Palestinian history museum opens without exhibits
BIRZEIT, West Bank – Associated PressThe Palestinians opened a dazzling new museum on May 18 aimed at telling the tale of their history and culture, but the building is devoid of exhibits.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas inaugurated the museum, the biggest project the Palestinians have undertaken in terms of scale, space and budget.
“This museum will tell the world, the whole world, that we have been here, and we are staying here, and we will stay here to establish our independent state,” Abbas said at the ceremony.
Surrounded by the beige and green tones that define the West Bank landscape of rocky hills and terraced groves, it is the largest museum dedicated to Palestinian history, culture and society.
The glass and stone building, nestled on a grassy hill adjacent to Birzeit University, is an important Palestinian symbol of nationalism. But the museum’s halls are empty as organizers decided to celebrate the building completion before they could arrange any exhibits. In addition, a dispute over different creative visions for the museum’s opening led to the resignation of the previous director only six months ago.
The Palestinian Museum’s chairman, Omar al-Qattan, concedes that the first collection will not be on display until the end of this year; nevertheless he says that it was important to go ahead with the inauguration.
“We had the option of opening to either celebrate the building and then starting the program’s development and opening the first exhibition later or doing everything at the same time, which would have meant probably six or eight months of delays. We thought ‘Let’s celebrate the building’ because in the current circumstances which are so challenging here in Palestine ... it would be wonderful to have an affirmative, celebratory building to say that we’re here, that we want to celebrate our cultural history,” al-Qattan said.
The museum’s opening has been timed to coincide with the Palestinians’ recent commemorations of “Nakba day,” the term they use for the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel in which Palestinians fled or were forced to leave during fighting.
One of the aims of the project is to connect with Palestinians living in the diaspora, al-Qattan said as he announced the opening of a new exposition in Lebanon next week.
“We consider this building to be the mothership and we hope to create a number of satellites in Palestinian communities across the world and within the country so that we can share programs and skills in the future collections. Next week in Beirut we open the first of these satellites exhibitions which is a political history of Palestinian embroidery,” said al-Qattan, himself a Lebanese-born descendent of Palestinian refugees.
Although the idea of the museum was first launched in the late 1990s, it was not until a little over three years ago that building construction started. The edifice is located on a 40,000-square-meter piece of land and its completion cost $28 million, al-Qattan said.
Palestinians already have about 30 museums in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the areas where they hope to establish a state, but nothing on the scale of the museum in Birzeit.