Overcoming fear, a group of Israelis and Palestinians came together for our November program. Our two-day trip triggered more questions than answers. Here is why.
In old Jaffa, expert archaeologists convinced us that archaeology is an incomplete record. History, written by the victors, gives another incomplete account. These two incomplete stories don't always match, and this leaves room for the manipulation of narratives.
“This was unsettling,” said a participant. “I grew up believing a certain historical narrative and now I find it disputed by experts.”
Then, not far away,
stabbing in a Tel-Aviv synagogue. Shortly after that, in Gush Etzion, a combined shooting and car ramming attack. An Israeli in our group, from Efrat, is familiar with one of the victims.
This triggers a conversation about collective punishment
. Palestinians say it's unjust to enforce restrictions on an entire population. It generates reaction. For Israelis, it's a form of collective punishment to attack Jews at random. It motivates restrictions...
It's hard to settle this chicken and egg story. Our group disagrees on the basic facts of history, on cause and effect, since antiquity to modern times. So we continue on our tour to Neve Tzedek.
Here the discussion turns to Zionism. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909, says our guide. Jews were leaving Jaffa behind. What was their dream?
A Palestinian, reinforcing the question, asks why Jews chose to create Israel deliberately in Palestine. If their motivation was religious, why did they consider Uganda? And if their justification lies on historical ties, does that not imply Jews want all of Palestine under their control?
We love challenging questions - prime time to split the group and let people continue one-on-one. People take off as Israelis lead Palestinians to their favorite places. One Israeli drives a small group to Lod for a municipal event featuring Jewish and Arab vendors, providing a unique personal experience.
The following morning we visit Ashdod. We are told it was a Canaanite city, taken by Philistines in Biblical times. The Philistines declined, Ashdod changed hands, then in the 7th century Ashdod becomes Isdud under the Arabs.
We visit the 1948 front line where Egypt's army was advancing on Tel-Aviv. Israel's Givati brigade halted their advance and pushed them back to Gaza. A population of 300 remained but were soon expelled.
By the time the first Moroccan Jews arrive, former Isdud has nothing to offer. They build a new city on empty sands 3 km away and rename it Ashdod. Iran invests
in oil lines to the Mediterranean coast giving Ashdod a boost. More waves of Jewish immigration find their place in the growing city.
At the Museum of Philistine Culture
we learned the ancient Philistine tribes sailed out from Greece and settled along the Mediterranean coast.
"Do you descend from the Philistines who invaded the Levant or did you just inherit their name?" asked an Israeli.
"Do you descend from the Hebrews who split their kingdom into two, went into exile, changed culturally and assimilated other tribes?" asked a Palestinian.
Our participants were left wondering what connects modern Palestinians and Israelis with ancient Philistines and Israelites.
It was suggested that some Philistines assimilated into neighboring Hebrew tribes, just as some Hebrews later became Muslim under Arab rule. Are we all part Hebrew and part Philistine?
This trip taught us that cultural practices change over time, as indicated by archaeological records. Narratives and beliefs change as well, as indicated by historical records. This implies that we, Israelis and Palestinians, can change the way we view and treat each other.
And although our personal truth might be disputed, we find it unnecessary to discard it entirely. All that is required is to accommodate and respect the personal truth of others, and reach new insight through conversation. We invite you to an exchange of ideas on our next trip
In the meantime, we hope this summary will encourage you to learn more about your own history and heritage, as well as that of your neighbors.
“I was surprised by what I heard from them.
It was not the same as what I hear about them”
- offered a participant after the program.
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