Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

An Oft-Told Tale

Tablet of the Kadesh Treaty between Egypt and the Hittite Empire, 1269 BCE. image: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP.
Tablet of the Kadesh Treaty between Egypt and the Hittite Empire, 1269 BCE. image: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP.

We were attacked from many directions, and we suffered terrible destruction. They came upon us at a time of great civil unrest among ourselves. And now it seems we are experiencing communications problems with the gods who previously smiled upon us.

That is a free summarization of a text written 3,300 years ago in the Hurrian-Hittite language. The clay tablet (not pictured here) bears, in addition to the convenient historical note, a prayer from the king to the storm god, asking for his advice. It was recently unearthed in Turkey, not far from Ankara.

The good news is that that particular invasion did not spell the end of the Hittite Empire, which would last another 200 years, and the destroyed cities referred to on the tablet were rebuilt.

But the Hittite Empire was built on trade routes (think Turkey to Egypt – pre-Suez Canal, but similar) and the sale of refined metals – requiring them to strike a delicate balance with their neighbors that was easily upset. And, of course, like all great ancient empires, the Hittite one imploded – this one in the early 12th century BCE from a combination of civil war, climate change and invaders hoping to take advantage of the first, impelled by the second.

Sound at all familiar?

Advice from the “storm god” – or at least the all-powerful parent who has, until now, shone their multi-mega-watt smile on our war efforts? Will we find ourselves praying for that advice when it is already too late?

Times may changed, but people, cooperation and conflict do not

The delicate balance of power and wealth with our neighbors? Will we renew our commitment to maintaining that balance, or will we throw it away in the belief that military might is all we need? And that civil unrest? Will we continue to believe that war is the cure for internal conflict, or will it return in an even more destructive form as the wheel of history makes another turn? I don’t even need to mention climate change; it’s just one of those things we complain about, but don’t really do much to delay its full onset.

I am not, G-d forbid, predicting the end of the state of Israel.

And yet, a short walk from my house brings me to a Tel with 37 layers of previous ccupation. Its relics tell of Egyptian, Canaanite, Israeli and Palestinian settlement and rule. They tell of destruction by fire, earthquake and conquering armies, of burial and abandonment.

They tell the tale of ordinary people caught in battles between powerful kings. But they also tell us tales of periods in which people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds managed to live together peacefully. They tell tales of cities and villages, people who built homes, wove clothing herded animals, raised crops and paid their taxes on time.

They tell me that I, too, along with the domain to which I belong, will one day be a mote in the history of this place. That times may changed, but people, cooperation and conflict do not.

What was that quote about learning from history? George Santayana is quoted as saying: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Churchill emended that to: Those who fail to learn from history… That is, we have the ability to learn, but mostly fail to do so.

Even today, we can learn the lessons of the long-gone Hittite kingdom. Will we manage to do so?

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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