Last week, Ishani and I visited Israel. The trip afforded us an interesting vantage point into Middle Eastern affairs– especially when it comes to the question of the Israeli & Palestinian peoples. This post is a first in a series we will be running through next week complete with fun posts from our trip, pictures, and deeper analysis of what exactly we learned there. I hope you can join us!
When you think Jerusalem, you think Old City, Dome of the Rock, Western Wall. Conflict. Destruction. Religion. Upheaval. People fighting for a whole lot of different things.
And this is all very true.
But in our week visit to Israel what astonished me most was just how explicitly defined the very many layers of Jerusalem and the country actually are. I mean, these layers are literally written in stone.
The back story is a simple one. In places like the US, you have enough vegetation that you can build houses, office buildings, and just about any infrastructure you need out of wood. With time, wood can be destroyed, burned, demolished. But in a place as hot and as arid as Jerusalem can get, there aren’t very many trees. Instead, many generations have built their structures from stone.
But stone is not so easily knocked down.
So instead of conquering, destroying, and building anew from the ground up, the people who crossed through Israel just built on top of the stone structures that the inhabitants before them left behind. The result is layers upon layers of cities old and new. Where you stumble upon an excavation you can literally look below you through the ground and see below you layers of history. It all reminded me a little of a sedimentary rock (yay first grade science!)– “oh that layer is from the time of Herod and the Romans and oh that one is from the Assyrians and this one the Babylonians.” It’s astonishing. Every pebble, every stone, every step you take is on a piece of history that extends far below the very ground you touch.
Perhaps it is just me, but I find this simply fascinating. As someone who cannot claim much knowledge of the many intricacies of Middle Eastern affairs and culture, what I can say is that even this minuscule understanding gave me so much more in the way of perspective on why conflict in the Middle East is not just a matter of today but very much a matter of the many yesterdays that have come before us.
The timing of my trip– in concordance with President Obama’s (not that this why by any means intentional)– gave me a lot to think about. American presence in the region can be viewed as necessary and imperialistic, territorial, overbearing, and aloof— all at the same time. And I’ll be honest, we have done some pretty bad things in this part of the world. We have supported dictators in the name of containment, we have stirred the roots of the very crises we are trying to hose off today. Our unique imperialism has born great exchanges and gifts the world over but too incredible losses and challenges. I would like to say that for the sake of resolution, we could all just forget about this history. But when you walk the streets of Israel, when you look below you and see that history written in stone, it becomes a little clearer. History is not so easily listened to– for the very fear that in so doing we will discard it, forget it, render it obsolete. It’s a scary thing after all. Leaving behind history that is– even if it’s written in stone.