Decoupling Archeology from Politics

Posted in Newsletter on May 28th, 2010 by Steph

by Razvan Sibii

Chaim Noy (DUO II, Abu Dis) is an “interdisciplinary scholar,” currently teaching Communication and Sociology courses at Sapir University in Jerusalem. One of those courses is “Intro to Israeli Society.” “The first part of it is functional and the second part is critical. The students don’t find it very easy to combine the two,” says Noy.

Chaim Noy has recently been asked to serve on the board of Emek Shaveh, an Israeli organization that brings together archeologists, human rights activists and Jerusalem residents. The organization strives to disengage archeology from politics – a particularly difficult endeavor in East Jerusalem, a town that hosts ancient Judaic, Christian and Islamic holy sites. At the present, Emek Shaveh is focusing its efforts on a particularly rich archeological site in the village of Silwan, near East Jerusalem’s Old City. The site, also known as “the City of David,” is being excavated by an Israeli right-wing organization, by permission of Jerusalem’s municipal authorities. Noy and his colleagues argue that this organization is using archeology to prove the historical precedence of Jews in the area – and hence justify Israel’s political dominance of Arab East Jerusalem. Enter Emek Shaveh,

Noy protesting in Sheikh Jarah

which offers alternative tours of the site (in collaboration with the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a local Palestinian organization) and publicizes what it perceives to be an outrageous situation.

“What is nice about Emek Shaveh is that it combines a discourse of archeology with a humanist discourse,” says Noy. “All branches of anthropology have historically had an imperialistic bias, having been developed in Europe and North America. But cultural anthropology, for example, has really done a lot to look into itself and probe into the roots of the discipline. That introspection has been much delayed in archeology. Maybe this is because of all of those heroic images of Indiana Jones and other Western archeologists – who, of course, went to Northern Africa and the Far East and the Levant during the age of imperialism and throughout the two world wars and excavated and stole property. What Emek Shaveh is saying is archeology should not look for the ‘City of David’ itself [which would legitimize the Jewish nationalist claims to the area], but rather for all the different cultures that existed in the past on this site, leading up to the current one: the Palestinian culture.”

One of Noy’s objects of academic research is the discourse surrounding tourism. And in a place like Israel/Palestine, that discourse is inevitably intertwined with some political narrative or another. “I’m currently writing an academic piece about the social actors that are fighting over the tourist consciousness in Silwan,” says Noy. “And you know, we academics, we take things seriously when we write our articles. I’m putting a lot of effort into this, and I hope to publish it soon and bring my contribution in that way.” Another contribution that Noy brings to Emek Shaveh’s activities is joining periodical protests against the evacuation of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem. “I was born in Jerusalem, I live in Jerusalem. I feel that I cannot just sign a petition or express my opinion, but that I really should be active,” he says. “The Israelis are the occupiers here and we have a responsibility to protest. The idea is to make noise, to make a fuss. Who knows, maybe Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will hear about it… Or maybe people in Europe – or anyone, really!”

Chaim Noy’s name has recently been included on a so-called “Anti-Zionist list” by an Israeli organization called IsraCampus. Modeled after the American Campus Watch, IsraCampus seeks to identify and denounce what it calls “Israeli Academic ‘Post-Zionist’ extremists in Israel” who speak or write against Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories.

“I don’t take such organizations too seriously,” says Noy. “They would say that all criticism leveled at Israel is anti-Israel and antisemite. Actually, sometimes I think this organization is a good thing – whenever I need to find people in the academia with a political perspective similar to mine, all I have to do is go to this organization’s website and look into their database! But seriously, there are so many fanatics here… I just disregard them completely.”

Emek Shaveh website:
Wadi Hilweh –

Photo caption: Chaim Noy protesting in the neighborhood of Sheik Jarah (January 2010)
Credit: Yonathan Mizrachi

A Century of Grace

Posted in Newsletter on May 24th, 2010 by Steph

by Amy Hamar

Amy teaches English Composition in Doha, Qatar. She is interested in how holding on to cultural identity can help people remain sane throughout, as well as recover after, conflict situations. Her favorite part of teaching is helping students learn what it means to learn, and what being critical actually means….in other words, critical thinking.

When I was asked to write a small segment of the newsletter, I had no idea what I could, or would, write about. I could write about so many different topics related to dialogue, conflict, language, communication, education, and so forth. In the end, I’ve decided to tell the story of my husband’s grandmother in Palestine who is somewhere between 105-107 years old. She has seen more than most people alive, and has endured more emotional pain than most, especially when her son was accidentally killed by a neighbor at the age of 14. Amazingly, she bears it without the bitterness that usually accompanies catastrophic realities.

