All Places are Plural

Door in old Nazareth

Everywhere I have been in Israel, Palestine and Jordan is more than one place. These ‘wheres’ are layered with ‘whens’. The hillsides have been grazed for millennia. Caves have been inhabited by thousands of generations. Even Neanderthals have been found in the Carmel mountain range.

Each church or basilica is often a collage, a composite assemblage of past shrines. Byzantine establishment, Islamic conquest, Crusader rebuilding, reconquest, 19th or 20th century restoration. Ottoman and then British colonial rule. Most recently, the state of Israel.

Israeli nationalism imagined a unified Jewish homeland. After WWII this aspiration gained traction. When Israel declared itself a state with British permission in what was then Mandatory Palestine, some 400 Arab villages were “depopulated.” Either razed or reinhabited by Israeli re-settlers. A massive global diaspora felt it was coming home. Arabs who had lived in these places for hundreds of years felt like they were being driven from their traditional territories so to speak.

Nationalisms of all stripes tend to purify and reify places and construct them as if there were an original people and place. Palestinian and Israeli nationalisms both make claims to autochthony, which literally means self-earth. Of the place. And all these peoples have strong claims to this land. Throughout the long list of empires that have trampled and exploited the region, some measure of plurality has been navigated. From Pagan to Christian to Muslim empires.

We are now living in a time of either/or, left/right, oppressors/oppressed. Israel and Palestine’s aspirations will continue to play into this winner/looser political rhetoric.

In this way, Nationalism is a kind of sacralized mono-culture. One that tries to control stories and identity by imposing a single reading of place. Regardless of the future arrangement, plurality is going to have to be recognized by all sides.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s