June 14, 2024
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That Time I Excavated at Tel Henron and Met a Canaanite (and More on the Karaite Cemetery)

Part II

Last week I mentioned how I took part in the Israel Antiquities Authority’s archaeological excavations at Tel Hebron (which is located in the area called Tel Rumeida) in 2014.

I now find myself reminiscing: It was an interesting time in my life. I was renting a room in a building that called itself a hotel on the west side of Kiryat Arba next to the exit toward the city of Hebron. I was naive and determined. Each morning I would begin bright and early, hitting the dirt literally. I was convinced that I’d be the one to uncover some important ancient artifact related to King David. After all, Hebron was King David’s first capital, and one of the stated goals of this dig was to uncover evidence of that. Next to me worked groups of Bedouin Israelis bused in every day from the Negev. They watched often in bemusement at my enthusiastic wielding of the shovel and noted that I was wasting my time since the place was full of dirt and pottery shards.

We never did manage to find King David’s capital. In my opinion, the really important sites are probably sitting under the densely built Arab houses all around. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s located beneath the home of the Abu Haichal family next door. Interestingly, that house once belonged to the Sephardic Jewish community of Hebron before its owners were mercilessly massacred by their Arab neighbors in 1929, but I digress. The Abu Haichals made it a habit to photograph and videotape us while we were working. Local residents would constantly try to engage the Bedouin workers in conversation; all I could make out were words and phrases like “yahud” and “al-Aqsa.” Basically they were asking them how they could work for the Jews when the Jews were invading al-Aqsa Mosque. Sometimes they would strike up conversations with the Jewish workers too (I must have once been mistaken for a Bedouin as a local sternly addressed me in Arabic while standing next to a youth who appeared to be clutching something in his hand).

This is a real recounting of a conversation that I had the pleasure of conducting with a local.

Local: Why are you digging here?

Me: We’re digging up the roots of the city’s biblical past.

Local: This [Hebron] is not Israel; this was a Canaanite city-state. This is against international law.

Me: Is Abraham not your grandfather as well?

Local: No! I am not an Arab! I am a Cannanite. Abraham was not from here, he came from Iraq!

Me: Are you not a Muslim?

Local, seeking to switch gears: I’m an archaeologist.

You don’t get to meet a Canaanite every day—and an archaeologist at that.

I learned that day that you just don’t argue with a Cannanite. Hanan Ashrawi used to argue that she was a Jebusite (the Temple Mount and its environs were under the ownership of the Jebus clan, until it was purchased by King David). A journalist who interviewed her once quipped about her confrontational manner and concluded that he eventually shushed because “after all, you just don’t argue with a Jebusite.”

Some people in this region have a long, long, long memory, I recalled.

In 2014, Saeb Erekat told Israelis, “I am the son of Jericho. I am 10,000 years old … I am the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I’ve been there for 5,500 years before Joshua Bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.” Never mind that the Erekat clan originated in Saudi Arabia by its own family tradition, but at least we’re not Khazars, we’ve made some progress.

The Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, according to the Atlantic in a Civil War-era analysis, “is a party whose leaders, men approaching their 70s, send pregnant teenagers on suicide missions in booby-trapped cars. And it is a party whose members, mostly Christians from churchgoing families, dream of resuming the war of the ancient Canaanites against Joshua and the Children of Israel. They greet their leaders with a Hitlerian salute; sing their Arabic anthem, ‘Greetings to You, Syria,’ to the strains of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’; and throng to the symbol of the red hurricane, a swastika in circular motion.”

They wish to resurrect the ancient pre-Islamic and pre-Arabic Syria and annex Lebanon, Cyprus, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Israel, and parts of Turkey and Egypt to Damascus. Jews would have no place in the resurrected Syrian empire.”

To be continued…


The author currently excavates things at home from the piles of toys his kids leave behind. He can be reached at [email protected].

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