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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Museum of Palestinian Propaganda

In 2008, there was a stone-laying ceremony in Bethlehem for a new museum called the Palestinian Riwaya Museum.

Riwaya means "narrative."

It is funded and supported by Norway and UNESCO.

The curator of the museum, Samar Martha, was interviewed recently, and her words make it appear that this cultural institution is really more interested in propaganda than in truth.

Are their specific historical aspects that you wish to emphasize?

We have only just begun work on the concept. But one important topic will certainly be that of the Palestinian refugees since 1948, because that has very much characterized our self-image. One idea is to ask people who fled from the territory of modern Israel in 1948 and today live in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or overseas to tell their stories in video interviews. Yet I also wish to illuminate more recent historical events, such as the Intifada and the conflict between Fatah and Hamas in recent years.

Aren’t these topics quite disputed among Palestinians?

They are. And that is why all decision-making politicians must be involved in the concept from the very beginning. It is, of course, an important issue who decides about the stories that will be told. We set up a number of discussion groups to deal with these questions. Also, UNESCO, which supports the project, must be convinced of our concept as well as the Peace Center, whose building we are using.

Why did you come up with the idea of this museum?

For a simple reason: because we’ve never had such a museum. Internationally, the perspective of Palestinian culture and history is very marked by the Israeli perspective. We would like to counter that with a museum that takes up a Palestinian perspective. ...

Do you plan to also involve Israeli artists or academics in the conception of the museum?

If they deal with Israeli history is a self-critical way, then yes.

In the conflict between Palestinians and Israel, violence has not only come from the Israeli side. Will the issue of Palestinian violence also be broached?

We will make an effort to show many sides. But every national museum has a specific, limited perspective. That is the case all over the world, perhaps with the exception of Germany, where the museums deal very critically with their own history. But for us, the main priority is to portray something like a Palestinian identity.

A museum where politicians must approve the exhibits?

And notice it isn't called the Palestinian Cultural Museum, or History Museum, or even the Palestinian National Museum - but the Palestinian Narrative Museum. The entire point, as the curator shows, is not to portray the truth but to portray a story - and avoid other viewpoints.

Granted, national museums do tend to give the official perspective, but this is not called a national museum. It is specifically located next to the Church of the Nativity to attract tourists to swim in the propaganda it provides.

Interestingly, the Arabic word Riwaya also means "novel" or "fiction."

(h/t Silke)