by Hillel Fendel
Irony: The Palestinian Museum of Art, History and Culture opens just outside Birzeit, with absolutely nothing inside.
PLO founder Yasser Arafat
Abed Al Rahim Al Khatib/Flash90
The museum is actually named the Palestinian Museum, it cost $24 million, and it is scheduled to celebrate its opening today in Birzeit, just outside Ramallah (and Beit El). The building is modern and beautiful, it has an outdoor amphitheater, its garden is terraced – but it has no exhibits.
This comes as no surprise to beginning students of history, who know that Palestinian Arab history goes back only a few decades. It started, in fact, with the abrupt "founding" of the "Palestinian people" in 1964, as stated in the Palestinian National Charter of 1964 when the Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded.
On the other hand, the decision to actually open the museum in such a condition is "shocking," according to Sam Bahour, a PA business consultant and civil rights activist quoted in The New York Times. “There will not be any artwork exhibited in the museum at all,” a spokesperson acknowledged.
An inaugural show entitled "Never Part" had been planned, concentrating on the lives of "Palestinian refugees." However, the inaugural exhibit was suspended after the museum director was ousted by the museum's board. Still, the show must go on, for some reason, and even PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas will be present for the opening ceremony. Abbas, incidentally, is now in the 12th year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority.
Interestingly, in light of the refugee question, Article 6 of the above Charter states that "Palestinians are those Arab citizens who were living normally in Palestine up to 1947, whether they remained or were expelled." This indicates that those who left on their own – the bulk of today's Palestinian "refugees" – are actually not Palestinians, according to their own charter.
Museum chairman Omar al-Qattan sought to explain that the Palestinians are “so in need of positive energy” that it is worthwhile to open even an empty building. “Symbolically it’s critical,” he told the Times, conceding that the next phase, including the exhibitions, whenever it will happen, “is the more exciting one.”
The museum has no fewer than 3,500 square meters of exhibition and educational space, and is set to focus on the "history and culture of Palestine from 1750 to the present day," according to its literature. The choice of 1750 is an interesting one, particularly as nothing of note happened in the Holy Land anywhere near that date.
Another fascinating aspect of this story is The New York Times' explanation of why Palestinian culture is so lacking. Rather than mentioning simply that PA history is basically non-existent, the Times chose to blame Israel. Its article states that the Palestinians in the Judea and Samaria "have for years struggled to build political and civic institutions while resisting Israel’s occupation of the territory."
The paper also added that since the "signing of the Oslo peace accords with Israel in the mid-1990s, Palestinian cultural and social initiatives have often failed to gain traction and find consistent leadership." CAMERA, take note.
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