On the stunning slopes of Mount Ebal in Samaria, overlooking Shechem (Nablus), there is a site of an Israelite altar dated approximately 3,200 years ago. Israeli Archeologist Adam Zertal z”l, after a long and meticulous study in the 1980’s, has identified it as the altar built by Joshua upon the tribes of Israel’s entrance into the promised land, as described in the book of Joshua, chapter 8. It was and still remains one of the most important discoveries in biblical archeology to date, a living testimony to our rich and ancient history, left to us by our ancestors.
Less than two months ago, Palestinian bulldozers wrecked a large part of the wall surrounding the site under the pretext of “paving a road”, in clear violation of the Oslo accords under which they are obligated to safeguard archeological sites in areas under PA control.
One can only imagine the Israeli outrage if a European country would damage an ancient Jewish synagogue or cemetery, but the definite silence on this was astonishing. Aside from a few condemnations (and not much else) by President Rivlin and a number of right wing politicians, the destruction of a biblical site has barely reached the news. The outcry never came. It’s hard to imagine a country standing silent in the face of destruction of its history, Taliban and ISIS style.
The Palestinian Authority has a rich history of deliberately damaging and destroying ancient Israelite and Jewish sites and artifacts, most notably of the Hasmonean and Herodian periods. A glaring example is the continuous dumping of debris containing important artifacts from the Temple Mount compound by the Islamic Waqf in control of the site. This has been going on for decades.
Biblical Archeology proves beyond a doubt the native Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. The Palestinians know it, and what was done to the altar was no accident. Many of those sites are in Judea and Samaria – the cradle of Jewish civilization, where they are under constant threat by the Palestinian destruction campaign.
Destroying facts on the ground is merely a part of the story, and the story is denying Jewish peoplehood. It’s not about the occupation of 1967, or the establishment of modern Israel in 1948 or even the legitimacy of the Zionist project starting in the 1800’s. This is about ancient Jewish history in the land, from the kingdom of Israel up to the destruction of the second Temple by Titus. Harming it and stealing it brings our enemies closer and closer to “proving” that we are nothing but colonial invaders in a land we have nothing to do with, that the history of one of the most ancient, documented and influential groups of people in history is mostly a plot to steal a piece of land. If this seems a bit far fetched to you, think about Holocaust denial.
Since plain denial is still difficult to sell to Western audiences who more or less know their Bible, Jewish history is often turned into “Palestinian”, thus also acquiring ancient continuity for the Palestinians through historical appropriation. the heroes of the Bible, the courageous rebels against colonial oppressors, the prophets, the writers of our ancient texts, all were given a 20th century identity that is proudly Arab and excludes Jews by definition. the most prominent example of recent years is the relentless “Jesus was a Palestinian” campaign.
This line of propaganda stumbles upon some absurd contradictions. Palestinians claim the second Holy Temple is a myth – the same temple where the proudly Palestinian Jesus prayed, taught and preached according to the New Testament. Palestinians are supposedly the descendants of Joshua, but turn his altar into a paved road. Israel’s haters are yet to decide if they want to steal Jewish history or deny it, meanwhile they try both.
The overall goal behind it all is simple. If Jews never existed as a people with an origin and a history, there is neither a need nor a place for a nation state for them in “historical Palestine”. If Jews are simply a bunch of Russians, Moroccans, Americans and so on with some similar religious practices based on an a-historical book, they are nothing but foreigners and the Zionist project must come to an end.
This line of thinking is appealing to two groups in the West in particular: secular progressives, which view the Bible as nothing but a bunch of made up nonsense stupid people who are beneath them believe in; and Christian antisemites of the old kind who view Palestinians as the new Jesus crucified by the Jews once again – or better yet – the new and “real” Israel.
As a Jewish history graduate student following Israel’s public diplomacy battles, I feel we have severely compromised the history front. While we fight BDS and fake news about Israel, a deeper, more silent war is raging and it is already winning battles. It sometimes appears as if we miss it, but maybe we also no longer care about our heritage as we should be. Zionism’s founding fathers toured, studied and wrote about this beautiful land and all of the stones, scrolls and secrets that patiently waited for them for thousands of years.
If we don’t make it our top priority to protect our history at any cost, we do not deserve it and do not deserve this land. It is exactly now, where we no longer need to carry our history on our backs, exiled from place to place, when it is right here, we must defend it, teach it and declare it to the world, and not stay silent when it is maliciously harmed and twisted. These are times where truth is under constant assault, so much so that it took decades for an American President to state the most obvious – Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
In the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 27 it is said about the occasion of the blessing and the curse that occurred on Mt. Ebal: “You have now become the people of the LORD your God”
But the book proverbs (29,18) also teaches us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish”
Our vision, our raison d’etre in Israel can never be simply “never again”. We came back to Israel to connect the past with the future, not as mere rootless refugees or by accident and can never allow to be presented as such. We will never be truly at home until we learn to see our history as part of ourselves, as our tradition asks of us, every year on Passover. We are now in a better position than ever before to stand up to antisemitism in this new form. And that is perhaps the most important freedom we are given.