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Conflict in the Holy Land

The Gaza conflict is a terrible tragedy that has flared up again after many years. Having regularly excavated in the southern part of Israel, I know the area bordering Gaza quite well. I also know what to do when the alarm sounds. Rockets have long been shot from Gaza quite regularly, but recent events have surpassed the continual bombardment. I do not know anyone personally injured by the recent violence.

As someone who has studied the history of that land, I’m aware that many factors influence the long-standing tension. I’ve even heard that this goes back to Jacob and Esau. It’s not that simple though. We need to remember that many Palestinians have Jewish ancestors. As the Holy Land was conquered by various empires and kingdoms, some of the population remained, adapted to the new circumstances and gave their loyalty to new overlords and new religions. During the time of Jesus, Jews were still in the majority in Judea. After the various Jewish-Roman wars, specifically the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 AD), the Romans wanted to end the problems. They prohibited Jews from entering Jerusalem, renaming it Aelia Capitolina. The province was named Syria Palaestina, resurrecting the old Philistine name. Jews remained in the area, with some taking on Greco-Roman culture. Under the Byzantine Empire Christian culture gained the ascendancy. In 638 AD Jerusalem and the surrounding area was conquered by Muslim armies. Again, some of the population stayed and eventually partly adopted the new culture and religion.

Other Jews went into the diaspora, living among the peoples of the world. From genetics we know that Jews that moved away intermarried with people in northern Turkey, but less so with the people of Europe among whom they lived.

Meanwhile people from all directions came to Palestine and intermarried there. By the 18th century, though, it was a forgotten backwater of the Ottoman Empire. The creation of the state of Israel in part became possible because Palestine had been administered by corrupt officials for so long.

Many inhabitants of Israel and Gaza cannot understand the common history. Rather, they focus on what divides. That division has become so important in the minds of many, that it consumes their lives and is an impassable barrier to any reconciliation. With every incident of violence it becomes harder. I don’t know how this conflict can be resolved, but surely it has to begin by acknowledging the past and by a drastic change of heart from violence and hatred.