The Palestinian Museum in Ramallah

By Felicity Cobbing (Palestine Exploration Fund)

On Wednesday 18th May, the new state-of-the-art building of Palestinian Museum at Birzeit University in Ramallah was officially unveiled, and I was lucky enough to be one of those invited to the celebrations. The museum project began life in 1997 as an idea conceived by Taawon – Welfare Association, a not-for-profit organisation with members from across the Palestinian and Arab world, which supports numerous welfare and cultural projects of incredible diversity in Palestine and Arab communities in Israel. Originally the museum was envisaged as a response to the Nakba, or ‘Disaster’ of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced, and many were killed during the birth of the state of Israel. However, over time, the idea grew to encompass a wider and more positive vision of Palestinian heritage throughout time.

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Panorama of the Palestinian Museum.

The Museum is situated on a 40,000 square metre plot of land donated to it by neighbouring Birzeit University on a long-term lease. It is funded entirely by several independent organisations, including Taawon and the Qattan Foundation. Currently, the museum building is just a building (albeit a rather beautiful one), which has raised eyebrows in some quarters. Some have questioned the wisdom of opening the building prior to having anything to show. However, talking to those involved, the pride in the achievement so far was palpable, and deserving of its own recognition. The opening of the building was a declaration to the world that Palestinians are capable of great things, despite the obstacles put in their path, and are worthy of ambitious and sophisticated projects such as this. The building is in itself is a huge statement of cultural intent. As Oliver Wainwright writing in the Guardian says, it is a “beacon of optimism”.

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The opening ceremony at the Palestinian Museum.

It is anticipated that the museum’s staff, led by its new Director, Dr. Mahmoud Hawari (formerly of the Khalili Institute in Oxford and the British Museum), will now work on building a programme of diverse exhibitions and events, working closely with other institutions both in Palestine and internationally. A satellite exhibition curated by Rachel Dedman entitled ‘At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery’ has already opened at the Dar el Nimer gallery in Beirut. Back in Ramallah, Dr. Hawari’s vision is to create a museum which enables everyone, including Palestinians, to see connections and continuities between the ancient past and the modern world. He is keen to build a non-nationalistic narrative, which is inclusive of the many diverse peoples and traditions of the region. The Palestinian Museum’s logo, a graphic speech bubble, is the perfect symbol to express this intent. This process is bound to take time, and is going to be a challenging balancing act for the new team to achieve.

From talking to people at the event, what was very apparent was the urgent need for a venue for young people in which to have a voice. The lack of safe spaces for Palestinians to express themselves artistically and creatively has been chronic, and it is envisaged that the new museum will provide such a venue for modern creative expression alongside the traditional idea of a museum as an exhibition space for displays of artefacts and art. If the Palestinian Museum can marry these different functions into a successful whole, then it could provide an interesting and innovative model for other museum developments internationally.

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The sun sets on the Palestinian Museum’s botanical garden.

Certainly, the 3,500 square metre eco-friendly building, designed by Dublin architectural firm Heneghan Peng has flexibility built in, with education space, an outside amphitheatre and terrace, and an extensive and beautiful terraced garden which links the new strikingly modern structure, with the limestone terraces of the surrounding hills. The garden is in itself an exhibit, featuring the rich botanical and agricultural heritage of the region, which The new building is itself a geometric take on the same terraces, and so the whole is a wonderfully conceived marriage between über modern design and ancient agricultural landscape, with a stunning view over the limestone hills of Palestine and Israel down to the Mediterranean cost and the high rise towers of Tel Aviv. An expansion of the existing building is envisaged in the future, possibly in other venues internationally, depending on the evolving needs of the museum and its visiting public.

A Visit to The Israel Museum

By Jamie Fraser (The British Museum)

While passing through Jerusalem in May, I managed a brief visit to The Israel Museum, currently celebrating its 50th year. Standing on the summit of a hill opposite the Knesset in West Jerusalem, the museum has an extensive archaeological wing containing materials spanning the early Stone Age to the Ottoman period, as well as wings for Jewish culture and contemporary art.

