Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Masada myth …. re-visited

The image of Masada as the main and only national site of Israel changed suddenly in June 1967, following the Six-day war. Israel emerged victoriously and gained considerable territory, including East Jerusalem, and free access to the Western Wall, surrounding the plateau where once the Temple stood.

During the early 1970’s a change attitude emerged towards the Masada story as the “last stand” approach lost its relevance in the new political context. The original narrative of Josephus appeared more frequently in print, and guidebooks to Masada. As the critical interpretations surfaced the stereotypical presentation of the Masada story became multivocal.

In the 1980’s the interpretation of the lesson offered by Masada shifted again, and the importance of “negotiation” between the Romans and rebel leader Elazar Ben-Yair received more emphasis. Gradually Masada lost its place as a symbol for the State of Israel, and became more of a tourist attraction.

Masada's significance further diminished in the Israeli mindset, arguably part of the much-decried general disregard for national heritage by the younger generation. Between 1995 and 1998, the number of visitors to the site slumped 26 percent, and according to the site’s marketing director the problem is not foreign tourism but a lack of interest among Israelis.

Masada now hosts only the occasional Engineering Corps ceremony; the Armored Corps uses its own memorial compound instead, and the Paratroopers prefer the Western Wall or Ammunition Hill, all easier to reach and relevant to contemporary Israeli battle triumphs.

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