The first Middle East & Oriental Rainbow Gathering 2007
The first time I went to Jordan I was 19 years old. It was in 1983 and I entered Jordan via the Allenby Bridge. Today its known as the King Hussein Bridge but back then it was the Allenby bridge named after General Allenby who liberated Jerusalem and Damascus from the OttomanTurks.
The problem about crossing it as everyone knows is that officially no crossing ever took place.
Hence when you want to leave the country …you cant . You have to get a special visa that gives you right of exit. So unofficially you’ve never entered the country and therefore you can stay as long as you like if you enter.
It remains as the one portal from the Palestinian authority into Jordan. I walked across it and I travelled to Petra which back then in the early eighties wasn’t known as a tourist destination. I spent over a month living in the caves of Petra with the Bedouin. They have since been moved out and live in houses now.
Eating with them and learning their customs in this ancient abandoned city hewed out of stone taught me how the desert is both harsh and compassionate at the same time. They never asked me for money but just welcomed the traveller as if I was an angel. Its been like that wherever we have gone on the planet as we search for the vision.
The iconic buildings or temples of Petra ( which means stone or rock ) were later used by Steven Spielberg in one of his Raiders of the Ark films.
There is something about the this stone dry land and the archaeological mysteries that run throughout the generations of history as we try to determine more windows into our own souls we can discover in our wanderings.
This is what originally fascinated me on my extensive travels around the Middle East as a teenager. To discover and uncover those ancient stories and bring them to life again. Perhaps to complete a circle. Perhaps to open a new one.
My unbridled passion and enthusiasm led me to buy an archaeological student card for 12 USD from a junky on Diani Beach in Kenya -just so I could learn more and experience more. Every rock was holy and every ancient ruin a story.
At that time Iraq was fighting a war with Iran and I recall a constant flow of tanks and armored vehicles heading to the border from Aqaba to the battlefront.
“The Patriarch in Iraq saw Khomeini had too many…but the Ayatollah tol ‘ya’…
and to Allah went another million men!…”
(Love 22) A book of Poems.
At that time Saddam Hussein was the darling of the West. And whatever he asked for was given. How this region needs our healing powers and prayers as light-workers.
In 2006 I was making a peace caravan from London via Copenhagen and Auschwitz to Jerusalem.
I had bought a second hand Volvo for 600 euro with beautiful heated leather seats and converted it to LPG or gas to extend its driving range. If I had left it as petrol it was too expensive to run or drive long distances. Gas was half the price as Benzine and I had it converted in Poland. It had a combined range of nearly 1000 km and a joy to drive.
I traveled through Syria visiting the ancient Palmyra and finally entered Israel via Jordan. It was in the Golan Israeli gathering in around November that I shared my vision with my fellow Israeli brothers and sisters of the rainbow.
I said that as rainbow warriors we must also work for peace in the middle East. It was not only our duty but our responsibility.
I told them the story of my incredible journey across the plains of Anatolia to the Gate of King David in Jerusalem. How I met with many incredible people along the way who all were inspired by the peace caravan and its message of hope, prayer and peace for all. Many even gave me gifts to take to the Holy City such as a walking stick or a gypsy flag.
My impression then by the majority of Israelis was not cynical ,but a sincere desire to unite with their Arab neighbors in Jordan by getting to know them.
The majority of Israelis have never been to Jordan and vice versa , but it was considered safe to do so nonetheless. Today it may be unfortunately impossible. Mostly people are resigned to living in the eye of the storm. Kabbala… accept and receive. Peace through war. And war to make peace. Security is strength. But the path to peace is the only way there will be a place for peace. If we walk in our prayers and stand on them… we can bring change. I believe that.
The Israeli Rainbow family is a strong one. They stick together. They look out for each other too. Maybe that’s the 2 or 3 years in the army who knows. But they are also freethinking and courageous individuals too. Willing to overcome their unhealthy fears and grow and take responsibility for their actions and lives. This particular gathering inspired all of us and much fruit came from it for peace building in the Middle East. Ill come to that in Part two.
Sitting next to me was a beautiful young lady by the name of Neta .When the talking stick came to her … all she would do was smile at everyone. Not even say a single word. Not a word. But her radiance would make everyone else smile too.
After the circle she turned to me and gave me one of her golden smiles and said she wanted to join me on my scouting mission to Jordan. I was shocked and inspired by her bravery as a Jewish woman from Israel going into a Palestinian and Arab Muslim Jordan. I looked back at her and her smile and all my fears were gone in an instant.
“Yes. Of course you can come!” I replied.
Then Another Israeli brother also wanted to come. His name was Or and he was a strongly built muscular soft spoken happy soul like Neta. He wanted to come too.
We had our perfect dream team. 3 ambassadors for peace. 3 rainbow warriors.
One week later we went on our scouting mission to Jordan. At this point we didnt have any idea of where to go except a place called Wadi Rum. I had met an eye doctor. His name was Dr. David Leighton. He had brought his smart car from Germany as a retired doctor and had a room there. He said he had a vision to make it a peace centre and that seemed to me a good idea. Since this was a peace caravan after all. So we drove down to Eilat and crossed the border into Jordan. I never forget crossing into Israel on my peace caravan. We were interrogated for 7 hours. I don’t think anyone had crossed through Syria to Israel from Europe in a very long time.
