Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ancient and Modern Ruins

Sebastiya is a village of about 2900 people near Nablus in the West Bank. The village sits at the bottom of the mountain where the ruins of the ancient city of Samaria keep watch over the valley. I accompanied the visiting Dutch group on their excursion to Samaria-Sebaste on their second day visiting us in Zababdeh. The weather was pretty decent and we were all in pretty good spirits. When we reached Samaria-Sebaste the first thing we saw was the ruins of the Herodian palace, which the centuries had reduced to a grassy rectangled ringed with Roman columns in various stages of decay. A few of the decorative heads of the columns were sprinkled about in the middle. And of course the ever-present graffiti which decorated (?) the stones.

We wandered through the ancient city, whose ruins now are comprised of 10,000 years and six cultures (the Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine). The ampitheatre had a spectacular view of the valley, until of course you climb the hill to the watchtower and ancient marketplace which command a view of the entire area. Being the sort who has to get the best possible vantage point, I clamored up another hill and found a perfect and unobstructed 360 degree view. I turned and looked to the olive trees dotting the distant hillsides, the remains of 10,000 years of history the foreground to the village far below. Turn a little further though and the countryside is broken by barbed wire and watchtowers squatting on the crest of the hill below. The row of settlement houses, each exactly the same as the one beside it with their pointed red rooves and the chimneys wheezing smoke and steam into the noonday looked odd and out of place in the context of the surrounding villages and land. But the military trucks going to and from the settlement gates under the watchful eyes of the concrete towers was a vaguely threatening reminder that the settlement looks out of place because it is out of place. All the concrete and barbed wire of a military outpost set in the heart of an agrarian community - the ruins of Samaria-Sebaste's ancient watchtowers looking down on the ruins of our modern peace process.

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