Guiding the Ancient Tel in Jericho,
Synagogue at Ayn Dyuk
Tiyul-Rihla’s second “Guide on the Other Side” seminar began at ancient Jericho (Tel es Sultan) with some fifteen Palestinian and fifteen Jewish-Israeli tour guides. A round of introductions transitioned into a walk around the archaeological site where a local guide pointed out the excavated millennia old “tower” and recounted the many civilizations that once settled here. Our Palestinian seminar coordinator provided his own take, suggesting that when biblical Joshua arrived to the area he found and took control over empty land. But the bible records a “conquest” because such a compelling story of bravery wins followers and intimidates opponents. In other words, story-telling deviated from truth even in biblical times to serve a particular political agenda. Another Palestinian guide added that the Tel offers an injunction against war – the builders of the tower are long gone, and only with peace can the builders of today’s towers survive to tell their story long into the future.
Our journey continued beyond the city to an unmarked pull-off the main road leading north. Guides alighted and walked through banana plantations before reaching a small covered, fenced-in area above the lush wadi of Dyuk village. One of our Israeli guides opened the conversation, explaining that he knew of the site we now stood beside, the 5th-6th century Naaran Synagogue, but had never seen or visited it before because it lies in a Palestinian-controlled area he is forbidden from. He shared background information – the mosaic floor here features symbols of the Jewish Temple (i.e. a menorah and species of the harvest festivals) along with other popular cultural icons such as the Zodiac revolving around an image of the sun. The unusual positioning of the synagogue, facing south rather than west towards Jerusalem, may indicate the builders’ desire to distinguish the house of worship from the east-west facing early churches of that time period or to match the south-facing orientation of other synagogues of the same period in the Galilee. What factors cause traditions and cultures to adapt and evolve throughout history, and up until today?
The conversation quickly shifted to the politics of the site, a barer of Jewish heritage falling under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority. After one Palestinian guide stated that he was pleased to see the PA ministry investing in historical preservation, another emphatically explained that it makes sense for the Palestinians to celebrate Jewish history because Palestinian history includes the Jews of Palestine. The reason why a site like this one remains largely unknown and tucked away from view is because Israelis have made claim to every Jewish site in an attempt to establish control over it – at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, for example, where the military presence draws protest and periodic attempts to damage the site. An Israeli guide replied that the impulse to take over stems from concern that the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge Jewish roots in the land or connection to key Jewish sites like the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary.
There is a sense that mutual concern over the “other side’s” denial of their own historical truths fuels defensiveness and even drives attempts to cover up heritage sites that do not fit as cleanly within a particular narrative. Israelis worry about Palestinians refusal to acknowledge their historical connection to the land, while Palestinians downplay the fact that they identify with elements of Jewish history out of fear that the Israelis will, ironically, deny that relation in an attempt to exclusively control all evidence supporting Jewish claims.
Participants’ conversation continued exploring this dilemma, over lunch at Al Auja, later at Ancient Shilo, and the following day in Ayalon Park and the Old City of Lod. Read more...
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