Birds Without Borders: The Ahlan Group in Turkish Cyprus

AUGUST 18, 2016

This past August 4-7, 24 women left their homes and families and traveled to a small village on the Turkish side of Cyprus. We chose this location for a few reasons: 1) It isn’t too far away from Israel, so we didn’t have to travel for a long period of time. 2) It is a relatively “neutral” area, foreign to both Israelis and Palestinians, so we would feel equally comfortable or uncomfortable in this setting.  3) We had to cross the border into the Turkish side of Cyprus, and this was the first time Israelis and Palestinians could experience a border crossing together, comparable to what Palestinians regularly experience when crossing from Palestine to Israel.

Our first day together was quite stressful.  We were grateful that the Palestinian women from the West Bank received permits to travel through the Ben Gurion airport, which is very rare.  (Usually Palestinians from the West Bank have to cross the border to Jordan and fly through the airport in Amman, which is an expensive and tiring additional leg of a trip.)  As a result of our mixed group, it was quite stressful going through security as the Palestinians with us were checked, re-checked, and checked yet again.  After landing, it was the Israelis’ turn to feel stressed, as they were not accustomed to having their passports taken from them at checkpoints.  Several of the ladies began panicking, afraid that their passports would not be returned to them. As nerve wracking as this was, this travel day provided a unique bonding experience and the Palestinian group leader shared, “I think it was good for the Israelis to experience what the Palestinians go through when they cross the borders!” We bonded over the mutual discomfort and empathized with one another.  Our first day ended on a peaceful note, with a lovely dinner and boat ride at sunset, and we began our conference the following day, putting the trials of travel behind us.

Over the next few days we enjoyed each other’s fellowship and studied together. We began to establish a firm theological foundation upon which we could build our relationships by studying “Biblical Principles of Reconciliation,” and through “Emotional Logic,” we found ways to deal with a loss in the conflict, and see how we can move forward in supportive, constructive ways.  We also learned about listening and empathy, and the ladies shared their expectations for the group.  It was a beautiful time of finding unity in our diversity.  We felt we were one as we had fun together, prayed for each other, and sang for the Lord.

While our group had a wide range of ages, we were able find common ground and security in the youth, vigor, experience and wisdom of the women in our group.  During our breaks, the women spent time together walking down the street or beach while singing together.  They wore T-shirts we made for them saying “Birds without Borders,” indicating we could fly above our situation.  It was a good opportunity for us to share with others why we were together, and what we believed in.

Toward the end of the conference, one woman shared that not only did she learn different perspectives during the conference, not only did she enjoy the activities and teachings which equipped her with new life skills, but she also grew closer to other ladies from her own community, some of whom were in her home congregation, something she did not expect to happen on this trip.  It was a good reminder that reconciliation is not just between Israelis and Palestinians; we all need reconciliation and relationship building in many areas of our lives.

We were pleased that this trip went so well, and we have high hopes and expectations for this group. While we were returning home to a place where borders would limit us, the ladies expressed interest in forming a choir to reach our communities together.  It would be a fitting way for our ladies to worship, make a joyful noise to the Lord together, and sing united in love and commitment to the Lord as “Birds without Borders.”

By Hedva Haymov and Ronza Saba, Musalaha Women’s Department