Friday, May 21, 2010


Today, I also visited the village of Sebastia, about 15K from Nablus, on the road to Jenin. My guide, Hassanein, told me the following story: "Archaeological evidence proves the site was Chalcolithic Period. In the 12th century BC, a small city grew up which acquired its economic and political power in the 9th century BC, when it became the capital of the Kingdom of Israel (or Samaria). King Omri, sixth king of the kingdom, elevated Samaria to his capital, open to the estern mediterranean cultural sphere. The influence of the Phoenician cities made itself felt in all aspects of life: material, culture, commerce, and religion. Threatened by the rise of Assyria, King Omri cemented an alliance by marrying his son Ahab to Jezabel, a princess from the powerful Phoenician city of Tyre. Ahab erected a temple to her gods, Baal and Astarte, in the city, thus infuriating the Judaeans who condemned this act as the work of an infidel. They looked upon the Assyrian conquest by the troops of Sargon II of the Kingdom of Israel in 721 BC as a divine punishment. The city regained its status as a provincial capital during the Persian period. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great made it a Greek settlement; the city was under Hellenistic cultural influence until its destruction by John Hyrcanus in 108 BC. Herod, the right-hand man in palestine of the Roman Empire, rebuilt the city on the model of the Greek polis, or city. He renamed it Sebaste (Augustus the Greek), in honor of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (27BC - 14AD). In the second century AD, Emperor Septimus Severus conferred on Sebaste city status with all the pertaining

privileges. As the popularity of Christianity grew in the 4th century, this former center of Graeco-Roman paganism went into permanent decline."

I was especially interested in the recent history of Sebastia. Currently, the site of the ruins in considered Area C, which means it's under full Israeli occupation, and the town is considered Area B, which means its under Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control. (In contrast, Nablus is an Area A, under full Palestinian civil and military control, with no Israeli allowed to enter.) It seems like Israel has complete control of all of these historical sites around Palestine, which is where a lot of tourists come. The owner of the Palestinian cafe, where we had lunch, said that he wants to expand his business (put a roof on the cafe, and create wash rooms) but he is not allowed, because his cafe is in Area C. Another interesting thing is that the ruins (and the towns) are covered with graffiti, much of which expresses anger against the occupation. For example, in the Byzantine Church of St. John, where John the Baptist's head is supposedly buried, there are many blue Stars of David spray-painted on the ancient stones on the ground. These were painted on the ground by Palestinians to symbolize "stepping on" the State of Israel. In the Old City, there are Stars of David on almost every corner, some with a line through it, others as a part of an anti-occupation sentiment in Arabic, and others supporting the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Some of the translations I have made read: "Together we get freedom," and "Those believers who feel God in their hearts, keep our promise with him and say the right thing."

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