Palestinians on Thursday began construction of the West Bank’s largest museum devoted to their history, planning to tell diverse stories of Palestinians in their land and of millions who live abroad.
The museum represents a step in the Palestinian quest for statehood by creating a repository for 200 years of history, alongside galleries and space for debates about the Palestinian cause, director Jack Persekian said.
“I am hoping that this museum would be able to give the opportunity for many Palestinians to tell their stories. We are looking at a museum that doesn’t have one particular narrative line that it wants to consecrate through its exhibits,” he said.
The museum is the biggest such project the Palestinians have undertaken in terms of scale, space and budgets.
Persekian hoped the museum would tell stories not just of Palestinian Muslims and Christians, but also of Jews who lived in what was British-administered Palestine before Israel was founded in 1948.
“We would like to think about [the museum] in an inclusive way,” he said.
The museum draws attention to the conflicting narratives at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For Jews, the establishment of Israel reinforced the homecoming of an exiled people with ties to the Holy Land going back thousands of years. Palestinians refer to the establishment of Israel, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, as their nakba, or catastrophe.
Israel has dozens of museums with vast collections of biblical texts and artifacts connecting the Jewish people to the Holy Land. Palestinians 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 new project.
The US$15 million first phase is scheduled to take two years to build and cover 3,000m2 of space.
Dozens of Palestinian officials attended the laying of the museum’s foundation stone on Thursday on a hill near the Palestinian university town of Birzeit. The site can be reached only over a bumpy road, and few residents appeared aware of the project.
Phase one will include a gallery, cafeteria, classrooms, a gift shop and staff offices. The museum’s board plans to have the second phase built within a decade, expanding it to 9,000m2. It is being overseen by the Welfare Association, a Palestinian aid and development group supported by philanthropists that has close ties to the governing Palestinian Authority.
The museum will focus on the past 200 years, from the Turkish-based Ottoman Empire through the British mandate over Palestine. It will cover Israel’s creation in 1948 and the subsequent displacement of Palestinians.
It will continue with the history of Palestinians abroad as well as their living conditions in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem under Jordanian and Israeli control as well as the last 20 years of partial self-rule.