The promenade and water feature leading to the Israel Museum.

I last visited the Israel Museum in 2007, and recall vividly the thrill of standing in front of the famous Chalcolithic treasure hoard from Nahal Mishmar, including its spectacular copper sceptres and crowns. Now one of the museum’s most prized displays, the hoard was found in a cave above the Dead Sea, and probably constitutes the ritual paraphernalia cached from a temple at Ein Gedi nearby.

The 2010 refurbishments

The museum has since received a US$100 million refurbishment, mostly from private funds. I was surprised to see fewer objects on display, and sections once devoted to Judaica and Jewish ethnography are now housed in the wing devoted to “Jewish Art and Life”. The archaeological artefacts that remain are, however, better contextualized within broader themes such as the emergence of farming, or the development of written scripts.

These changes represent a significant shift in the museum’s philosophy, and have been driven by Director James S. Snyder. When Snyder walked into the museum in 1997, he found a collection that emphasised the “Land-of-Israel”. When he steps down in 2017, Snyder will leave galleries that instead explore the pluralities of “the Land” – a concept used extensively throughout the Museum’s English translations. As the New York Times reported upon the completion of the refurbishments in 2010:

today, here in the capital of the Jewish state, there is a tendency to see the world purely through Jewish history and culture. That is precisely what Mr Snyder…has sought to avoid. Rather, he has emphasized the commonalities of cultures and tries to place Jewish history and practices in a broader and clearer context”.

No better is this philosophy seen than in three reconstructed Byzantine structures, where part of a restored synagogue stands adjacent to both the apse of a church and the prayer niche of a mosque, emphasising distinctiveness and commonalities together.

Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story

I was particularly keen to revisit the museum to view the current exhibition “Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story”. Drawing on over 680 objects, this exhibition explores the often fractious relationship between Egypt and Canaan in the 2nd millennium BC. It focusses particularly on the Canaanite Hyksos dynasty that ruled the eastern Nile delta from c.1800-1550 BC, and on the heavy imperial response that followed, in which Canaan fell under Egyptian rule for 300 years. A particular highlight is the basalt stele of Seti I, which details the Egyptian victory over a Canaanite confederacy near Beth Shan, including a mysterious group of people called the apiru, which many scholars identify as a forerunner to the later Hebrew tribes.

The exhibition has generated considerable controversy for its treatment of the Exodus, the best known part of the Egyptian-Canaanite story. Strikingly, the gallery devoted to this issue stands empty. The lone exhibit is a short video display, in which the exhibition’s curator, Dr Daphna Ben-Tor, explains that the gallery is devoid of artefacts because there are simply no archaeological materials to support the Biblical account.

It is here, perhaps, that the museum’s philosophy under Snyder is most apparent. While the video does not accept the Biblical story, neither does it reject it completely; rather, it seeks to place the story within its historical and cultural contexts. Drawing on the familiar arguments of archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, the presentation looks to the expulsion of the Canaanite Hyksos tribes in c.1550 BC as the kernel of truth around with the Biblical Exodus myth would later accrete.

Nevertheless, this laudable appreciation for nuance and context contrasts a different story of competing narratives in a contested land. The exhibition includes several key pieces from the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum (formerly the Palestine Archaeological Museum) in East Jerusalem. The transference of these artefacts to the Israel Museum in West Jerusalem is controversial and breaches international law. While the Israel Museum explores for the first time the role of Pharaoh in Canaan, perhaps the greater “untold story” remains the stewardship of archaeological materials in occupied territorial zones.

The octagonal tower of the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem.

The octagonal tower of the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem.

Built during the British Mandate period, the Palestine Archaeological Museum also housed the Department of Antiquities.

