Monday, July 10, 2017

Our history, our heritage, is the answer - by Michael Lobovikov

...The depth of our history, and the understanding of our national rights that stem from it, are a weapon no less powerful than an armored division or Iron Dome battery.

Michael Lobovikov..
Israel Hayom..
10 July '17..

UNESCO's outrageous decision last week to designate the Old City of Hebron, including the Cave of the Patriarchs, as a Palestinian world heritage site reminded me of something an Israeli archaeologist once told me on a tour of Samaria. Describing how he discovered the historical site we were visiting that day, he said: "I saw several chiseled stones in a field and rubbed one of them, to clean off the dust. All of a sudden I saw two words engraved in ancient Hebrew: 'High Cohen' ['priest']. Turns out I was standing in the middle of a Hebrew village abandoned after the destruction of the First Temple, during the Babylonian exile, and had been sitting there untouched for 2,600 years!"

The words he discovered were engraved in a stone situated above the entrance to the home of the high priest who had lived there. In an area of 5 square kilometers (1.9 square miles), the remnants of new fewer than six Jewish communities from that period were found. This incredible heritage site stands abandoned to this day. Aside from minimal excavations and documentation, it has not been comprehensively researched yet. The general public has no access to it because it is in a military zone and is opened up to visitors only on rare occasions.

The same is true of most historical sites in Israel. While we are all familiar with popular sites such as Masada, the City of David, the Cave of the Patriarchs, Herodium and Beit Shearim, the vast majority of Jewish heritage sites are still insufficiently accessible to the public. We all know about Caesarea, Beit Shean, Atlit and Crusader-era fortresses such as Montfort Castle and Belvoir Fortress -- but these are not Jewish heritage sites. Gamla, Beitar, Hippos-Sussita, Alexandrium (or Sartaba in Hebrew) and hundreds of other sites are still waiting for the Israeli public to visit them, and even just hear about them for the first time. The overwhelming majority of these sites have not been excavated and studied by archaeologists, and the few people who do "visit" them are antique robbers who plunder the depths of our national history with their destructive pirate excavations.

If a site has not been excavated, it has not been studied. And when it is not studied, it remains unknown to the general public, which consequently cannot connect with its heritage and roots. This creates a cycle of ignorance and contempt for our national history and for our link to the past and the land. We do not invest enough in preserving our heritage sites, and we open the door to the type of political opportunism exemplified by UNESCO's recent decision on Hebron.

The Palestinians already have three sites that UNESCO has recognized as "Palestinian heritage" sites: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a historical agricultural field around the village of Battir, and now the Old City of Hebron. Suffice to say that all three have no connection to the Palestinians -- not even Battir, which stands on the ruins of the Hebrew city of Beitar, where Bar-Kochba made his final stand. His death at the hands of the Romans and the subsequent slaughter of his followers symbolizes the end of the Jewish revolt. Simply by virtue of our failure to preserve our heritage and historical sites, our enemies are able to exploit and distort history and disseminate lies that serve them in their war against us.

We have to understand that studying and researching heritage is not just an academic and cultural endeavor. The Education Ministry needs to institute this subject matter as essential learning material, whether in geography or history classrooms, and expose the younger generations to our national history here in the land of Israel.

Israeli teenagers, who have not learned about the Maccabees or about the strategy used during the Great Revolt, will not know what they are fighting for when they enlist in the army. The depth of our history, and the understanding of our national rights that stem from it, are a weapon no less powerful than an armored division or Iron Dome battery.

Michael Lobovikov is an architect with an expertise in preserving cultural heritage sites.

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