Narrating Landscape, Visiting Emwas, Learning of Lod’s Past & Present
“Guide on the Other Side” Seminar: Morning, Day 2. The group gathered after breakfast at the “silent dome,” a celebrated prayer/ meditation space tucked away in the bi-national, Palestinian/Jewish, Neve Shalom/Wahat Al Salaam village, where our group stayed the night before. The program opened with an exercise challenging guides to narrate the open landscape within view, over Latrun towards Modi’in and beyond. Participants assessed relevant physical attributes, symbols, histories and narratives. In small groups, many shared the stories they tell visitors at their favorite viewpoints and exchanged notes about emphasis – Do you choose to highlight the story of an entire people or that of an individual or family? At what point along the thousands-of-years back timeline does the story begin? Do guides have the responsibility to present competing narratives? Can they do justice to the “other” narrative by trying to tell it though it is not their own?
A short drive later, the group met a Jerusalemite teacher and expert on Palestinian histories in the Ayalon Park (formerly Emwas) area. Walking the park, he pointed to evidence of the villages expelled by Israelfollowing the 1967 war. There are details about graves, structures, school buildings, sidewalks, mosques in the area delivered without ample context or explanation of meaning attached. Palestinian guides wanted to hear more of this, but some of the Israeli guides wonder if all of those details will eventually come to a point. A Palestinian guide points out the absence of any sign on site that provides these details, indicating that there were Palestinian inhabitants here fifty years ago. But there is a marker telling that the ancient Israeli tribe of Dan dwelled in the area millennia before. An Israeli guide offers a brief presentation on the issue of narrative, stating that they are sometimes misplaced; there are some things called facts that render certain narratives true or false. Another guide argues that the histories of Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined, such that telling the history of one necessarily involves and must make reference to the other. There is not enough time, and the conversation is cut short so that the group can make it to Lod in time for lunch.
The program in Lod opened at the Mamluk period Jindas bridge, where the group meets our “alternative” tour guide, a Lod native. History is presented briefly, and the ensuing tour by bus reaches into small alleyways of neglected Arab-Palestinians areas of the city. The guide’s presentation is sharp, and some participants doubt the veracity of his claims or don't see the point of hearing these particular stories told in an angry tone. The guide implies that “development” by Jews in the city spell destruction and disaster for Arab residents, and the process of planning and permission reflects historical discrimination against Arab families with longstanding claims here. The tour eventually reaches the Old City, recounting events of the 1948 war at a local mosque and visiting the St. George’s church. The group reconvened at the Arab-Jewish “Chicago” Community Center for lunch prepared by both a local Arab and Ethiopian-Jewish resident.
The wrap up discussion revisited some of the seminar's core questions, those so often the subjects of our inquiry on Tiyul-Rihla. An Israeli guide stated that the experience had made her feel more secure in her own narrative, and thus more willing to expose others to differing points of view. A Palestinian guide addressed the challenges of having so much more knowledge than clients and trying to educate about issues that remain largely unknown. The group resolved to continue the conversation, to ask more questions of their colleagues on the “other side,” and to look for ways to incorporate the knowledge gained through the seminar into their work on the ground.
Given the success of the first two seminars for professional tour guides, Tiyul-Rihla hopes to offer another program in the near future.
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