Now that my official square has been closed, I find myself free-lancing around the site, offering labor wherever needed. Today, I worked in a new square on the West end of site, where Brian—-a squat, red-haired PHD student with a Southern drawl and meticulous trowel—-uncovered an ash layer from a burnt room in a home from the modern Arab village of Huqoq, which hosted financially modest, agricultural families for centuries until the Israelis forced the villagers’ evacuation in 1948.
Since all of the focus on the West end of the site remains in the square of the ancient synagogue (right beside us, yet far below), Brian and I spent the morning working in complete peace. We were accompanied by Taufiq, a local Arab who volunteered his expertise in ethnology and archaeology to uncover the mysteries of the Arab evacuation. His job will entail searching for remaining Arabs in Israel whose lineage dates back to Huqoq occupation (despite evacuation efforts, some Arabs managed to find residence in nearby locations). This morning, as we tediously articulated the patterns of the ash with brushes, Taufiq spoke solemnly about the condition of Arabs in Israel since WWII.
In the 1940s, Holocaust survivors flocked to Israel in great numbers, resulting in the expansion of Jewish communities and the demand for residential land. As a result, the Arabs, who were never quite welcome to begin with, were shoved off their property by the Israeli army. Guns, bombs, and fire brought these towns to ruin, and the villagers fled to refugee camps in Syria and Jordan—-or, like Taufiq’s family—-found other safe locations in Israel for residency. These remaining Arabs represented “mistakes” in the eyes of the Israeli government who failed to boot them out of “their” land. Arabs today, for the most part, lack the academic and professional opportunities available to Jewish Israelis (even immigrants), and so frequently hold humble professions related to farming, transportation, and retail. Over half of Arabs in Israel live in poverty.
As Taufiq, Brian, and I looked out at the freshly-brushed stretch of ash, Taufiq said quietly, “Now you know why I have a personal investment in this village.” He nodded at the Israeli administrators overlooking the ancient Jewish synagogue meters away. “People keep digging in Israel to prove that this land really belonged to the Jews. Archaeologists want to plow right through Arab ruins to find the history they prefer, but in doing so they ignore tragedy that happened yesterday.” Admittedly, I spent most of the early morning harnessing the urge to hack through modern ash to arrive at ancient material (the dig administrators speculate that the borders of the ancient synagogue stretch beneath our square). On the other hand, Taufiq awakened me to the urgency of uncovering modern tragedy before ancient beauty: a story haunting Israel among under-represented populations today.
My iPod emitted the entrancing sounds of Phillip Glass from the hollows of a bucket, enhancing the surreal appearance of our workspace. Visitors popped by to stare at our immaculately-brushed square that looked less like a burn site than an impressionist painting, or—-as someone suggested—-a Rorschach test. Admittedly, the ash design looked beautiful; however, it seemed disrespectful to regard it in such a way, for the family that once ran from this room likely perceived it-—afire—-as the most fearsome sight imaginable.