More on “Southern Exposure”

Readers of Gershom’s last post may be interested in an article I published in Nature last year on Elad’s role in running the site of the City of David excavations.

As I reported in the same journal earlier this month, a group of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists recently unveiled a draft agreement about how archaeological sites and artifacts would be treated under a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

As Gershom notes, every historical or archaeological site can provide the basis for a variety of different stories. True, archaeological artifacts and sites provide hard facts that limit the kinds of stories you can tell. A Palestinian scholar who proclaimed that City of David structures dating from the eighth or ninth century BCE were actually from the early Islamic period would have a hard time getting anyone to take his case seriously because we know from other sites that buildings built in those periods have distinct styles and methods of construction. An Israeli who tried to argue that Arabs never ruled Jerusalem would run up against all those layers of Muslim and Arab remains that excavators have found all around the city.

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Myths in Collision: Velikovsky and the Zionist Narrative

Speaking of myths (see my previous post, Are the Palestinians Canaanites? Should We Care?), I received an e-mail today from a nice woman I’ve spoken to on the phone a few times, Shula Kogan. Kogan is the daughter of Immanuel Velikovsky, the psychiatrist and scholar famous for his theory that the historical account offered by the Bible is best understood if we assume that the planet Jupiter ejected what is now the planet Venus and Venus turned into a comet and swung by the earth a couple times, causing the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the descent of manna from heaven, and other supposed miracles.

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Wright, Race and Contested Stories

Gershom Gorenberg

If you want to understand why Rev. Jeremiah Wright said the US government invented Aids, or what Barack Obama sought to accomplish in his Philadelphia speech on race, the best commentary is political scientist Marc Howard Ross’s book “Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict” – even if it never mentions Obama or Wright.

I described Ross’s book in my recent American Prospect piece about the smears against on Robert Malley and the shoutfest over Israeli-Palestinian history. Ross describes the critical role of the stories that

…ethnic groups build to explain their past, their present, and their relation to their opponents. The narratives are “compelling, coherent” and link “specific events to that group’s general understandings.”

They are also selective and inaccurate. Disagreement with a group’s memory is often perceived as an attack on its identity, if not its existence.

Ross certainly isn’t the first to talk about a shared narrative as part of ethnic identity. In Israel, there’s constant discussion in the tenure-track class of the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative and how they don’t fit together. For Israelis, 1948 means independence; for Palestinians, the same date equals catastrophe. For Israelis, the southeast corner of Jerusalem’s Old City is the Temple Mount, proof of Jews’ ancient connection to their land; for Palestinians, the same place is Al-Aqsa Mosque, the place where Islam and Palestinian nationalism are fused together.

But Ross gives the best description I’ve seen yet of how such narratives are put together,

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