It was an eye opening experience for my two Israeli friends who had never visited a Muslim country before. We were only stopped once on the road. I was speeding. Ill never forget the traffic officer saying “ I’m sorry , I have to give you a ticket because you were over the speed limit sir, but please… would you like to have some tea while I write it out.”
It was probably the only time I have ever encountered such a response from a lawman.
From there we drove on through the empty desert that T.E. Lawrence of Arabia had crossed in the war against the Ottoman Empire.
I was also later to learn that the UNESCO world heritage site of Wadi Rum was Lawrence’s base of operations during his Arab revolt campaign. To this day there is much speculation about Lawrence of Arabia… not only because he was a hopeless romantic, but also a controversial and unorthodox figure of questionable sexuality. Some say he sold the Arab cause out. All I know is he was an Englishman who did something brave. He like me fell in love with the vast expansive vistas of this magical place.
The British and French essentially carved up the whole region into nation states without thinking about tribal or sectarian divisions. Many of these poor decisions have created ongoing wars that have cost the region rivers of blood. But Wadi Rum was where it all began.
As we entered the small village bound on both sides by mountains of multicolored sandstone on either side Cat Stevens sang “Peace Train “ and we all sang along. For us it was a special moment. We were making history.
Some deserts are just deserts and ugly. But not this one.
Not only was it a UNESCO heritage site and nature reserve, it had all the elements of an exotic adventure we seldom only ever dream about in life.
We didn’t know how to start,or where, but we knew this was going to be the place after all for the birth of this new Middle East Family. Here there was a chance for Palestinian people to meet Israeli people on a common ground. In the next days to come we would spend our time with the legendary Bedouin people of the desert .
Our hosts would be none other than the local sheikhs son. Sheikh Mohamed. In the following days we would explore the canyons of the desert on foot and look for that ..“ perfect place “ for the gathering … and in the crystal clear nights under the stars we would drink tea and bitter coffee with our hosts ,who would play the complex Arabian Oud instrument and sing their traditional songs together.
The Oud is like the European lute and has 11-13 strings and is slightly bigger. After our meal played music and joined in the singing together and clapping of hands. I find people of the desert are very simple and wherever you go more or less the same. They don’t talk much. They enjoy the silence. Its never good to shout in the desert unless there is a storm. The Bedouin believe it attracts the Jinn or the devils to come.
We would all sit on the carpeted floor and sing and drink tea until very late at night. Neta would just smile and melt the hearts of all the desert Arab men present. The vision is as strong as those it inspires.
They would give us anything we asked for. It was already a gathering before we came to have a gathering. The spirit was there. We had permission. We had all the permission in the world. And timeless poetry flowed through our celebration.
We shared our vision with the Bedouin to invite people of all the nations of the world to this quiet majestic otherworldly place to pray for and to live in peace together for one whole month.
This would be the start of a new Middle East Rainbow family. At the time we called it the 1st Middle East and Oriental Rainbow Gathering because there had been other attempts to start a Peace in The Middle East Family. The idea was that if you say something often enough you change the consciousness like a mantra.
I think our vision was to create a Mid East Rainbow Family. We had thought of other names such as the Red Sea Family or the Holy Land rainbow family. Or Jordan Rainbow Family.
In the end we agreed to the Middle East Family Rainbow Family We have had many gatherings since all over the region, but we are still to find consensus on this. Sometimes there is more appetite for war than for peace. However, in the end it always swings back to peace. It can take years. But we must not stop trying.
We were given permission by Sheikh Mohamed to hold our gathering in early 2007. And what a gathering it was!
When I arrived in January of 2007 with my son from London there were over 40 people present. We had not chosen the actual specific site and when I arrived at the seed camp there was a lot of confusion of where to go.(We had 3 options. )
I called a talking circle and used a fake Oscars statue my sister in law gave ,me as a talking stick. (It worked) The secret to good leadership is sometimes to LEAD even its with a little humor but to lead nonetheless!
Our authority comes when we TAKE responsibility and let go of all our fears.Just do it.
Having our own “Oscars” also lightened the atmosphere a bit and gave all of us clear direction as a group. Laughter is truly the best medicine.
Once we had all had our say and negotiated with our local Bedouin friends we walked to the location that looked like we were on another planet and and were welcomed by an awe inspiring lunar landscape.
I later discovered this same location with high steep rainbow colored mountains and red sand desert was used in several movies such as the Martian with Matt Damon. Directed by Ridley Scott. Its also been in the latest Star Wars movie as well as the classic Lawrence of Arabia, Transformers and even the recent Dune movie of 2020. The desert is full of echoing canyons where you can hear your own voice and the acoustics are incredible. Like you are in an open air studio. AMAZING.
Wadi Rum has inspired the renowned sketch artist David Roberts who came here in early 19th Century on a sketching tour of the Holy Land and the Middle East . His sketches inspired me also to draw those citadel like cathedrals of colored stone in the backdrop of a red Mars horizon . You want to try it because you want to capture the beauty of the infinite moment where time doesnt mean anything.
Together with some of the locals including a refugee Iraqi teacher, we hand-wrote our invitation to the world. It was a joint effort and that’s always the best way for it to happen. Peace building or peacemaking is always a joint effort. One heart at a time. Thats how it works.
End of Part One