Version classiqueVersion mobile

Temps et espaces en Palestine

Roger Heacock

II. Racines

Palestinian Identity and Cultural Heritage

Nazmi Al-Ju’beh

Entrées d'index

Géographique :


Texte intégral


1It is vital to differentiate between identity and identities. The difference between the terminologies is not simply that between singular and plural, it reaches far beyond, to a more philosophical approach, a way of life, and reflects the structure of a society and its political aspirations. It is therefore very difficult, perhaps impossible, to tackle the identity of a people as such, as if we were exploring one homogeneous entity, a clear-cut definition, accepted comfortably by the community/communities that formulate the society/the state/the nation. Before discussing Palestinian identity, it is important to address some basic and theoretical frameworks in a historical context.

2History is considered the main container of identity. Nations are rewriting their history/histories in order to explain and adapt contemporary developments, events, and phenomena, in order to employ them in the challenges facing the society, and also to reflect the ideology of the ruling class. It is, without hesitation, a difficult task, to trace one identity of a people through history; hence, identity, like any other component of a society, is very flexible, variable, and mobile and of course it reflects historical conditions. The formation of identity/identities commonly takes place in an intensive manner during conflicts and challenges, since it is important, in such circumstances, to clarify and to underline the common elements among certain groups of people that are adequate and can be mobilized facing the specific challenge.

3The understanding will not be exact if the process of formation of a nation is limited to conflicts and challenges only. Such an “identity” can only be a temporary one. It has to have much more than that; it includes, in most cases, other elements, mainly historical background, and historically shared experience in addition to other components. The shared interests are usually an essential element in the process of formation. “Normally”, the effect of such developments spread out for a long span of time, and in some cases, they form a myth. In this case, the identity is far more important and becomes an essential political abstract, uniting the people. Building on that, the intellectual elite in a society begins to formulate the different elements of that society, and the creation of new elements is not a rare case in history. We have to be aware of the fact that the creation of a myth and other elements of identity don’t disappear automatically with the end of the conflict or challenge, they can last for a longer period and become an essential component of the formation of the people/the nation. Challenges and conflicts cannot create identities, but can certainly help in forming, clarifying, maintaining, and sharpening identity/identities.

4It is not rare to find that identity/identities are intensified through symbols, mainly national symbols, since these are easily utilized, marketed, and converted into a popular character. National symbols are also a subject of continuous changes, due to the socio-economic and political development of the society, and its need for self-expression. Symbols can also be created, shaped, and carved; but can also be a reflection of the realities and needs of a society. The intellectual elite or/and the ruling class can impose created symbols; in this case, symbols may last for a long period, or disappear when the need for them diminishes. Finally, symbols can be formulated within societies, but they later become impossible to change or to reshape and sometimes become a real burden on the society.

Palestinian Identity

5It is very difficult to present one identity of any society. Each society has different identities of varied levels, regardless of its sub-identities. Identity can have geographic, cultural, ethnic, religious, and other dimensions (and not a single dimension). We have to look at these components in a complementary manner rather than in a contradictory one. These identities are supported with a multi-colored multi-shaped historical arsenal. Again, certain basic elements are to be clarified before we can present Palestinian identity in its cultural heritage context: Palestine, Palestinians, borders, historical context, and the different components of the identity.

6The meaning of the word “Palestine” is not clear; there are different interpretations of its meaning. (Brug 1985, Deger-Jalkotzy 1983, p. 99-120). As an administrative terminology, it was used since the Greco-Roman period in the first and second centuries BC. It is worth mentioning that Herodotus (ca. 490-430 BC) had already written about Palestine, meaning of more or less the now familiar land of Palestine. The name was derived from the name of a group of people, the “Philista,” who settled in the Iron Age (around the 12th century BC) along the shores of Palestine, their origin (Aegean or Semitic) being disputed among scholars (Berlin 1997, p. 2-51). Therefore, the southern coastal strip (today’s Gaza Strip) in Assyrian texts (eighth century BC.) was called “Pilaschtu”. Herodotus extends the term “Palestinian Syria” to the entire coastal strip between Phoenicia (roughly today’s Lebanon) and Egypt. The Greek term “Palestine” was then transferred into Latin: “Palestina”. This Latin term, starting from 135 A.D., meant to the Romans the entire province of “Judea” and was introduced in order to erase the use of the term “Judea” after they had put down the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, to challenge the memory of the Jews. Jerusalem was renamed “Aelia Capitolina” (Wilkinson 1975, p. 118-136).

