Talking Environment in Auja &
Biblical History at Shilo
Our arrived to the Al Auja Eco-Center for a traditional Palestinian lunch prepared by a resident of the local village interrupted guides' informal discussions on their diverse personal and professional backgrounds.
A lecture by the Center's director shifted focus from history to practical matters such as water access and environmental protections. The speaker argued that many urgent challenges impacting all residents of Israel/Palestine are too often overlooked. Until only recently, for example, raw sewage from some of Jerusalem’s premier hotels (in both the East and West of the city) flowed untreated into the historic Kidron Valley and points south. Moreover, the mining of minerals on both the Israeli and Jordanian sides of the Dead Sea have imperiled the unique natural resource, causing the sea to shrink by huge proportions over the last few decades. The Eco-Center property features creative models for local environmentally conscious interventions as well. Their work, in collaboration with local organizations and international committees, transcends tired political debates in order to promote an environmentally healthy and sustainable future.
After some time to relax in the Auja Eco-Center yard, the group moved west up from the Jordan Valley towards the heart of the West Bank, passing a number of Palestinian villages along the way. One of our participants narrated the route north of Ramallah with stories of the area he calls home. Soon we arrived to the Shilo Tourism Center and gathered for an introduction from one of our Israeli guides on the Jewish connection to biblical sites of Ancient Israel. For a short time (shorter according to most archaeological opinions and longer by the biblical account), Shilo functioned as the seat of the Tabernacle and the capital of the Israelite Kingdom. Moriya, the site guide and lifelong resident of the Shilo settlement, picked up the story. She opened by describing the Jewish return to Shilo like the fulfillment of a dream and suggested that the earliest Jewish returners to the area (after 1967) maintained good relations with local Arab villagers until the situation changed for the worse during the first intifada. Our Palestinian coordinator challenged Moriya’s pledge that the site offers access to peoples of any background, explaining that, although he is licensed Palestinian tour guide, the Shilo security forces had previously refused him entry to the tourist park. Another Palestinian guide voiced concern that if she were to arrive without a group, wearing a hijab (traditional Muslim head covering) the security team might perceive her as a threat and open fire. The conversation moved through the gift shop, where some guides noticed that some of the books and memorabilia for sale represented a very specific Israeli, religious-nationalist point of view. Moriya drew our attention to the remains of a hundreds of years old mosque in the archaeological park, making the point that a sense of holiness is eternal, remaining on a site even when control over it changes hands.
After watching a dramatization of the Israelite story at Shilo, sitting in a state-of-the-art panoramic theater looking over the supposed site of the ancient Israelite temple, guides shared a range of reactions. One Palestinian guide spoke about the need for their sector to do as good of a job telling Palestinians of their history, beyond the last 100 years, as this site does for Jewish history. Another embraced the Israelite story of resistance to Philistine occupation as a possible source of inspiration for Palestinians today. An Israeli guide pointed at that part of unpacking Moriya’s presentation is working carefully with terminology – drawing attention to the fact that the Shilo representative referred only to Arabs but never to Palestinians. The discussion continued upon departure, as we continued to EcoME at the Almog junction for dinner and a short wrap up, then to the Neve Shalom-Wahat Al Salaam village guest house for an overnight stay.
Some participants chatted late into the night, others took rest before the full day ahead in nearby Ayalon Park and the Old City of Lod. Read more...
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