TEL AVIV – 20 years in the making, a new $28 million Palestinian museum of national heritage opened in the West Bank – with no exhibits.
Palestinian leaders hailed the 43,000 square-foot empty space as a home for the national memory they claim Israel tries to rewrite.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke at the inauguration, saying that the museum was built to “tell the world, the entire world, that we are here, that we are still here, and we will continue to be here to build our independent state.”
“We have been planted here since the dawn of history,” he added.
Exhibits were delayed partly because the museum’s director resigned last December over disputes with the museum’s management. He took with him the first exhibit, “Never Part,” which was to showcase personal items of Palestinian refugees.
A source close to the project told AFP that the museum’s inauguration without exhibits was a disappointment, as it will “not live up to its declared vision of telling the Palestinian people’s story to the world.”
However, the museum’s new director, Omar Qattan, contended the museum is a source of pride nevertheless.
“This is not an empty museum. It’s a building of a museum. What we are inaugurating now is just a building,” said Qattan, who is in charge of the museum’s 40 employees.
According to Qattan, the exhibitions would start in October.
“We are celebrating the fact it is completed on time. We are celebrating the gardens.”
“We wanted to stick to a date — I think it is very important psychologically for us to be able to make promises that we keep. So we decided to open now rather than wait for the inaugural exhibition,” Qattan added.
Qattan claimed that none of the building materials were imported from Israel.
Yara Moqbel, 20, a Palestinian university student who volunteers at the museum, told USA Today that the museum’s purpose “is to communicate with the world that we are not terrorists, that it has been us, not the Israelis, who have been the victims of this conflict.”
Salah Kuwar, 20, an electrician in charge of the sound and lighting for the inauguration, said the museum was “a lovely idea, but it’s strange that we have millions for a museum of the Palestinians, but little help for the Palestinians themselves, to give them institutions, or to help with finding them jobs.”
“No, there’s no time for the past. We are fed up, we need an intifada (uprising),” Kuwar said, adding that he didn’t get “the point” of any of it.
The opening was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Naqba, “catastrophe” in Arabic, on which Palestinians mark the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of the State of Israel.