work achieved over these past 25 years.
Thursday 6 February 2020
The sixth day of the tour continued our song, now led by the women spiritual leaders on the tour. In pre-dawn light, volunteers from the tour gathered on the banks the Sea of Galilee wherein women led a globally-united water blessing ceremony, Healing Women~Healing Water. Women representing spiritual traditions from across the world—North and South America, Australia, East Asia, Europe, and the Middle East—brought holy waters from their homelands to be blessed together with waters from the Sea of Galilee. Song led by Native American spiritual traditions began the blessing of the waters, in the Sea and from abroad, and sought to heal the combined waters.
Following a song-led blessing of water at the Sea of Galilee, the tour traveled to Tel Megiddo to continue interfaith, spiritual blessings of the waters and the Earth. EcoPeace explained as we travelled about the toll of climate change in the Jordan Valley region: winter rains, normally beginning in November of each year, have been starting as late as January, and temperatures in the summer are rising beyond the already excessive heat common in the area. These factors combined threaten the agricultural productivity of the Valley.
The ceremony in Megiddo—the valley of Armageddon—expanded our blessings of global waters from the first ceremony, and expanded the blessing’s message from the Tel Megiddo Nature Park hills. Here, the healing and holy waters’ blessings combined with messages of hope, unity and a call for all nation-states to shift capital and resources away from the military-industrial complex and towards the protection and regeneration of the Earth and natural resources.
We moved on from the blessings at Tel Megiddo to meet with the Druze community in Isifiya where the Mayor, an Imam, Father and Rabbi spoke together. The mayor spoke to the group about the Druze community and their interest in promoting peaceful, interfaith interactions between communities in Israel and the Middle East in general. These messages for peace and harmony expanded on the final night of the group on the tour at the U-Nite concert in Haifa, held with the support of Haifa Municipality. In this concert, artists Kristin Hoffmann, Rocky Dawuni, Patu Banton, and others contributed songs and messages from across the world celebrating the peace and love the tour hoped to spread.
Friday 7 February
On the final day of the tour a closing ceremony was held at Beit Ha’Gefen Haifa. A tour of the Baha’i Gardens followed.
Written by: Erica-Lynn Porta