Sites of shared regional significance

The PUSH project has opened new horizons in old friendships. At the outset of the research, it became evident that the simplest and most obvious language was open for deliberation. The original use of the heading Our Shared Heritage was debated during the first months. How could the use of the word Shared have meaning in the current political context? Could the use of Our imply a consciousness more idyllic than real? Was the neutral Common better suited to the situation?

The first symposium discussed these definitions under the guidance of Professor Simon Goldhill, resolving the matter with analogies to the Tragedy of Antigone, showing the use of the terminology of Shared in literature no way signified an acceptance, but more often indicated the recognition of the "other". The argument was convincing. And with the knowledge that the Greek language was dominant in our region for over 800 years, we all agreed that we could live with Our Shared Heritage.


The format of the Shared Heritage

The team then grappled with many issues before arriving at this seemingly simple and seamless booklet.

The sites were initially grouped under a series of headings, first and foremost, historical and chronological. The second proposal suggested that a geographical division might be more prudent, while the thematic studies of the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Convention, ICOMOS and IUCN, became the consensus after further consideration of the personalities of the region.

The eleven relevant ICOMOS themes developed by our friend Professor Henry Cleere seemed too fine and many times inappropriate to our local context. A mixture between the periods often complicated matters – for instance, the grouping of the Herodian and Ummayad palaces into one typological narrative was a bold proposition but also contentious.

Even the grouping of the periods presented difficulties and the combination of historical periods raised issues as the need for separating Hellenistic and Roman influences. The meaning and implication of the term Mediaeval was also questioned raising the polemics of Crusader, Frankish and Mameluke descriptions of the architecture of the region. And did the Bronze and Iron Ages each need their own definition?

Finally after the first regional symposium and consultation between the teams and our peer reviewers, under the direction of Neil Silberman, the publication emerged as a format with six thematic chapter headings:

The Natural Environment
Rural and Urban Life
Agricultural and Industrial Innovations
Coexisting Religious Traditions
Cultural Landscapes

As the texts were written by the teams, edited, rewritten and peer reviewed by our local colleagues, and on seeing the publication emerge there was a general accolade that a break-through had been made. While accepting the format, new problems arose and other subjects and narratives were deemed necessary. But for that we are hoping to expand on PUSH II.

2.Tell el Sultan

Regional terminology

The problem of geo-historical terminology is particularly serious, since no single geographical name applies to all periods and to the same extent of land including the area of modern Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. All our reviewers commented on the need to insist on historic and geographic accuracy.
We have used the general term "our region" when referring to the whole area of our contemporary shared heritage.  The team also felt that the use of "Holy Land" would be a further generic term to be applied judiciously.

Specific references will be made concerning names that can be matched with historical periods or geographical terms such as Retenu, Canaan, Philistia, Israel, Judah, Judea, Samaria, Jordan, Palaestina, Filastin or Outremer. These will refer specifically and precisely to the political unit to which a site belonged at a particular time.   Where these names have been used, the local term in Arabic or Hebrew has been applied, while the English has acknowledged alternative names if they exist in different forms. 
More general terms such as Levant, Land of Israel, ash-Sham, Palestine, have been avoided unless there is a specific and documented use of the term in a historical sense. Basically, this has been decided on a case-by-case basis recognizing the "other".


Determining the sites

The identification of the sites and the merging of them into common narratives were thwart with difficulties. They demanded the acceptance of change and dialogue, accepting that sites regarded as important in one context could be of lesser meaning in others. Some examples will enhance the understanding and share with the reader the substance of the process in finalizing the booklet.

The importance of the Byzantine Monasteries in the Judean or Jerusalem Desert left out Israel, resulting in the inclusion of the Churches at Shivta, while the copper mines of Feinan and Timna left out the Palestinian territories resulting in rethinking the heading as Mines and Quarries.

The Israeli team thought of the Herodian legacies while the Palestinian team had identified the importance of Salah al-Din. Each personality had left indelible marks in all three territories including the winter palaces of Herod and the battles and fortresses of Salah al-Din. The original sectarian proposals eventually gave way to looking at the combined typology of palaces of the Herodian and Ummayad periods, while Salah-a-Din was linked not to the famous Battle of Hittin but to the tomb of the Rambam, as his court physician. The importance of looking for a Christian of the same period, brought us to rereading Runciman and identified Lady Stephanie of Oultrejourdain, responsible for the garrisons of Karak and Montreal, whose son Salah al-Din returned even before the obstinate knights were defeated. The Jordanian team felt that the lesser known Stephanie, albeit a woman, should be exchanged for Richard the Lion Heart who was enforced into a peace treaty with Salah al-Din, thus ending the Third Crusade.

Prophets have been recognized in different places in shrines and tombs. The Jordanian Mount Nebo and Palestinian Nebi Musa; the Jordanian tomb of Yithro and the Israeli Nebi Sheib blurred the narratives, creating a diachronic chapter that not all team members were willing to accept. This generated the chapter on judges, disciples and companions, each accompanying the prophets of the three religions in their birthplaces and places of growth.

The innovations of the region brought about the recognition of the inception of writing, together with the lesser known fact that the sugar cane industry developed from the insatiable sweet tooth of Europeans from the twelfth century onwards, with the Crusaders building a series of factories near Acre, Jericho and Safi. Likewise the innovations of the Byzantine mosaic craftsman crossed cultural borders, with the intricate patterns of Byzantine Madaba brought into the service of the Ummayad Caliphate, having also shared motifs with the elaborate synagogue floors at Bet Alfa, Tsippori and Baram.

The overlaying of history is seen in the recognition of the cultural landscapes with their evolving indigenous communities and Palestinian villages a phenomenon that goes hand-in-hand with the multiple meanings of the venerated tomb on the Mount of Olives where the Prophetess Hulda, St Pelagia or Rabia might be buried – one tomb, but very feminine.

In all these elements of heritage we faced a constant challenge: Three sites with one narrative – one site with three narratives. That has always been the very essence of the PUSH project.



Common understanding is dependent on language and translation; not just the technicalities, but also the cultural meanings. The team realized that agreeing on the translations was even more complex than agreeing on a common English version and that there was a need to open a parallel debate on the Hebrew and Arabic renditions to convey the spirit of the issues raised in discussing the English text. What we anticipated as a technical matter became yet a further trialogue in the discussion of Our Shared Heritage.

A commentary that was originally written in Hebrew or Arabic was rendered into the English lingua franca and hotly debated with resulting changes. In translating the text back to the original language, questions arose that would not have been so obvious in the first writing; what did the writer mean? Was there a hidden agenda in his or her words?

There is no use for the reader to compare the texts for their literal lexicon meaning. That exercise will merely be frustrating, while the connoisseur of cultural heritage, we hope, will enjoy and even revel in the nuances that express the spectrum of significance that each place and memory bears.

Thus as in all the other challenges of sharing, we invite the reader to share with us the lessons of heritage.