7It is certainly the case that the Palestinians, those who were living in Palestine, were mostly part of a greater regional or international political entity, which usually housed several nations, ethnic groups and cultures. Belonging to a great power did not convert the people culturally. This does not exclude the influence of the dominating culture. Roman Palestine not only left many influences in the cultural heritage of the land, but also deeply influenced its population (Hirschfeld 1995). These influences did not convert the people of the country (Palestine in this case) into Romans, in spite of the fact that some members of the elite of Palestine were heavily influenced, and even adapted imperial Roman culture, including personal names (Shahid 1984, p. 22 ff). But this development did not affect the masses in general and the peasants (the majority of the population) in the countryside in particular.

8In the major cities of Roman Palestine there is a clear-cut imperial Roman architecture (Caesarea, Bisan/Scythopolis, Jerusalem, etc.) reflecting the metropolis – of course with some local influence, but still it is Roman. Leaving this aside and focusing on the rest of the country, mainly on the countryside, we discover that the continuity of the cultural materials existed before the Romans and persisted afterwards (Beebe 1968, p. 35-58; Beebe 1975, p. 89-104).

9Following the Crusaders’ invasion of Palestine in 1099 AD, a good number of Palestinians left their homeland, some of them fleeing to Damascus, the major city in the region. These immigrants, mainly scholars (i.e., members of the elites) settled in a newly established quarter on the slopes of Mount Qasioun, named Salhiyya. Its inhabitants were called al-maqadisa, (the Jerusalemites), in spite of the fact that we know no Jerusalemite among them, they were mostly from the area of Nablus and mainly from the village of Jamma’in or Jamma’il, therefore they were also called al-Jamma’iny or al-Jamma’ily (a prominent family among them were Banu Qudama). “Al-Maqadisa” played a major role in the intellectual life of Damascus for centuries; some of them still carry the name al-Qudsi. This can be explained as a form of blessing, but also of belonging. During the Crusader period, most of the countryside of Palestine, including its Muslims and its Christians, as well as major cities except Jerusalem, remained Arab. In the later phase, Arab Christians were even re-settled in the walled city of Jerusalem. As the experiment collapsed, the Crusader colonialists left the country in several waves, but some of them remained and integrated with the local population.

10Much earlier, even directly after the Islamic conquest of Palestine, some scholars from Palestine carried the name “al-Filastini”. The most interesting discussion about this Palestinian belongingis to be found in the works of the Palestinian geographer al-Maqdisi/al-Muqaddasi, who lived and wrote in the tenth century AD. He uses the terminology “Palestine” and “Palestinian” with the clear-cut meaning of geographic belonging and identity (Al-Maqdisi 1906).

11The geographic definition “Palestine” went through significant changes and developments. What is called “Palestine” today is nothing except the British mandatory geographic definition of the borders, resulting from agreements with France during and after World War one. The highlands of Palestine during the Bronze and Iron Ages were called the “Land of Canaan”; the coastal plains were Philista. In the Roman period, the land was divided into three administrative areas: Palestine i, ii, and iii, which included most of East Jordan, southern Syria (Hauran), south Lebanon and the Golan Heights. In the Early Muslim period (late 7th century), it was divided into two major administrative divisions: the northern parts including southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights expanding to Hauran and northern Jordan; this was called Jordan (Jund al-Urdun) with Tiberias as administrative capital. The second part extended from the south of Mount Carmel to the south of the Negev including southern Jordan, and was called Palestine (Jund Filistin) with Ramla as a capital. This division did not influence the importance and centrality of Jerusalem to the Umayyad dynasty (660-750 AD). Jerusalem was during this period a de facto capital, all major political events during this period occurred there; in this respect Jerusalem exceeded the position of Damascus (Athamina 2000, p. 212 ff), the officially declared overall capital.

