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Sacred Space/Contested Place - The Shifting Meanings of Joseph’s Tomb

Authors: David Marshall*, Elon University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Political Geography, Middle East
Keywords: memory, religion, Islam, Judaism, Israel, Palestine, intergenerationality, sacred sites
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Studies about contested cultural heritage sites emphasize how powerful groups use memory to assert exclusive claims to particular places, and how marginalized groups mobilize competing counter-memories to contest those dominant narratives. Less often considered is the way that marginalized groups might also actively forget memories of place, seeking to deny the significance of that place to powerful actors who seek to control it. This project investigates this counter-memory tactic of forgetting and the social and political costs it entails. Specifically, this paper considers the case of Joseph’s Tomb, a contested religious site near the northern West Bank city of Nablus. Often called a “microcosm” of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the tomb has long been a site of violent confrontation between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers. The conflict over Joseph’s Tomb is not just a conflict over space and territory, however, but over history and memory. Though Christians, Jews, Muslims and Samaritans have historically revered the site due to its supposed connections with the Prophet Joseph, many Palestinians today deny such claims as superstition, viewing with suspicion attempts by Israeli settlers to revive Jewish worship at the site as a move to claim yet more territory within the occupied West Bank. Palestinian youth from the area have little knowledge of the important social and religious role that Joseph’s Tomb once played in Palestinian public life, particularly for women. Using intergenerational narrative interviewing, this paper explores the repressed embodied and material memories of Joseph’s Tomb within the geopolitical context of conflict and occupation.

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