by Nathan Silver
After spending this past month living in Akko and being a frequent visitor to the City, I have become aware of a very particular issue. When it comes to the old city of Akko it is very easy for people to argue about who the city “belongs” to. This is an issue that is very common in Israel and in many cases appears to be without any viable solution. As a part of the total archeology program there has been a lot of involvement with the international conservation department. Through the various lectures and tours given by the department’s staff it seems to me that the solution to this question of ownership may have a solution that is not too far off.
The international conservation department runs a summer program that joins together Jewish and Arab youth to learn about the conservation efforts and to also participate in much of the work that the department does. The total archeology program offers an option for us to participate in the work that the conservation center does. When this was offered to us I jumped at the opportunity. As a student studying political science and international relations, this was right up my alley. The conservation itself was not by any means what tickled my fancy, but when I heard that the program brought together Jewish and Arab youth I was sold.
Though the program’s main goal is to teach kids about the history of their city and to educate them on the process of preserving the unique historical structures that make up the old city of Akko. All of the underlying political nuances that attracted me to the program were just that, underlying, and in many cases purposefully overlooked. It seemed as though the lack of emphasis placed on the question of ownership of the old city served as a way to implement and reinforce the concepts of cohabitation and historic universality. In my mind, the current situation of conflict is undeniably temporary, and it is efforts like this that not only reinforce this but also take the first step towards coexistence and tolerance.
The day I spent with the program involved making and then placing mortar between the bricks of an old building. There was nothing about whether the building belonged to Jews, to Arabs or to anyone else. The emphasis was that the building was a part of Akko’s physical history and that all of Akko’s inhabitants have a shared responsibility to maintain it.
I am now leaving Akko with a strong feeling of hopefulness that efforts like this, which show young Jews and Arabs how much they truly have in common, will continue with the work they are doing and possibly inspire others to begin doing the same.