Israeli archaeologist talks to crowd of 30 about country in ruins

By Peter Wright

Gaby Mazor grew up never knowing his neighbors. As a child he never interacted with Palestinians because a concrete wall separated them from the Jewish section of Jerusalem. It is that type of separation and tension that Mazor argued against when he spoke at Macalester on Tuesday as part of this semester’s Mideast Peace and Conflict Series.”I was born into the conflict before the state of Israel was born in ’48,” Mazor said.

Mazor was born in Jerusalem in 1944. He grew up in Jerusalem, and still lives there today. He has experienced several major events that have shaped the current state of affairs in Israel. Some of those include the Six-Day War, which he fought in as a member of the Israeli Army, and two intifadas.

As a young adult he joined a small organization called Peace Now, which still exists. The website for Peace Now describes it as the “largest extra-parliamentary movement in Israel, the country’s oldest peace movement and the only peace group to have a broad public base.” One of the main platforms of the group is the necessity of a Palestinian state in addition to Israel.

That also was a major theme of Mazor’s speech. Several times he stated that a two- state solution is necessary, and he said that it is the only way to achieve peace, detracting any approach that did not view the Palestinians as equals.

Mazor also spoke against the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, referring to the movement as a conquest and equating the practice to that of an empire. He praised the recent removal of the settlements as a step toward peace, adding that the predictions of some conservative Israelis that a civil war would result from the removals never became reality. He considers that a success because it proves that removal of the settlements is not impossible.

Mazor called for a change in the use of the Israeli army. Although he acknowledged that military activity in certain areas is necessary, he said that the number of innocent people being killed is inexcusable.

“This is done by my army,” Mazor said. “My son and daughter served in that army, and it’s my country.”

One of the biggest concerns he has about the state of Israel today is the lack of awareness he sees among many Israeli citizens. He said that since the government is controlled by its citizens, the people ultimately have a role in every governmental decision.

“What’s missing right now, for me, in Israel . is the understanding that I am responsible, and every other Israeli resident is responsible for what is happening,” Mazor said.

While he expressed distaste at some of the actions of his government and his fellow citizens, Mazor praised the Israeli press. He said that they have been making an effort to put human faces on the violence. The press sometimes interviews family members of Palestinians who have died at the hands of the Israeli army, a tactic Mazor said is important in raising public awareness.

Through all his frustrations, Mazor said that he still remains optimistic that there will eventually be peace in his homeland. He said that the first step toward success is to simply elect political leaders who are willing to sit down and negotiate. That is a quality he feels is missing from current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who he referred to as one of the least popular politicians in Israel to ever hold office.

“You should talk to [Hamas], talk to Syria, talk to everyone,” Mazor said.

Classics professor Andrew Overman facilitated Mazor’s trip to Macalester. Overman, who also directs the Omrit archaeological dig, said that he has gotten to know Mazor through his field research. Mazor directs the Bet She’an dig site, also in Israel, which Overman said contains important parallels with his archaeological site.

Since he began working with Overman, Mazor has made several trips to Macalester. He has also spoken with students excavating the Omrit site in Israel. Overman said that Mazor is particularly good at speaking and giving demonstrations because he was actually a teacher before becoming an archaeologist, and he said that he considers Mazor an excellent speaker with good stories.

Candace Groth ’11 agreed. “I thought he really knew what he was talking about,” she said, adding that she liked his response to her question, although he seemed a little too idealistic about achieving peace any time soon.

Groth, a student in Overman’s Background to Modern Middle East first-year course, asked Mazor during a question and answer period what should happen to the holy sites in Jerusalem. Mazor responded that all the sites could be put under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Jordan, so neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians would control them.

Tuesday’s event was held in the Weyerhauser Board Room. The crowd number around 30 people, a little over half of which consisted of students in Overman’s “Background to the Modern Middle East” course. Mazor seemed relaxed as he spoke, opting to not use a microphone or podium.

This was his second program with Macalester this school year. On Sept. 30, Mazor spoke about archaeology in Israel as part of the ongoing Peace and Conflict series. Tuesday’s speech, however, was not officially part of the series.