Israel Day Seven: Sebastia and Jacob’s Well
Over the past few days, we’ve weaved in and out of Palestinian territory. The distinction between the states of Israel and Palestine can be difficult to make, particularly because we have never had to show our passports at the border checks and instead drive straight through. Also, Palestinians live in Israel (and are even Israeli citizens) and Israelis live in Palestinian territory. We spent much of today driving between archaeological sites in Palestinian territory, first visiting the church believed to be the site of Jacob’s well/the well where Jesus spoke with Samaritan woman. Then we moved on to the archaeological site of Shechem , which recently received 400, 000 euros from the European Union but seemed to have done very little with the monetary resources. This failure to enhance the site was heartbreaking; as the Dr. Meyers’ pointed out, the finds at Shechem have the potential to draw in tourists from both the Palestinian territory and abroad. In addition, the site could become a powerful teaching tool for young Palestinian students to learn about their heritage (and even their Canaanite origins, likely shared with the Jewish people, although this fact is still contested). Our final visit today to Sebastia, the site of another of King Herod’s strongholds confirmed once again the discrepancy between the treatment of archaeological sites in Israel and Palestine. This final site, home to some of the most spectacular ruins in all of the region, was a final confirmation of the difference in treatment of archaeological sites in Israel and Palestine. There were almost no tourists to be seen and no signs labeling any of the structures. The overarching explanation for this discrepancy seems to be that the Palestinian Authority simply does not have the resources to devote to the sites and that there is little interest in Israeli ruins among population of the Palestinian territory.
I don’t have much in the way of concluding thoughts on this topic. While the lack of attention to these magnificent sites certainly inspires sadness, I certainly do not feel in a position to offer up solutions or even predictions about what will happen to these sites in the coming years. As our instructors have emphasized throughout the trip, whether we like it or not, archaeology and politics are intricately intertwined. I do not feel like I can project a hopeful future of increased tourism and public value for the sites at Shechem and Sebastia that we saw today; much would have to chance about the political climate, the sense of national identity, and even the valuing of archaeological sites in order for these places to become thriving tourist destinations. Increasing awareness and interest may well be a challenge for the emerging generation of Biblical or Islamic archaeologists in coming years and I look forward to seeing how some of the archaeological conflict in the area becomes resolved.