She has lived through the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire,

She has seen more than most people alive.

World Wars I and II, the creation of Israel, the displacement of her and her family before and after this time, known to Palestinians as al-nakba (the Catastrophe), as well as the ensuing effects of the occupation on her life. Just looking at her, one can feel history living in the room. She wears traditional Palestinian dress, and bears tribal tattoos on her hands and face. We don’t know the origins of these tattoos, but it seems they are from a time when Bedouins would travel through the villages of Palestine, giving the women these tattoos to signify beauty. She is a wealthy woman in terms of land, and she was a shrewd business woman, looking out for herself and those around her. Prior to meeting her, I knew she had suffered a stroke in 1996, losing mobility of her legs and going blind in one eye. I knew she wasn’t mobile, but didn’t realize there was no furniture. Therefore, I didn’t expect my meeting her to go quite as it had (traditional Palestinian homes do not have furniture apart from stuffed cushions on the ground).

We walked into her room, watching her, wondering what she thinks of this American wife, coming into her room. My mind was flooded with thoughts about measuring up to what they all thought I should be, especially as many were not for our marriage, labeling it a mistake, telling him to just come home and marry a good Palestinian wife. Once our eyes met, however, there was a moment of unspoken kinship between us. I knelt down to kiss her hands and the top of her head, and she started crying, pulling me to her, saying “habibti, ya habibti” (my beloved, oh my beloved). All of the thoughts I had about being inadequate, or not enough for them to accept melted away with the touch of her hand and the sight of her tears. Everyone else was crying and happy to see us, but for some reason, it was her unspoken acceptance that meant the most.

When I look back on sitting with her that first time,

We don't know the origins of these tattoos.

I think of her reaction not only to me, but to that of my husband’s absence at the time. Unfortunately, the Israelis had stopped my husband at the border, so my step-daughter and I had arrived alone for our first visit. I know she was deeply saddened by this, but she welcomed us with no irritation to her voice. No cursing out of anyone. No complaining of any kind. It was as if she was content to finally meet me, and see her granddaughter after 8 long years. It was as if she had pushed the sadness and anger to the side, and focused on the joy and happiness that were equally present. I wish. I hope. I pray that one day I can be like her. That if I had to suffer and endure all that she has been through in life, I could still focus on the sliver of happiness being offered to her. Our lives could not be any different, her and I, but it is as if there is a tiny string connecting us. Every time I leave her, I don’t know if will see her again, nor does she know if she’ll see me, but we always say goodbye the same way we say hello. Our faces become streaked with tears, but we’re smiling the whole time through.

Amy can be reached at amy (dot) hama “at” gmail (dot) com.

First newsletter in gorgeous PDF!

Posted in Newsletter on May 20th, 2010 by Steph


This is the inaugural issue of the DUO Newsletter. The conference has been growing exponentially with each new reincarnation, and it was only fitting that the many academics, students and activists associated with it acquire an avenue to keep the dialogue going. This newsletter is an attempt to maintain the lines of communication open between past and future DUO participants, in the hope that the connections forged on the ground, during conference presentations and coffee breaks, can continue on the web and elsewhere.

The newsletter coordinators are past conference participants who have taken a strong linking to DUO due to its demonstrated ability to not only “talk the talk” of “dialogue under occupation,” but also to “walk the walk” by bringing a variety of people together in actual zones of occupation (whether we’re talking about direct physical occupation or occupation by proxy). The last two DUO conferences, held in Abu Dis, East Jerusalem and Bogotá, Colombia, proved the organizers’ commitment to break with the tradition of ethnocentric, navel-gazing, Marriott-hosted conferences that many of us are so familiar with. The fascinating presentations and countless conversations that DUO has repeatedly featured clearly required an online forum where they could be pondered further, elaborated on, challenged and otherwise engaged. Together with an upcoming DUO blog, this newsletter strives to be that kind of a forum.

Each issue will carry a handful of texts written by, or in collaboration with, past and future DUO participants. Some articles will consist of updates about the professional activities of DUO members, while others will deal with issues deemed by the authors to be relevant to DUO’s mission statement. Anyone with an interest in the work carried out by DUO is welcome to contribute a story or an idea. It is our hope that the continued dialogue – in this venue and others – will contribute to the creation of a genuine “DUO community” whose future initiatives we can now only guess at with great anticipation.

Welcome, once again, to DUO. We would love to see you at DUO IV, to be held in Washington D.C. between June 1 – 4, 2010.

Razvan Sibii