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Palestinian national heritage museum opens in occupied West Bank

Organisers wanted to create a place of memory for Palestinians [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 May, 2016

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With impeccable architecture surrounded by greenery, the Palestine museum near Ramallah seeks to be a place of memory for Palestinians.

After nearly 20 years and millions of dollars, Palestinian leaders cut the red ribbon to inaugurate a museum about their national heritage on Wednesday.

With impeccable architecture, the leaders have trumpeted the opening of the museum in the occupied West Bank for months, hailing it as a home for a national memory which Palestinians often accuse Israel of trying to eradicate.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas took part in the inauguration of the impressive building covered in greenery on the hills of the Birzeit university town near Ramallah.

Workers have been rushing to install electrics for the ceremony while exhibitions are due to start in October.

See in pictures: Palestine museum opens

The idea for the museum dates back to 1997. Organisers wanted to create a place of memory for Palestinians, who often accuse Israel of rewriting history to justify their policies – including the expansion of settlements in Palestinian territories.

The building cost about $28 million, financed 95 percent by Palestinians.

For a museum aiming to capture the Palestinian identity, part of the challenge was ensuring Palestinians from different places would be able to access the site, explained Omar Qattan, director of the museum.

Palestinians from Gaza are largely prevented from leaving by an Israeli blockade, while those living in the West Bank need Israeli permission to visit Jerusalem.

The organisers initially dreamed of having the museum in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of any future state but which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed.

Qattan said Israel's policies meant such a plan had to be abandoned.

"It was clear it was going to be very difficult to open a museum called the Palestinian Museum," Qattan said.

"We then thought, how do we overcome this problem? Even if we opened in Jerusalem, many people from Gaza or the West Bank can't go to Jerusalem. Wherever we build it in Palestine, there is always going to be an accessibility issue."

One answer was an online platform, he said, with as much material as possible going online.

A second was a satellite model – with smaller projects in other places where there are large numbers of Palestinians, including Lebanon and Jordan.

The museum will next week open an exhibition in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, entitled At the seams: A political history of Palestinian embroidery.

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