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New Trip, New Lessons

From Tel Gezer to Ramla and Lod

 
After a tense morning picking up our Palestinian participants at Jerusalem’s checkpoints, we finally arrived to our first destination, met the Israeli participants, and began our trip.

We start at Tel Gezer, a site that both sides claim as their own although it predates the conflict by thousands of years. Our guide explains the Israeli/Palestinian connection:

Gezer was originally Canaanite, later coming under Egyptian rule, later Philisteen, Israelite, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Hashmonian (Jewish), Roman, Byzantine, Arab (Muslim), Crusader, Ottoman, British, then finally Israeli.

In 1945 Jews purchased lands and settled near Abu-Shusha, an Arab village nearby. By 1948 clashes break out, and Jewish forces expel Abu-Shusha villagers that May. The Jordanian Legion then enters but is repelled by the Palmach brigades in June.

With that history in mind, we continued to Ramla, whose origins are clearer. This great city was established by the conquering Muslim Arabs in the 8th century to serve as the capital of Jund Filisteen.

Our group struggled to understand why Jerusalem was not selected as the district capital under Islamic rule, and why Ramla’s prestige seems forgotten today, with Jerusalem taking precedence.

Ramla was once a diverse capital and commercial center, inhabited by Christians, Jews, and the Karaite Movement whose modern synagogue we visit next.

The Karaites welcomed us and explained: "We are a Jewish religious movement. We uphold the Bible and reject all scriptures added later." A barrage of questions followed.

At the Mosque of Ramla, our next stop, we opened a discussion on Islam and the history of this grand structure.

Pointing out the numerous Muslim “Makam” (holy or traditional sites) around us, our local Arab guide explained the political motives behind strengthening early Muslim attachment to Ramla, in order to make it less accessible to crusaders and large groups of missionaries or pilgrims. Until today, Israelis and Palestinians alike continue the practice of attributing traditions or holiness to sites in order to enhance ownership claims. We often notice this on our bi-national trips.

The following day, in Lod, we met a Jewish community leader who presented ancient and modern history from his Zionist perspective.

Thanks to accurate translation provided by a tri-lingual Tiyul-Rihla alumnus, we noticed something important; Jews refer to their conquests as moments of “liberation” and to the conquest of competing powers as cases of “occupation”. Palestinians do the same, but in reverse!
  • “Why don't you call Salah a-Din an occupier if he did what you attribute to Zionism, namely conquest, demolition, demographic shifting of local character, etc?” A Palestinian answers: “Let’s agree to call them both occupiers!” An Israeli suggests: “Let’s consider them both legitimate!”
Our group could not agree on the criteria for legitimate vs. illegitimate conquest, concluding that our judgment is largely based on emotional bias.

Next our Jewish guide introduced Operation Danny (1948) as an attempt to remove the Jordanian threat from central Israel. Commando leader Dayan disguised his convoy as Jordanian and stormed Lod. His small force found itself locked beside the Jordanian Legion in a city housing many other armed Arab fighters. Many civilians surrendered, but the Legion convoy attacked and fighting resumed. Some locals picked up arms again and suffered the highest casualty rate of that war, igniting rumors of a planned massacre. Most Lod residents were eventually expelled, and those remaining were mostly Christian.
  • “Do you agree to call this Nakba?” asked a Palestinian participant.
Some Israelis quickly conceded, while others said responsibility for the war should be shared, considering the full context of that battle scene, and others.

Moving on to contemporary issues, the Mosaic: Lod Multicultural Center hosted us for a discussion on coexistence in local neighborhoods. Jews and Arabs share this fine facility, yet run mostly separate activities. We learned, however, of cooperation around issues of mutual interest, such as housing. Our group wondered why normal relations carry on in the latter case but not the former.

Today, Lod is a mixed city, infamous for its high crime rate and faced with many challenges. The well-to-do tend to leave, housing prices tend to fall, and poorer families tend to move in. Jews and Arabs will have to join hands to reverse the trend, for their mutual benefit.

In our final group circle we recounted the lessons learned from this microcosm: coexistence offers risk and promise; normalization can be a tool or a goal; historical attachment can be more emotional than factual; narratives diverge at every step; common terminology is charged and often carries a bias; mixed communities should openly discuss the future they want to build and the agendas they adopt to reach it.

Selected quotes from Trip #13:
  • "I teach about the conflict, I served in the military, but I learned something here today."
  • "In the souk I saw soldiers, shoppers with Kippas, ladies wearing hijab - coexistence!"
  • "It’s OK to promote certain chapters of history over others, but don't let it slip towards violence."
Our next program is for professional tour guides. We will examine how The Guide on the Other Side leads tours, what role guides play in shaping narratives and mindsets, the moral dilemmas that arise from it and what we can do better as educators.
 

We appreciate the generous support of our donors, partners, and friends

Please consider donating to our project online or by post through our host 501(c)(3) NGO at:
 
The Center for Emerging Futures
380 E. Parkcenter Blvd.
Suite 300
Boise, ID 83706
[RE: RIHLA]
In This Newsletter
Trip Impressions
Gezer standing stones echo our polytheistic predecessors.
Ramla's Islamic beginnings.
Karaite speaker explains meat and milk (non-)separation.
Inside Ramla's great mosque.
Arab restaurant owner sharing her personal story.
Walking tour with a Jewish perspective on Lod.
Walking tour with an Arab perspective on Lod.
Making bread together.
Remembrance wall, Ramla.
Excited to catch sunset at Jaffa.
First beach visit for some.
Reflection circle to conclude.
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