Why I Joined the Museum of the Palestinian People
By Nizar Farsakh/Arab America Ambassador Blogger
“When I came to Washington DC in 2011, I was amazed by all the museums, monuments and memorials and how proudly Americans tell their stories through them, stories of its citizens who had come here from all over the world. But I had this sense of loss, I could not find a museum to tell my own story, the story of the Palestinian People.” – Bshara Nassar, Founder of the Museum of the Palestinian People
The Museum of the Palestinian People is a project to establish the first museum in the United States devoted to the celebration, and preservation of the Palestinian people’s history, stories, and culture. It was found by, a Palestinian from Bethlehem who, after visiting the many museums in DC, decided that what’s missing is a Palestinian museum. So he went about recruiting a team of people who shared this vision. Here’s why I joined.
I first heard about the Museum from my friend Fakhira who introduced me to the founder saying: “You have to meet Bshara, he has a great project; I know you’ll love it!” I got curious and a bit infected by the enthusiasm in her voice. I met Bshara downtown Washington, DC a few days later and listened to his ideas. As a proud Palestinian exasperated by the incessant vile portrayal of our heritage in the US, I found myself wanting to know more about this museum. My eyes opened up and I leaned in as I started taking in what Bshara was telling me. I started envisioning what it would look like to have a Palestinian home in DC; a place to show what Palestine is really about.
I began to imagine visitors looking at portraits of Dabke’s, olive harvests, paintings, and of delicate hand threading embroidered dresses. In another section, there would be wedding Mawa-weels (chants) and a panel describing what the different chants meant and the history of that colorful tradition. My heartbeat started racing; I was thinking of how some of these visitors would go in knowing a little or nothing about Palestine, and then come out in love with the place, eager to visit and meet Palestinians.
Two weeks ago, an African American woman came to the museum’s happy hour. She had heard about Palestinians before but wanted to know more. After she heard us speak about the genesis of the idea and what our vision was for the museum, she felt connected and identified with the spirit of resilience and steadfastness. She thanked us for taking the initiative and told us how important it was for her, as an African American woman, to have such a museum in DC. She donated and committed to telling others about it.
It was so heartening to hear her speak about Palestine. That is exactly what the museum should be about. From Mahmoud Darwish’s universally-acclaimed masterpieces to the Intifada’s ingenious contributions to the art of nonviolence, I could see this house of Palestine reclaim our rightful place amongst the nations. I am talking about a people who not only contributed to the religious heritage of over 4 billion people on this planet, but also gave shining examples of tolerance, compassion, and coexistence in the face of great suffering. We can have the word Palestinian truly become synonymous with compassion, resilience, and a can-do attitude.
Ahmad Hmeedat, our artist in residence, spoke about what the museum means to him. He mentioned that an elderly couple bought one of his paintings that they liked. They invited him for dinner at their place a few weeks later and Ahmad was surprised to see his painting hanging there in the middle of the wall of their living room. Here he was, a young Palestinian artist from Dheisheh refugee camp and his painting has entered the intimate space of an American household.
That is the impact we want to have. We want to enter into peoples’ homes and hearts.
This is not an easy project by any measure. It is, of course, a very challenging endeavor to squeeze into DC’s crowded museum space. But that’s more of a reason to do it. Wouldn’t be amazing to have a Palestinian museum in the capital of museums? Palestine deserves nothing less. As the great Arab poet Al Mutanabi said: “if you are venturing onto a noble goal, then don’t content yourself with what is less than reaching the stars!” Indeed, the project is gaining momentum and people are getting excited about it.
A woman from Hebron, whose 70-year-old mother has been painting since she was a teen, was so inspired by the idea of the museum that she offered to donate her mother’s paintings. And Ahmad, a Palestinian American with a flooring business in Wisconsin, offered to donate 70% of his profit to the museum. These stories excite us because they demonstrate that the museum is a living thing. A place where all of us who believe that Palestinians have a story to tell, a contribution to the world, can work together to enshrine that contribution.
I joined the Museum of the Palestinian People because I feel I have a real opportunity to leave my 12-year-old daughter a world where she can say she’s Palestinian or a friend of Palestine, and have people look at her with admiration, even envy.
Upcoming exhibit Manhattan College, NY, February 19th – 27th