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Protecting Palestine through Cultural Heritage

Palestine Monitor

Palestine Monitor, February 28, 2011

As the Palestine faces a 63-year-old occupation, focusing on culture can seem a peripheral concern. However, cultural heritage plays a key role in the process of nation building; it is regarded as a main resource for sustainable development, since it represents the history and the identity of the people and their territory. Museums play a dual role: firstly, in protecting the archeological treasures of the country and secondly, in exhibiting and interpreting it the wide public.

The Ramallah Museum actively contributes to the conservation and management of the cultural heritage of the city and area of Ramallah.

Located in the old town, the museum’s building was originally the private home of the Al-Zaro family, a native Christian family of the city. The basement was built in 1820, while the upper two floors were added in 1910. In 1995, the family moved to America and the Municipality considered destroying the house. The department of Antiquity, which is a part of the Ministry of Antiquity and Tourism, wanted to preserve this beautiful and central building and signed an agreement with the Ministry and the Municipality to transform it into a Museum.

The restoration of the building started in 1997 as a part of the "Emergency Clearance Campaign of 100 Archaeological Sites in Palestine," funded by the Dutch government. A roof was built on the left side of the building and a veranda was added on the right side, the walls were strengthened and special windows were put up; artifacts and materials were brought in.

But in September 2000, the Second Intifada started and the Museum had to close. The museum is located next to Fatah’s main office and was thus subject to Israeli bombs and raids. By the end of the Intifada, the museum was seriously damaged and once again underwent restoration.

Under the auspices of 2007 UNESCO project, the museum was renovated and improved: a small lecture room and library were added. In February 2008, the museum was re-opened and currently holds approximately 500 archeological artifacts and about 100 heritage relics.

All items in the museum were discovered through excavation in the Ramallah region. Items have been discovered intentionally and unintentionally. Some material was found by chance, when digging to fix roads are build. For example, 250 oil lamps, glasses and metal tools were found in Atara when the telecom company was working in this village.

According to the Oslo Agreement, Palestinian scientists are allowed to work on excavation in Areas A and B, but Israel requires a special authorization to work in area C. The Palestinian police of Antiquity is in charge of protecting the materials and artifacts from military actions and illegal excavations. Palestine’s heritage and archaeological sites have been the object of destruction and illegal excavations. In addition to the wreckage during the Second Intifada, the Separation Wall and illegal settlements threaten the preservation of the country’s historical land.

With this in mind, the Museum also serves as a "Cultural Heritage Resource Centre," aiming to promote and enable the preservation of cultural heritage in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a more proactive way. It targets local students, specifically adolescents, offering educational programs designed to provide a wealth of information on cultural heritage and to awake consciousness of historical Palestinian culture. The museum maintains strong ties to Universities and others cultural institutions. At present, the Ramallah museum is coordinating three projects in Ramallah, Jericho and Jenin in partnership with Al Quds, Birzeit and Hebron Universities to train students to conduct excavations.

The director expresses his hope that more Palestinians families will visit the Museum and that the Cultural Heritage will become a popular interest.

Watch a slideshow of the relics at the museum:



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