Built during the British Mandate period, the Palestine Archaeological Museum also housed the Department of Antiquities. This incised sign is outside the entrance to the museum.

Exhibition Review: The Missing

By Felicity Cobbing (PEF Executive Secretary & Curator)

The Missing: Rebuilding the Past 15th April -7th May 2016

4 Mandeville Place, Marylebone, London. www.jessicacarlisle.com

The PEF has a new neighbour in the form of an art gallery, run by Jessica Carlisle and Valerie Wallersteiner, located just round the corner from our offices. Their first exhibition, The Missing: Rebuilding the Past is curated by Erin Thompson, Professor of Art Crime at the City University of New York.

I visited the exhibition which has received quite a bit of publicity following the erection of the replica Palmyrene arch in Trafalgar Square.

The Missing is a response from artists to the recent destruction of ancient monuments and art by so-called Islamic State (ISIS or DAESH), and examines the nature of this loss, what it can mean for humanity, and how the artefacts themselves are transformed by this action.

There were several artist’s work on display, each offering a very different response to current events.

Fig 1: James Brooks, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, 2016, 7-system based audio works and generic Google image search; dimensions variable; edition of 1. Photo by Tom Carter.

Fig 1: James Brooks, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, 2016, 7-system based audio works and generic Google image search; dimensions variable; edition of 1. Photo by Tom Carter.

James Brooks Stoic Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is a multi-media work combining an image of Palmyra with a soundtrack, alongside quotes from the Roman philosopher-emperor’s Meditations. It is an introspective work, which acknowledges our feelings of loss when such monuments are destroyed, but also puts this loss in a wider historical perspective.

Fig 2: Dimitra Ermeidou, Demos - for a Hall of Portraits I-IV, 2013, Archival pigment print, 28 x 24 inches. Photo by Tom Carter.

Fig 2: Dimitra Ermeidou, Demos – for a Hall of Portraits I-IV, 2013, Archival pigment print, 28 x 24 inches. Photo by Tom Carter.

Dimitra Ermeidou’s evocative photographs of defaced Greek relief sculptures from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens forms Demos – for a Hall of Portraits. The images form a collection of rather ghostly figures, like memories of once living people whose features and unique characteristics are slowly fading from the collective consciousness. The sculptures were vandalised by persons unknown, at some time in the past. They are a timely reminder that iconoclasm is not confined to any one group of people or set of beliefs. It is a part of human nature to destroy as much as it is to create.

Also on display is a small 3D printed version of the replica Palmyrene arch currently erected in Trafalgar Square, and next to be displayed in Time Square New York. Created by the Oxford Institute of Digital Archaeology, using images taken on low-cost, easy to use 3D cameras distributed to activists in Syria, it provides an example of the possibilities that technology can bring to the process of reconstruction envisaged in the future. Through the Million Image database, an international project supported by UNESCO, similar activities are taking place in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt.

Fig 3: Piers Secunda, ISIS Bullet Hole Painting (Assyrian Head), 2015, Industrial floor paint and metal fixtures, 73 x 100 x 3.5 cm. Photo by Tom Carter.

Fig 3: Piers Secunda, ISIS Bullet Hole Painting (Assyrian Head), 2015, Industrial floor paint and metal fixtures, 73 x 100 x 3.5 cm. Photo by Tom Carter.

A stunning piece by Piers Secunda shows a replica of an Assyrian relief, and then the same relief punctured by bullet holes. The holes are casts of damage caused to ancient monuments in Iraqi Kurdistan by DAESH fighters seeking to destroy cultural heritage in the region. Bizarrely, the damaged piece is in some ways as beautiful as its pristine pristine: perhaps a commentary that imperfection and the marks of history have their own resonance and beauty. Maybe it is a question as to whether we should be quite so enthusiastic about instantly ‘restoring’ everything to its former glory – as if to wipe out the reality of DAESH’s barbarism? After all, we do preserve some icons of extreme pain, such as the remains of Auschwitz, to serve as a permanent reminder of what took place there, and what should never be allowed to happen again. Would a total ‘restoration’ in itself be a form of iconoclasm, wiping out as it would all traces of this horrendous moment in our history?

