Every two weeks, before we change content on our site, I am seized with uncontrolled anxiety. Though I have millions of issues I could write about I am tormented by the question of whether they are appropriate for the Execution Chronicles. Can they deal directly with Hate Crimes or the Death Penalty? As I ponder, I delay writing, times passes, I miss the deadline and out of sheer guilt I finally succeed in writing a blog. I have tried many remedies: good sleep the night before, a glass of my favorite wine… nothing seems to work. This week, I just gave up and decided to write about what I care about and what transpired in the past two weeks when I was on vacation in Israel. You will have to decide if that story has any connection to Hate Crimes or to the Death Penalty.
One of the projects on which I am currently working is EXILE—an investigation into the myth of the exiling of the Jews by the Romans—a myth deeply etched in the collective Israeli and Jewish memory. As part of the research and development of the project, I visited and later filmed in the ruins of the ancient Jewish/Roman city of Sephoris, a city known around the world for its proximity to Nazareth, the place where Christians believed Jesus’ parents lived, and where Jesus was said to have begun his preaching in Galilee . Sephoris of Jesus’ time (1st century, AD) must have been a fascinating place. Though heavily Jewish, excavations found remnants of large early churches and Pagan temples. Sephoris was never swept in the Messianic religious fervor that finally led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. Rather than rebel, Sephoris signed a peace treaty with Rome. Not only did it avoid destruction, it flourished and has become an important Jewish cultural center where the most important Jewish theological books (Mishna and Talmud) were written and edited. The fact that such important Jewish theological books were written in a city full of large churches and Pagan temples is a testimony to the tolerant character of the city and its multi-ethnic nature. Sephoris was never destroyed though it seems that around the 5th century it was mysteriously abandoned. At some point in history, on the ruins of the city, a Palestinian village named Saffuriya emerged. This village of 5000, existed until it was destroyed by Israeli forces in 1948. Most of its inhabitants fled or where expelled. Since the film explores the myth of the Jewish exile, it also examines the possibility that if Jews were never exiled, it is possible that today’s Palestinians have some Jewish roots. Could some of Sephoris’ ancient citizens have been transformed over thousands of years of religious conversions into the villagers of Saffuriya?
I spent a day last week in Nazareth talking to leaders of the Saffuriya refugees in a community that, 60 years later, still keeps the memory of its village alive. “What do you remember your ancestors told you about the village and its possible Jewish roots?” I asked the community leaders. Between endless cups of coffee and glasses of cold water, people pondered and tried to remember. The majority agreed that they had been told by their elders, as children, that the villagers has always lived in the village throughout history, while conquering armies came and went. Looking at my face and realizing that maybe I was waiting for more, Abu Arab, one of the leading activists in the refugee community, proceeded to tell me a story his brother, a well known poet, used to tell:
Saffuriya, his brother used to tell visitors, has always been a mixed village of Christians and Muslims. For decades, the villagers fought over the village’s true identity. One day, the Muslim inhabitants of the village decided to resolve this endless debate once and for all. They dug for days near the village’s mosque and finally found, among the archeological ruins, a crescent. They paraded it through the village as the final proof of the village’s Muslim origins. Then they celebrated for an entire day and night. The humiliated Christian inhabitants of the village were devastated and at a loss over what to do next, until someone came up with the brilliant idea of digging near the village’s church. Sure enough, after few days of intense digging, they found a cross, which they happily paraded in the village—proof of the village’s Christian origins. “But where do you go from there?” continued the poet, examining the faces of his listeners. The two groups decided to meet. Many proposals were debated when the villagers assembled. The consensus seemed that further digging was required in order to reach a conclusive result. It was at that moment, when the villagers were going to vote on what to do next, that an elderly man rose to his feet. “Until when we will continue to dig?” he asked emotionally, “Until when?” Suddenly, silence befell the large assembly. “Since then, the crescent and the cross have become symbols of our village,” the poet finished the tale.
Now, you have to decide what the connection of this story is to the Execution Chronicles.