12Later on, the terminology underwent complicated developments, depending on the ruling power over this strip of land, which was mostly administered from either Damascus or Cairo; for example, in the twelfth century, during the Crusader period, most of the area of Mandatory Palestine (but not only that area) became the Kingdom of Jerusalem. As mentioned above, the borders of what became the British Mandate were fixed between the years 1916 and 1923. The entity became Palestine, which, mistakenly, is nowadays called “historical Palestine”. The borders newly created by the British did not follow geographic, historical, cultural or demographic concepts. These borders were also not sensitive to the needs of the population of this area. The areas carved out from Greater Syria or Bilad al-Sham, encompassing Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, had virtually never experienced the national state or national borders. As a result, political, social and economic consequences of such an artificial division were not to the liking of the population. Britain and France defined the borders according to their needs as well as the needs of creating the Jewish “homeland” (interpreted to mean state) as promised in the Balfour Declaration.

13During the first part of the twentieth century, the land area of Palestine underwent several changes. These began in earnest with the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, based on which the states of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine were progressively created, paving the way for the British mandate over Palestine as well as the implementation of the Balfour Declaration of 2 November, 1917. These various developments, particularly Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration, decisively influenced Palestine and the whole region down to the present.

  • 1 A serious discussion began in previous years among Oriental Jews (Mizrahi) about their complex set (...)

14The Palestinian people are not different from other Greater Syrian (Bilad al-Sham) peoples. They are the result of accumulated ethnic, racial, and religious groups, who once lived, conquered, occupied, and passed through this strip of land. Wars and invasions have never totally replaced the local population in any period of history; they rather added to, mixed with and reformulated the local identity. The Palestinian people are the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Jabousites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Aramaeans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Turks, the Crusaders, and the Kurds, who once settled, conquered, occupied or just passed through Palestine. Regardless of the extent to which they affected the land and its population, they all left their touch in forming the Palestinian people and its identities. Since the fourth century AD, peoples in Palestine went through the Arabization process, which was strengthened through the Arab-Islamic invasion of the country in the first half of the seventh century. (Peters 1984, p. 141-173). Since then this process gave Palestine its “Arab identity”, whatever this terminology means. It encompassed several religions, Islam (the religion of the majority at least since the 10th century) Christianity, and Judaism with all their religious sub-groupings. These three religions were, at least until the rise of Zionism, the main popular religions. Most of the Palestinian Jews, an essential component of the Palestinian people, started at the beginning of the twentieth century to identify themselves with the Zionist movement, thus separating themselves from the rest of their own people, in spite of the fact that some of them still considered themselves “Palestinian Jews”1. On the other hand, Palestinian Christians were and still are very proud Palestinian Arabs; the rise of Zionism has even strengthened this identity.

15As mentioned above, the term Palestine went through several stages of development. We can find enough evidence in history on the formation of Palestine, covering various parts of and even exceeding its Mandatory borders; sometimes even including part of “other” lands. However, Palestine has been, throughout history, a part of a greater empire, and we shall never discover a clear trend defining Palestine as a geographic entity in its more or less Mandatory border. While the concept is historically firm as a matter of geography and identity, its pointillistic borders are not. This historical context does not differentiate between Palestine and the rest of the countries/lands surrounding it (Jordan, Syria and Lebanon); all of them were connected to each other, and they were collectively parts of great empires. Some of these lands, including Palestine, have enjoyed a certain level of independence or autonomy within empires (the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greco-Roman, Byzantine, Arab-Islamic, and Ottoman). It is beyond our scope here to follow up in detail the historical development of Palestine through the ages. However, it is worth mentioning that during the 18th and 19th centuries, a semi-independent state within the Ottoman Empire, under the leadership of Dhahir al-‘Umar, was established in the northern parts of Palestine, and sometimes included the central part of the country, with Acre as its capital (Manna’ 2000, p. 47 ff). This phenomenon of periodic autonomy within Palestine continued in different ways until the Egyptian invasion of 1831-1840. Some historians, with different backgrounds, consider Dhahir al-‘Umar as the founder of the idea of the modern Palestinian independent state. Others view the Palestinian rebellion of 1834 against the Egyptians as the beginning of the formation of a Palestinian entity and identity. By the end of the 19th century, more and more Palestinians, including those representing Palestine in the Ottoman Parliament, joined in the critique of the polices of the Ottoman Empire in converting its subjects (including the Arabs) into Turks (from at least the cultural point of view). These policies continued until the beginning of the 20th century, thus producing more and more “localism” including a Palestinian one (Manna’ 2000, p. 26-37).

