Contesting history: A tale of two Tekoas
Published Monday 13/08/2012 (updated) 17/08/2012 11:08
A view from Palestinian Tuqu of the Tekoa settlement, with Herodian
rising in the background. (MaanImages/Brandon Davis)
TUQU, Bethlehem (Ma'an) -- The Gush Herodion Development Corporation has big plans for Tekoa. Already boasting a pizza parlor, a swimming pool and a horse ranch, this idyllic "Jewish village" of approximately 1,600 will soon add six new buildings with eight "spacious" apartments each, designed by the architect Jacques Gabay.
In addition to the modern facilities, Tekoa is home to some of Israel’s most precious archaeological heritage -- King Herod’s winter palace and, allegedly, his tomb. The first-century ruins sit on a plateau rising above Tekoa in the north, on the way to the holy city of Jerusalem.
Life in Tekoa is a unique opportunity to "join the heroes" and "build a nation," as the town’s website advertises.
What Gush Herodion does not say is that this "Jewish village" -- which takes its name from a town mentioned in the Book of Amos - is more commonly referred to as an illegal Israeli settlement, established in 1977 deep within the West Bank in the Gush Etzion block.
According to a 2009 report by Peace Now, more than 10 percent of the settlement is built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Neighboring Tuqu -- the Arabic version of the same name from the Book of Amos -- is less glamorous, and their Jewish neighbors have not made life any easier.
The Palestinian town also lies in Israeli-controlled Areas B and C of the West Bank. Not even a fence separates the Palestinian village from its Hebrew namesake.
Control over the Palestinian Tuqu was supposed to be handed to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords, but this never came to pass, as is the case for the rest of Areas B and C.
The Palestinians living in these areas are controlled by the Israeli army and the Israeli Civil Administration, which sounds like a harmless bureaucracy and acts like a nineteenth-century colonial administrator, demolishing Palestinian homes or destroying water networks throughout the West Bank for being built without a permit.
The Civil Administration cannot take too much credit for Tuqu though – they’re supported in this area by radical settlers living in what is called Tekoa D, the settlement’s newest outpost.
While the Israeli army and Civil Administration are limited in their misery-making by legal technicalities, however limited, the settlers know no bounds. And like any efficient mob, they enjoy impunity - even cooperation - from the authorities.
Since the founding of Tekoa D in 2002, that kind of misery-making has included shooting at Palestinians as they try to access their agricultural lands near the outpost, and throwing poisoned bread on Palestinian farmland to kill grazing sheep, the village mayor says.
The Israeli army, bolstering the settlers, consistently orders the land surrounding Tekoa D a "closed military zone" whenever Palestinians try to access their land.
In recent months, Palestinians finally reached their land with the support of Israeli and international human rights activists. But the armed settlers and army continue to intimidate the Palestinians and keep them away.
Looming over this conflict is the Israeli-controlled Herodion, and the struggle not just over land, but history as well.
For the settlement movement, Herodion is "further proof of the direct connection of Gush Etzion to the history of the Jewish people and Jerusalem," as explained by Shaul Goldstein, the former head of the settler regional council Gush Etzion and current General Director of the Israel Parks and Nature Authority.
The maps given to tourists at Herodion show no Green Line and no Palestinian sovereignty, and ignore the non-Judaic layers of the site.
Even facts about King Herod - until recently often considered a Gentile because of his Edumite origins - are whitewashed to fit religious-nationalist aims.
The Israeli interpretation of Herodion confirms the settlers’ narrative: Jews ruled over all of Greater Israel two thousand years ago, and have now come back to reclaim what is their land, picking up right where they left off. The Palestinians nearby are only a brief historical aberration, a small interruption of divine Jewish rule.
The return from exile is celebrated in Tekoa, with Jews from over ten countries, speaking a half dozen languages. They enjoy state-of-the-art facilities and European-style housing, but are, as the town's website says, "pioneering an ancient dream."
That the town was established less than forty years ago in occupied Palestinian territory makes no difference to perceived indigenousness and Jewish continuity.
"Don't just live in suburbia! Find a home with some character!" the settlement website advertises.
Tekoa is certainly more than "suburbia." Whether the settlement’s "character" warrants praise is something prospective homeowners might want to question.