Exploring the Holy City: Ancient before Modern
A group of 33 Palestinians and Israelis joined Trip 24 to explore issues of history and narrative in the holy city of Jerusalem. After learning each other’s names and where we come from, the group jumped into the ancient past at the Tower of David Museum just inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City. Here, we gain different perspectives on the origins of Palestinians and Israelis, a theme Tiyul-Rihla often addresses through the lens of modern politics.
However, in order to understand the emergence of Zionism, and eventually its impact on Palestinian Arabs, we need first to understand why exactly Jews feel connected to this part of the world. The museum demonstrates that toward the end of the second millennium BC, ancient Palestine was settled by Jews who ruled most of the country. Jewish sovereign rule ended when the Romans invaded starting in 63 CE (AD) and exiled most of the Jewish population. Until today, religious Jews pray three times per day for their return to Jerusalem.
Ancient Jewish connection to the land is key to understanding many of Israel’s political claims. Some Palestinians on our trip wondered if, before the Jews settled in Palestine, they came from somewhere else. That might make Palestinians themselves the indigenous inhabitants of the land, because they trace their origins back to the Caananites in ancient times. A number of Israelis argued, rather, that Palestinians don’t originate from the Caanaanites but from the Philistines, who also came from outside of Historic Palestine/Ancient Israel. This discussion did not reach a conclusion, but all recognized that the dispute hinges on the question of who had a right to be here, and that both sides articulate a different historical connection they believe entitles them to the land.
Before continuing with the day’s tour, we stop for a quick “ice breaker” activity. Through several rounds of questions, participants arrive at a better understanding of each ones´ sense of being in this group together, and awareness of themselves and the "other" making an effort to respect different narratives.
Our Friday night meal is Shabbat-themed, acknowledging that many faith traditions of Jerusalem also observe a day or rest each week. After singing songs in Hebrew with Arabic translation, we get to enjoy the meal, joined by some 40 people in total including new guests. Two, in particular, had wandered in from a nearby apartment and were surprised to find such a group around the table together. Later in the meal, a Sufi Muslim Sheikh joins us to discuss the Muslim connection to Jerusalem and Palestinian life in the city.
The group carries many conversations into the evening, sharing personal stories and getting ready for the next day’s tour through West Jerusalem’s modern city and downtown. Read about the continuation of Trip 24 the following day, with a tour highlighting Arab history in West Jerusalem...
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