Our cultural heritage is not just threatened by destruction from bombs and guns and fanatics wielding hammers. Erin Thompson has been collecting images from social media of ancient artefacts for sale on the antiquities market – a trade which the whole world is complicit in, and one in which London is a major player. Artefacts which have been looted are made untraceable through cleaning and falsification of records, and sold for profit in an illegal trade which causes huge damage to our shared cultural heritage. Ironically, the images of looted artefacts posted by middle-men on social media to aid the sale of these antiquities, form an ‘image trail’ which Erin is tracking, in the hope that some artefacts may be identified. A selection of these images is displayed in the exhibition. The installation covers a whole wall, but forms a tiny fraction of the data that Erin has collected.

In amongst all the publicity surrounding the destruction of monuments in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and events such as the erection of a replica of the Palmyrene triumphal arch in Trafalgar Square, there has been some criticism that perhaps artefacts of the past mean more to some of us than living people – what about the inhabitants of Tadmor (the modern town next to the ancient site of Palmyra, for instance? Don’t they matter? Is their suffering ignored because of the focus on things?

These are relevant questions to ask, and they deserve thinking about. It is a terrible thing to learn that whilst a media circus surrounded a pile of stones, the suffering and circumstances of living people are actually being ignored.

The monuments of ancient Palmyra, Aleppo or Nineveh are the palpable remains of human civilisation. I think that by studying them and visiting them we learn to appreciate the achievements of our fellow human beings who just happen to have lived in the past. In my very humble opinion, they are inherently important as reminders of our shared humanity. Iconoclasts – whether they be those of the past or modern day – want to deny that shared humanity. Our desire to recreate (in some way) what has been destroyed of our cultural heritage is a natural reaction, and has a place alongside the efforts to restore some sort of normality to those whose lives have been shattered. It is not, and should not be, an ‘either / or’ situation. I think it is very true that the inhabitants and custodians of Palmyra – Tadmor, Aleppo, and those cities and towns in Iraq where monasteries and mosques have been destroyed, feel their loss with an intensity that we lucky souls elsewhere can only begin to imagine. Some of them have died trying to protect them. In wanting to help mend them, we are sharing a little of their pain.

Fig 4: Exhibition installation including The Umayyad Mosque, Tmam Alkhidaiwi Alnabilsi, 2015, found materials, 120 x 75 cm. Photo by Tom Carter.

Fig 4: Exhibition installation including The Umayyad Mosque, Tmam Alkhidaiwi Alnabilsi, 2015, found materials, 120 x 75 cm. Photo by Tom Carter.

This reality, that these monuments matter profoundly, and constitute a visible and lasting metaphor for human life and memory which are in themselves so transient and fragile, was made very apparent to me at the exhibition in the form of a model of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, made by Tmam Alkhidaiwi Alnabilsi, a 25 year old Syrian refugee currently living at Zaatari Camp just outside Jordan. The model was featured in an article in The Guardian by Charlie Dunmore entitled ‘How art is helping Syrian refugees keep their culture alive’. The Umayyad Mosque, a unique and beautiful example of very early Islamic architecture, has suffered extensive damage, caught in the cross-fire of Syria’s ongoing civil war – an accidental victim rather than the intended target. The building is the latest incarnation of religious structures on the site that go back to at least the second millennium BCE, if not earlier. This destruction is such a tragedy.

Fig 5: The Umayyad Mosque in 1999. Photo by Felicity Cobbing.

Fig 5: The Umayyad Mosque in 1999. Photo by Felicity Cobbing.

