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What do the neighbors think?

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 23.09.2015:

22 september 2015


Toine van Teeffelen

One of the themes of the ongoing World Week for Peace is “It’s time for the healing of wounded souls.” I had to think of that phrase when Sarah Irving of the Electronic Intifada yesterday published a message about the Israeli town Beit Guvrin, to the south-west of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It has become a World Heritage Site. Heritage is here often a matter of politics and also of traumas that are usually not healed.

A year or so ago the Palestinian village of Battir, which is a little closer to the southwest of Bethlehem and located in the West Bank, succeeded to gain the status of World Heritage Site. That status helped to prevent the building of the Wall along the ancient Roman terraces there, at least for the moment. (Let’s not be optimistic after Cremisan).

At the new World Heritage Site, Beit Guvrin has been partially built on the remainders of the Arab village of Beit Jibrin. Coincidentally, a large part of (the children and grandchildren of) the refugees of Beit Jibrin are our present neighbors. Opposite our house they live in ‘Azza refugee camp, also called Beit Jibrin camp. Undoubtedly they look with less touristic or archeological eyes to the announcement that the living place of their parents and grandparents has become a world heritage site. What will they think?

A new organization in Israel, Decolonizer, opens the long-needed discussion. Besides attention to the remainders of a Roman theatre, the site is now mainly presented as a Jewish site, underlining Jewish roots in the land. But as Irving writes, the old Arab inhabitants and their predecessors have, in their daily life, hundreds of years interacted with the remainders of the many periods that one meets in so many archeological sites here. Is that not a relevant piece of information, also for tourists?

A month ago AEI expanded the Wall Museum in the direction of a desolate area near Aida refugee camp to the west of Rachel’s Tomb in North Bethlehem. Desolate, because of the ongoing Nakbeh. One of the new posters shows a thought of Mirna al ‘Azza from Jibrin camp. Some time ago she accompanied her old grandmother to the ruins of Beit Jibrin. That was where her grandmother came from – and from which she had to flee in 1948. Mirna writes: “I walked behind her climbing up a hill in the village. She seemed much stronger and able to walk faster than I remembered. She knew where we were exactly going as if she was there yesterday.”

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