Archaeology, Historical Memory, and Peasant Resistance: The Gezer Excavations at Abu Shusha
Gezer excavations
Tal al-Jazar
biblical archeology
Ottoman Land Law
peasant resistance
German settlers

The identification of Tal al-Jazar in Abu Shusha as the site of ancient Gezer by Clermont-Ganneau in 1874 was accompanied by one of the first colonial (in this case German) settlements in Palestine. With the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), Gezer became an important base for the use of biblical archaeology in interpreting the history of ancient Palestine. This interpretation circumvented the extensive Roman-Byzantine, early Islamic, and Crusader periods in the Ramla-Jaffa area. In this essay, Tamari discusses the subaltern element in Gezer’s relationship to the village of Abu Shusha. The village was the source of hired labor for the successive archaeological excavations prior to 1948. For the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund, the local villagers of Abu Shusha became the source for the “scientific” reconstruction of the Palestinian peasant as residual biblical figures (Macalister). This disparity becomes obvious when the Gezer site is examined in terms of popular religious practices in Abu Shusha. An important ethnographic feature of this relationship between the village and its archaeology is the identification of its local holy figures (awliya’) as the living nodes of “scouting martyrs” (tala’i‘ al-kashshafa) who protected village lands from encroaching enemies. Since Tal al-Jazar was a major arena for Islamic-Crusader encounters in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, these subaltern features of popular religion have been preserved in the village collective memory.

Author biography: 

Salim Tamari is the outgoing editor of JQ. His most recent book is Camera Palestina: Photography and Displaced Histories of Palestine (University of California Press, 2022) coauthored with Issam Nassar and Stephen Sheehi.