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Friday, April 12, 2013

Your tax dollars at work: $20 million "Palestine Museum"

From Ma'an:
Palestinian officials on Thursday joined a ceremony to lay the cornerstone for a new museum of Palestinian culture, history and society in Birzeit near Ramallah.

Organizers said the museum would provide Palestinians with "a valuable source of information on Palestine and its history".

The museum is to be constructed in two phases, the first of which is slated for completion by the end of 2014. It is expected to cost some $20 million.

"The museum will not only be for Palestinians but will reach out to the whole world through an advanced digital network," project manager Omar al-Qattan said as ground was broken on the new venture.

"It will be more than a traditional building with archaeological relics. We are looking at an institution that will transcend all boundaries -- geographical and political," he added.
There is nothing wrong with building a museum, even if it supports a narrative that is at odds with history. (In video, they say that ancient Palestinian culture is "one of the most infuential [sic] cultures the world has ever seen." Well, yes, if you mean the culture of the Jews who lived in an area later called Palestine.)

In fact, "Palestinian culture" is mostly a fiction. There have been some specific examples of local culture - costumes in Bethlehem, soap in Nablus - that have been collected ex post facto into a collective "Palestinian" culture in order to further a national myth that is a mere decades old. It could hardly be described as influential on a world scale, or even in a pan-Arab scale. From the Arab perspective, remember, "Palestine" was really considered southern Syria up until the early 20th century.

Be that as it may, Palestinian Arabs have every right to build whatever they want. That is not the problem.

When museums are built in the rest of the world, they are funded by private donors and foundations, with perhaps the aid of local government. However, this museum in Bir Zeit - like most other Palestinian Arab initiatives - is using Western government funds.

The major funder is called "The Welfare Association." Despite its universal sounding name, it is dedicated solely to Palestinian Arab projects.

Its money comes from "the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, World Bank, EU, Islamic Development Bank, Arab Monetary Fund, Kuwait Fund, AGFUND, Ford Foundation, and the governments of Austria, Canada, France, Italy, and Switzerland, among others."

Apparently, the West has become so enamored with the Palestinian Arab cause that it believes that propagating the PalArab national myth is worth millions of Western dollars. Yet as we saw recently, the Palestinian Arabs knowingly push this myth not only to achieve a unity that has eluded Arab residents of Palestine for centuries, but also to actively battle against the undeniable facts of Jewish culture in the same land. (In this case, it looks more like they want to subsume Jewish culture rather than deny it altogether.)

It is highly questionable whether it is appropriate for the West to spend so much money and effort to build a national myth for a nation they want desperately to exist. (How much Western money is earmarked for Kurdish or Armenian culture?)

It far worse, however, when that same money is being used deliberately to erase or marginalize the culture of a real nation that has existed for thousands of years.