Dinosaurs come to life at Bethlehem exhibit

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Article Summary
Bethlehem is now home to an exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs, which is proving popular with Palestinian schoolchildren.

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Jana al-Khatib, 11, went on an unforgettable trip with her mother from the town of Abu Dis in Jerusalem to nearby Bethlehem, to closely watch and listen to dinosaurs and giant predatory insects.

Extinct animals have returned to the land where they lived for millions of years, all thanks to a new permanent exhibit located at Solomon's Pools and the Convention Palace of Bethlehem in Wadi Artas in southern Bethlehem. Launched March 14, the dinosaur and giant insect exhibit, featuring animatronic models, is sponsored by the Solomon Pools Company, the Convention Palace of Bethlehem and the Bethlehem-Bath Links charity. 

The exhibit will permanently be housed at Solomon's Pools to serve as a historic landmark and an educational edifice for Palestinians of all ages.

When he reached retirement age, exhibit designer Henry Lowe, from Bath, England, donated his animatronic models of dinosaurs and giant insects to the children of Palestine. The exhibit reflects many years of exploration of the countries where these extinct animals lived. Lowe is the director of the Bath-based Tourwest exhibition company.

Those visiting the exhibit at the ancient Solomon's Pools and the Bethlehem Convention Palace find themselves surrounded by natural scenery and can imagine themselves within a vast forest of extinct dinosaurs and giant insects.

“I never thought I would ever get to see what I had been imagining for so long, and I did not believe it when I touched a green dinosaur. I was surprised by its movement and real voice,” Khatib told Al-Monitor.

“The exhibit is beautiful and enjoyable, and I finally saw in reality what I had been watching on TV. … I learned about the types and body parts of dinosaurs. The exhibit is very useful and offers valuable information to help us develop our educational capabilities,” she added.

Khatib’s mother described the exhibit as "a place of hope for children."

"It’s a place where they can spend useful and enjoyable times," she said. "Scenes that were once a part of fantasy movies have turned into a reality featuring attractive shapes and bright colors of dinosaurs and giant insects.”

The exhibit has "educational dimensions," she said, and "allows students to have fun and enhance their imagination and concentration. Each dinosaur or giant insect model is accompanied by information and facts, and this enriches students.”

The sound and motor effects of the dinosaurs impress students and engage their senses, which is a benefit of the exhibit.

Rawand Sarafand, a 12-year-old student at the Beit Jala Preparatory School for Girls in Bethlehem, stood before the giant models of the predators. She took notes on the information displayed beside the models and then took selfies with the dinosaurs, which are situated amid towering trees in the exhibit halls.

“I saw huge models that [look] so real in the exhibit, and I read useful information written in a unique and easy-to-grasp way,” Sarafand told Al-Monitor as she stood in front of a huge black scorpion. “I've learned a lot about the world of dinosaurs and giant insects, and I can answer any question that my history and science teacher might ask me in this regard.”

Solomon's three pools, built over 2,000 years ago, are carved into rocks and mountains, representing a true cultural legacy. Dinosaurs and giant insects lived there for millions of years.

George Bassous, the director of the Convention Palace of Bethlehem and the Solomon Pools Company, said that Solomon’s Pools were built by the Romans. The city of Bath is also known for its Roman baths that were built over hot springs. This connection prompted the exhibit organizers to collaborate with Solomon Pools Company on the exhibit and further build cultural bridges between Bethlehem and Bath.

Bassous told Al-Monitor, “The idea of ​​a permanent exhibit was achieved through joint cooperation with the Bath municipality and Lowe. We agreed on the initiative to support and revive previous civilizations in Palestine and Lowe donated the dinosaurs and giant insects to us.”

The dinosaur exhibit stretches over 1,000 square meters (10,700 square feet) and, according to Bassous, aims to attract tourists to Bethlehem to learn about Palestinian history and visit the Church of the Nativity, among other historic sites.

"We will expand [the exhibit] on a yearly basis to provide it with new and distinctive content,” Bassous said.

The exhibit is an educational experience for the children of Palestine, as it turns Solomon's Pools into an area that attracts students and develops their abilities.

Minister of Education Sabri Saidam told Al-Monitor, “The exhibit embodies an opportunity for deep historical learning." He described how it is a departure from "traditional lesson-based studies" and instead provides "sensory learning through direct watching and listening.”

He believes the exhibit's exploratory and educational potential can consolidate knowledge among Palestinians and give them the chance to learn about other civilizations and societies.

Saidam said that the exhibit "reflects the Palestinians’ desire to explore and seek knowledge." It's an opportunity to "give our children a chance to break the siege they are living in and have access to knowledge. Many of them cannot travel outside Palestine, so the exhibit brings the world to them,” he said.

Saidam noted that the extraordinary turnout convinced him to suggest to the exhibit's financiers to "organize small exhibits within each Palestinian city and governorate so that all the citizens and students can benefit, wherever they are.”

Found in: children, education, bethlehem, museum, culture, palestinian history, science

Zuheir Dolah is a Palestinian journalist who heads the production department at Watania Media Agency. He has written for a number of local and regional news outlets. 

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