Even though he is now retired, Shafiq will never stop being a teacher. He stands up straight, impeccably elegant in his suit, tie knotted tightly like a perfect gentleman. For forty years, generations of students from As Samou’ have filed through the classroom of this Arabic teacher. And they have all followed one another with heartfelt passion.
“My whole life has been driven by my love of history. Being born in As Samou’ means being born at the centre of a landscape which tells the entire story of this region. This is a privilege and a responsibility at the same time.” To Shafiq Abu Hamad, studying the history of his community is an integral part of his life as a citizen and teacher. A kind of civic responsibility, a duty. Like Shafiq’s care in dressing, in welcoming guests or in keeping his home and garden perfectly tidy, the way he pays attention to things tells you about a way to see the world. Taking care of yourself, of your own history, is to take care of others, of life.
To Shafiq Abu Hamad, studying the history of his community is an integral part of his life as a citizen and teacher. A kind of civic responsibility, a duty. Like Shafiq’s care in dressing, in welcoming guests or in keeping his home and garden perfectly tidy, the way he pays attention to things tells you about a way to see the world. Taking care of yourself, of your own history, is to take care of others, of life.
“I have spent many years taking notes about everything that was rediscovered in the area: artefacts, buildings and also stories, legends, traditions. The history of this place is immeasurable: the oldest traces of human presence date back to 4000 BC. People have been here since the Bronze and Iron Ages, when As Samou’ was the mother of a network of vulnerable villages which sought refuge inside its walls when they were in danger. There was a tower at the time of the Canaanites: if the community was in danger, they lit a fire in the tower so that everyone could see it, even from far away, and take shelter.”
From all this seeking and caring, a book was born: using the notes of the stories, of the history, of the millions of lives that, through these hills and valleys, arrived in As Samou’. From the tradition of wool manufacturing – in its heyday, there were about 100,000 sheep here – to these buildings which have a story of their own: “These ahwash could only be constructed in a land full of caves. People arrived here, took shelter in these caves around which, over the years, they began to build houses with bricks taken from the Byzantine buildings. Every single piece, every single arch, every single stone has its own history. And we must preserve them all with care.”
You could hear a pin drop while Shafiq tells his story in his house. It makes you think about his class paying attention, hanging on every word, under his firm but not severe gaze. Meanwhile, next to him, his grandson is hanging on every word too.
“Those who do not take care of their past, cannot have a future. This is important, even when the present is difficult. The situation here is not easy. Israel took much of our land, but this is not a validreason to avoid taking care of our heritage, of our history. Every day, in my way from home to school, I suffered terribly: seeing the ahwash demolished to build new houses, or abandoned, without anyone paying any attention, without respect, with people throwing litter there. How was it possible, how could they not understand that they were disrespecting themselves, their history? At some point, UNESCO (the United Nations agency for cultural heritage and education) came here to safeguard these buildings from the Ottoman era. This was a good thing, but we need to ensure local people feel responsible. It is up to them to take care of their own history.”
Today, after a long restoration project, Shafiq sees a great opportunity in the Centre. “I have already submitted to the municipality a project for a museum, in order to display and classify with care all the artefacts which are part of people’s everyday life here. People sometimes do not realise how valuable an object can be. Now there can be a place to safeguard all this: a place where we can bring the young people and ensure they study their history, where we can make them understand how lucky they are to be part of this great history, even if the present is complicated. “For the Centre’s inauguration, I suggested organising an exhibition of the artefacts of our town and, for the future, I have already volunteered to become a guide and help the scientific committee of the Cultural Centre, so that our history will finally have a home. And together with this Centre, I hope to see the other ahwash live again. Because the future starts from knowing about and caring for the past.”