A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
As conflict rages in the Middle East, a handful of Palestinians and Israelis have joined forces to protect endangered sites.
We met in a small, empty hotel in the Arab town of Beit Hanina in the suburbs of Jerusalem. Two of us had come from Ramallah in the West Bank representing the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE). Three of us had come from Jerusalem, associated with Israel's University of Haifa. We were to continue our work developing an Israeli-Palestinian archaeological program for schools and colleges and a program for community involvement in the development of archaeological sites in the region. The singularity of our group had more to do with the dearth of Israelis and Palestinians willing to work together these days than to anything else.
We hope that our work will become a model for other regions where heritage wars and real wars threaten coexistence. Peace in the Middle East now seems more elusive than when our project began and we're discouraged--but not entirely so. The University of Haifa's participation will continue as long as it is possible for the partners to work together--in spite of a wave of suicide bombings by Palestinians that in Haifa alone has killed dozens of Arab and Jewish Israelis. "It's a matter of archaeologists taking social responsibility," Haifa archaeologist Ann Killebrew says. "It's important for us to recognize that heritage is more about people than it is about places."
As I write this, two of our Haifa project leaders have been called up by the Army to serve in the West Bank, the center of Ramallah is in ruins, its residents under curfew, and everyone, whether Israeli or Palestinian, seems to know someone who has been killed. Meanwhile, Ramallah archaeologist and PACE director Adel Yahyeh and his colleagues are virtual prisoners in their own homes. "Even though we can't move at this stage," he told me by phone, "I think that what we are doing is important--and we will resume work as soon as we can."
Sandra Scham has been living and working in Israel since 1996.