I remember visiting the mosque on several occasions in happier years. As a visitor to Syria, it was one of my favourite places. What was so lovely was not just the beauty of the building itself, or the exquisite green and gold mosaics which adorned it, but how this place was alive as the true heart of the city. All were welcome. Children played and scholars studied verses of the Koran. Grannies chatted, and new parents brought their precious new bundles of life to be blessed. The place was filled with the echoes of whispering clerics and quietly laughing children. It was a privilege to witness Syrian life at its very best, and to see the part this wonderful historic building played in it. Tmam’s model is a homage to all of this – to the life of the building as much to the building itself. It is a symbol for all that Syria has lost. Remarkable in its accuracy, it is made from bits of plywood, food crates, and kebab sticks: anything that came to hand in the camp. Tmam clearly knows this building intimately, and his model is an expression of his relationship with it. It is a deeply moving artefact.

There are plans to take this exhibition travelling after its London stint, and a fine thing that would be. The exhibition is a brave and eloquent expression of human creativity and destructive impulse – opposite sides of the same coin, perhaps, and a relationship which deserves exploring.

Introducing… Our Committee

Our sixth profile is of Executive Secretary and Curator Felicity Cobbing.

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With a background in archaeology in the Middle East and Mediterranean, Felicity Cobbing  joined the PEF in 1998 as the curator of the collections, and became Executive Secretary in 2006. As such, she is responsible for the day to day running of the PEF together with the Administrator, Ivona Lloyd-Jones, and for the programme of curatorship across the PEF’s extensive collections. To this end, she runs an active volunteer programme, with students of all ages, talents, and qualifications contributing to a veritable industry of sorting, re-packing, cataloguing, and identifying of archives, photographs, and artefacts.

Felicity is an expert on the collections of the PEF, and the role the PEF played in the development of archaeology, historical geography, and ethnography in late 19th and early to mid-20th century Palestine.

Felicity has authored several articles, many in PEQ, and has co-authored three books, Beyond the River: Ottoman Transjordan in Original Photographs in 2005 with Raouf Sa’d Abujaber (Stacey International), The Photographs of the American Palestine Exploration Society with Rachel Hallote and Jeffrey b. Spurr (ASOR Annual 66, Boston) in 2012, and Distant Views of the Holy Land with David M. Jacobson in 2015 (Equinox Publishing).

Felicity has also taken cultural and archaeological tours to the Middle East and North Africa with The Traveller (previously British Museum Traveller) and currently with Martin Randall Travel. She lectures on a variety of subjects connected to the archaeology and the history of archaeology in the region.

Introducing… Our Committee

Our fifth profile is of PEF Committee member Casey Strine.

Strine - SIIBS Launch

C. A. (Casey) Strine is Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the University of Sheffield. Casey studies the history, literature, and cultures of the ancient Near East with a special interest in the ways the study of migration can help to reconstruct ancient history and to illuminate the meaning of ancient texts.

Strine’s first book explored how the experience of forced migration influenced the development of ethnic, national, and religious identity in ancient Judah via a case study on the book of Ezekiel. Sworn Enemies: The Divine Oath, the Book of Ezekiel, and the Polemics of Exile (winner of the 2015 Manfred Lautenschläger Award for Theological Promise) explains that Ezekiel contains both a ‘public’ transcript of an intra-ethnic debate among two Judahite communities and a disguised transcript of an inter-national debate with the Babylonian empire. Subsequently, he has written about the role of human repentance in the book of Ezekiel, its reshaping of traditional Judahite cosmology, and its appropriation of the imago Dei concept.

Casey’s current research examines how the study of involuntary migration can aid in identifying the diachronic growth of the Pentateuch.  As the first stage in this research, he is investigating how the book of Genesis portrays Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as asylum seekers and refugees.  By investigating these themes in the patriarchal narrative (Gen 12–36), he will offer new exegetical insights into these familiar stories while also offering a fresh perspective on the perennial question of what sources make up Genesis.

Strine learned to love archaeology through a season spent working on the excavation at Tel Megiddo. Now that his son is old enough to use a trowel, he’s hoping to return to the field again, probably with family in tow.

