Conflicts surface from the ancient ruins at Moshav Tzipori

Moshav veterans speak nostalgically of the time when the ruins that surround the cooperative settlement were their personal domain.

Eti Aharon-Koriat, 28, a moshav native who is now director of the National Park Guide Center, remembers "the caves and tunnels of the water system where we played when we were children.

We would climb to the top of the abandoned citadel, and it was rare that we would see strangers."

Micah Noimeyer, 50, a farmer whose greenhouses border the ancient cardo or shopping area, adds that "we came here to run away — we wanted a quiet, isolated spot. Now it seems that the whole country has followed us to our doorstep."

He's worried about one of his greenhouses, which stands on the remains of a mosaic floor. "It's just a matter of time till they tell me to move so they can start digging it up."

The question of what to do with antiquities is not settled. Many homes in Tzipori are built on ruins: Ancient columns are a popular decoration in front yards.

One resident, David Zetler, was forced by the Department of Antiquities to halt construction of a storeroom after he discovered Byzantine ruins while digging the foundations.

Joel Bauman, 30, a New Yorker working on a doctoral thesis entitled "The Politics of Historical Representation," is researching how such sites are studied and "what is chosen and what is discarded," he says. In Tzipori's case, he sees too much emphasis on the city's wealth.

"What about all the peasants who must have lived here as well?" he asks.

Another aspect that Bauman is researching is the de-emphasized Arab connection to the site. "The fact is that an Arab town of over 12,000 people existed here until 1948 and, although it was destroyed, many of the former inhabitants are still around. Where do we include them?"

The town of Saffouriye existed on the ruins of ancient Tzipori until July 17, 1948. In Operation Dekel, the newly-created Israel Defense Force entered the town, which had been the bastion of Arab nationalism in the north. Residents had already fled, mostly to Lebanon, leaving a ghost town for the Seventh Brigade to conquer.

Today, more than 10,000 former residents of Saffouriye and their descendants live in the Nazareth neighborhood of Saffafra. Many still visit the former site of their village, now covered by a JNF forest.

They point out to their children the rubble that remains of their former homes, which were bulldozed by the IDF in the 1950s.

Former Saffouriye resident Selim Najem, 52, claims that the town's destruction in the `50s was revenge for its resistance. He also claims that the authorities wanted to confiscate more than 35,000 acres of the best farmland in Lower Galilee.

When residents fled, landowners sold out for whatever price they could get. But Najem speculates, "If we had stayed, Saffouriye would be bigger than Nazareth. Today, there are over 80,000 refugees whose home is Saffouriye."

Moshav residents claim that they maintain excellent relations with the local Arabs, many of whom work seasonally on the various farms.

Tzipori Project head Bini Shalev warns, though, that the demographic situation in the area will eventually cause problems.

"The answer," he says, "lies in creating more opportunities and bringing more Jews to live here."