Palestinian Museum to Showcase People’s History, Culture

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Work on a 40,000-square-meter area of land in Palestine has already begun to build a museum dedicated to Palestinian culture, heritage and history, writes Rana Anani.

On a hill overlooking the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea near the city of Ramallah lies the Palestinian village of Birzeit, where the cornerstone of the “Palestinian Museum” was laid. During the ceremony, the launching of construction works over an area of 10 acres adjacent to Birzeit University was announced.

The museum is expected to be open for visitors in fall 2014. Following the opening, the museum’s program will be set and partnerships and networks all over the world will be sought, so as to make the museum accessible to the Palestinians within Palestine, the Palestinian diaspora on different continents as well as a global audience.

The Palestinian Museum will be the biggest in Palestine. It will be dedicated to documenting its modern history and showcasing Palestinian life since the beginning of the 19th century. The museum will display a wide array of valuable artistic, scientific and historical pieces. It will also focus on all historical, societal and cultural aspects of Palestine. Additionally, it will comprise documents, manuscripts, and written, digital and audiovisual pieces from the homeland and the countries of the diaspora.

Speaking about the concept and vision behind the museum, Jack Persekian, the general manager of the museum, told Al-Hayat: “In 1997, the board of trustees in the Organization of Cooperation espoused the idea of establishing a museum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Palestinian Exodus. Back then, plans, ideas and programs were set up. Yet, the idea was not meant to be realized, particularly after the Al-Aqsa intifada of 2000. In 2008, the idea was re-evoked. However, it was modified over the course of time.”

A free dialogue forum

Persekian believes that the drastic shift in the orientation of the museum came to pass when the decision was made to put more focus on the collective memory of the Palestinian people and their history. “The idea, however, transformed from establishing a museum to serve and preserve the collective memory into a museum that uses history, heritage and memory to develop a contemporary message that addresses the situation of Palestine and its diaspora,” Persekian added. He then explained that “the vision settled on making the museum a forum for free Palestinian dialogue that commemorates the past, documents history and serves as a cultural bridge — a forum that tackles current questions and a gate that widens future horizons.” The Palestinian Museum will not be concerned with monuments, rather it will focus on the timeline of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially given the fact that the modern and recent reality of life for Palestinians is much neglected and needs further efforts to be brought to the fore.

With a modern design that stands in harmony with the surrounding natural environment, the building will be constructed in two phases. The first will cover an area of 3,000 cubic meters, on which the Palestinian Museum will launch its activities and programs. The building will comprise a gallery, an open-air amphitheater, an interior and exterior refreshment room, classrooms, offices and public facilities. The second phase will be implemented over the course of 10 years and will cover an area of 6,000 cubic meters that includes a bigger showroom, an interior theatre, additional classrooms and a library. Alongside the buildings, the exterior spaces will be used to plant gardens that showcase the floral diversity of the different Palestinians regions, and the gardening and agricultural techniques that were adopted throughout time. Moreover, the gardens will reflect the relationship between the Palestinian people and the land, which they have long cultivated.

The Palestinian Museum will feature more than just architecture. Persekian affirms that it is more than a traditional building housing exhibits. “We see [the museum] as a borderless institution that surpasses the limits of politics and geography and aims at uplifting Palestinian culture and empowering an intellectual and artistic exchange characterized by openness to modernity and creativity. The Palestinians have a lot of creative, productive and diverse potential, yet these aspects are, to a certain extent, disjointed. Our role lies in creating a common ground for research, dialogue, discussion and opinion exchange regarding current and urgent issues that start with the Palestinian identity and end with the literary, intellectual and cultural productions of all Palestinians.”

Persekian elaborates the way through which the museum will reach the dispersed Palestinian people. “Amid division and the inability of all Palestinians inside Palestine and overseas to reach the headquarters of the museum in Birzeit, we are considering the establishment of affiliated centers that will serve as a ligature between all the different Palestinian groups. Furthermore, the museum will interact through its digital network with people wherever they may be.”

Persekian said that the preparations for the opening exhibition, titled “I Will Never Leave” scheduled for October 2014 have already started. It is a research project that focuses on individuals with different backgrounds, affiliations and locations. The individuals will be asked, through a series of interviews, about an item that they have carried with them and prided themselves on having.

“The piece and the story that revolves around it must have sculpted the personality and identity of its holder. We are seeking to spread the stories of these individuals through the pieces they have, which we hope will tell a different, yet familiar, story about the struggle of the Palestinian people, their dispersion and long history of resistance.”

Speaking of the challenges, Persekian said that the hardest one is the lack of staff, pointing out that the museum needs a preparation and training program for its staff.

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