On Saturday, July 26, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation received its 5th Know Thy Heritage (KTH) youth delegation to Palestine. KTH now boasts more than 200 participants representing 15 different countries across the globe. This year’s delegation, led by HCEF President and CEO Sir Rateb Y. Rabie, consists of 40 young men and women from 10 different countries: United States, Chile, Honduras, El Salvador, Italy, Nicaragua, Columbia, Qatar, Jordan and Australia.
Like past delegations, the youth participants of this year’s KTH program entered Palestine through the King Hussein/Allenby bridge crossing. Despite several hours of waiting and a series of interrogations, the delegates were able to cross the bridge safely, knowing full well that their struggle at the bridge was merely a taste of the harrowing experiences their fellow Palestinians must endure each and everyday. The frustration these delegates felt on the bridge, however, was soon replaced with elation as they made their way to their first stop: Jericho.
Known as the “Gate to Palestine” and the city of the moon, Jericho is the oldest city in the world and the first destination for the delegates upon their long-awaited arrival to Palestine. They were met with a warm welcome at the State of Palestine Border & Passage General Department by Jericho’s Governor H.E. Majed Al-Fitiani, the Mayor Mohamad Jalaita, and the local youth council.
After their time in the Jericho, the delegates set out to Bethlehem, where they were met with a stirring welcoming ceremony organized by the people of the city to formally greet the delegation to Palestine.
Hundreds were in attendance, including the Salesian scout troupe and marching band, which added a joyful note to the celebrations. The parade was also joined by members of the Palestine’s local youth councils, who have served as long-time partners of the KTH leadership program. The event was also made particularly special by the attendance of the orphans of the SOS Children’s Villages Palestine, who helped receive the delegates and guide them throughout the procession of the parade. Just as these young orphans were reminded that they were not forgotten by the diaspora, the delegates were moved by the experience of walking hand in hand with their young Palestinian brothers and sisters.
As the procession arrived to Manger Square between the Church of the Nativity and the Omar Mosque, the delegation was received by HCEF President and CEO Sir Rateb Y. Rabie, Madame Claudette Habash, HCEF Advisory Board Member Mr. Saleh Soboh, Secretary General of Bethlehem’s Fatah Office Mr. Mohamad Al Masri, HCEF Regional Director Eng. Anthony Habash, Arab Women’s Union Bethlehem Deputy Ms. Diana Elias, Director of Wiam Center Mr. Zougbi Zougbi, Bethlehem Families Representative Mr. Issa Khair, as well as other community leaders.
Coincidentally, the parade also fell on the Palestinian National Dress Day. Therefore the delegates had the privilege of being received by Palestinian women showcasing their beautiful traditional embroideries.
Bethlehem Youth Council President Elias Nassar delivered welcoming remarks, in which he told the delegates, “In addition to welcoming you to Bethlehem, we are here today to welcome you home to Palestine: the Holy Land, the land where your parents, grandparents and ancestors lived and walked. We welcome you to Bethlehem, the city of peace and coexistence and the city where Jesus Christ was born, sending the whole world a message of love and peace.”
Sir Rateb Y. Rabie said in his remarks, “After eight hours of agony and hardship traveling from Amman to Bethlehem, this warm welcome makes me feel happy, joyful and really at home — that I’m a host, not a guest.
The delegation was also welcomed by Archbishop of Sebastia and HCEF Advisory Board Member Atallah Hanna and Bethlehem Mufti HG Sheikh Abdul Majid Atta. Both leaders raised the Palestinians as a model of interfaith coexistence for the world, confirming that the Palestinian people are one nation, regardless of their beliefs.
As participants of the 2015 KTH program, these delegates will spend the next two weeks having the fruitful and challenging experience of fostering a deep relationship with their ancestral homeland. This will include taking part in the 4th Annual Diaspora Youth Conference, which will take place July 31-August 1, 2015 at the Convention Palace in Bethlehem. The conference will include workshops and lectures to introduce youth attendees to the political, social, cultural and economic situation in Palestine, as well as give Palestinian youth leaders the opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas in order to create a space for innovation and mutual cooperation aimed at serving Palestine and its people.
Know Thy Heritage, which launched its first program in the summer of 2011, is a portal through which Palestinian youth in the diaspora can return to Palestine and strengthen their knowledge of both their Palestinian identity as well as Palestine’s economic environment, political landscape, and social structures. For more information about HCEF And its programs, visit our website at HCEF.org. You can also learn more about KTH and follow this year’s delegation on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and online at kthps.org