 

Introducing… Our Committee

Our fourth profile is of PEF Chairman Philip Davies.

Philip Davies’s first visit to Palestine was in the winter of 1969-70, on a British School of Archaeology Travelling Scholarship. He was then writing a PhD thesis on the Qumran manuscripts, but acquired a good general knowledge of the geography and politics of a land that has absorbed his interest ever since. His professional career has been conducted almost entirely in the Biblical Studies Department at the University of Sheffield, from which he retired in 2002. He is currently Professor Emeritus.

His interest in first millennium BCE Palestinian history has been a major scholarly preoccupation for some time, and a research project on the Siloam Inscription drew him to the PEF some years earlier. Since his retirement and before joining the PEF Committee in 2009 he spent some of his ‘retirement’ as Editorial Director of Sheffield Academic Press (which he co-founded), and as President of the British Society for Old Testament Study and European Association of Biblical Studies.

At a time when some important developments are taking place within the PEF, he is enjoying the prospect of several more years serving the PEF and continuing a lifetime involvement with the history, and the future, of Palestine.

Philip’s Sheffield profile can be found here.

Introducing… Our Committee

Our third profile is of PEF Committee member Carly Crouch.

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Carly’s research focuses on the social and intellectual history of the ancient world, with particular attention to ethics and to the histories of ancient Israel and Judah.   She has written on the impact of mythology and ideology on the justification of military violence (War and Ethics in the Ancient Near East: Military Violence in Light of Cosmology and History); on the effect of economic, political and social changes in the southern Levant on ideas about ethnic identity during the Assyrian period (The Making of Israel: Cultural Diversity in the Southern Levant and the Formation of Ethnic Identity in Deuteronomy), and on the relationship between the book of Deuteronomy and Assyrian imperial power (Israel and the Assyrians:Deuteronomy, the Succession Treaty of Esarhaddon, and the Nature of Subversion).  Each of these projects has depended on the latest research in the archaeology of the Southern Levant.  Her current research project is attempting to tease out the relationship between Israel and Judah in the Hebrew Bible as well as in ancient Near Eastern history.  Carly is the PEF’s Publications Chair.

Her University of Nottingham staff page can be found here.

 

Introducing… Our Committee

Our second featured profile is of PEF Committee member Penny Butler.

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Although she claims to be the least academically qualified member of the Committee, Penny gained a BA Hons at Cambridge in Archaeology and Anthropology and Medieval History, and then pursued a lifelong career in publishing as an editor, now working freelance.

On retiring she returned to the study of archaeology, doing courses at Birkbeck and attending lectures. She met Felicity Cobbing in 1996 when the BM Travellers Company organised an archaeology study trip to Jonathan Tubb’s dig at Tell es Saidiyeh in Jordan. They kept up with each other from time to time and Penny joined the force about five years ago when Felicity advertised for volunteers in the PEQ.  At present she is compiling the database archive of Olga Tufnell’s photos taken between the 1930s and around 1980.

Introducing… Our Committee

Since its foundation in 1865, the PEF has had an active Executive Committee who are committed to ensuring the PEF continues to support research in the Levant.  In this running series, we will feature profiles of our Committee members and volunteers. Their broad range of expertise and experience help make the PEF what it is today!

Our first profile is of PEF Committee member John MacDermot.

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John MacDermot is a retired Professor of Medicine and Therapeutics from Imperial College London and has worked as a volunteer at the PEF for the last few years. When he first arrived, he was given the task of sorting the documentary archive of Miss Olga Tufnell (1905-1985), who made many important contributions to archaeological research and was a firm supporter of the PEF. He was invited to join the PEF Committee in the summer of 2014, and he has contributed to the organisation of the Fund’s 150th anniversary celebrations and assisted with applications for external funding to support the activity of the PEF. Most recently, John has been working on the PEF’s photographic archive of the late 19th century.