16A number of historians have raised the question of the relation of the “Palestinians” with the land of Palestine. This question, far from being innocent, is to be understood in the context of the denial of political rights, rather than a serious discussion of identity. This school believes that Palestinian identity is nothing but a reaction to the Zionist movement and its claim over Palestine (Khalidi 1997, p. 89). Here we have to draw the difference between identity in its historical, social, and cultural dimensions and an identity that grew up through the mobilization of reactions, struggles and crucial abnormal realities. There is no society that did not reformulate, reshape, and restructure its identity during long-lasting challenges. There is no doubt that, during the last century, Palestinian identity went through tremendous changes and developments; and this took place, of course, under the influence of the Zionist claims. This identity can be described as very lively, with a great power of adaptation and integration, exactly like any other identity facing denial and repression. The Palestinian struggle against Zionism and later against the state of Israel, doubtless had a tremendous influence on the Palestinian people in general and on their identity in particular. There is no way to understand this identity apart from the conflict.

17Regardless of geography and history, Palestine became well known, at least since the 1960s, all over the world in general, and in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East in particular, as a symbol for liberation and for the anti-colonial struggle. The picture of the late Yasser Arafat with his kufiyya was portrayed all over the world, symbolizing Palestine, which made him one of most renowned personalities in the world. In this context, an internationally recognized Palestinian identity was clearly reflected, whether or not the Palestinians themselves felt comfortable with this image. This “identity” reflects part but not the whole of the Palestinian identity, that part encompassing the struggle for independence; it is a symbol of revolution, exceeding in that the importance of Palestine itself.

18In the aftermath of the 1967 occupation, there was a rekindling of national interest among the Palestinians in preserving material culture as a way of affirming “national identity” and attachment to the land. This particular form of the “Palestinian awakening” arose in the 1970s in the form of safeguarding what remained of local heritage: historical buildings, monuments, archaeological sites and remains of ethnographic, personal belongings, art objects etc. Initiated by individuals, this interest in salvaging, promoting and collecting different sorts of “heritage” objects, mainly embroidered costumes, later developed into a more structured framework. In the absence of a governmental body, it was the NGOs, mainly women’s charitable societies and other national establishments, that initiated this drive. In the plastic arts, symbols of Palestinian cultural heritage, pottery, embroidery, architecture, designs and landscape became intrinsic to the themes chosen by the artists. These symbols were supposed to emphasize issues of national identity, pride, belonging and deep rootedness in one’s own history and traditions.

19The question is whether Palestinians could reflect their identity in a different manner than they do now. I think the answer is yes. The artificial division of Greater Syria was imposed on the people. If there had been no Sykes-Picot Agreement, I am not sure that the Palestinian people would have chosen an independent state as a container of their identity. However, statehood has nothing to do with identity; a state could include several peoples and a variety of identities. The idea of an independent Palestinian state was raised quite recently; as a matter of fact, the Palestinian national movement continued to market the conflict as an “Arab-Israeli” one and not as a “Palestinian-Israeli” one. The idea of the Palestinian independent state was raised in 1973 in the aftermath of the October War and specific international, regional, and national political developments; in 1974 the idea became the vehicle of the political program of the PLO. Since then and until now (I do not know for how long) Palestinian life has been completely organized according to it.

20With the establishment of the PLO and the different resistance organizations, mainly in the 1960s, Palestinian identity went through an intensive politicization process. The PLO exceeded its national and regional importance, reaching wider circles all over the world. With the PLO, the Palestinian identity became “revolutionary” or at least designated as such. The Palestinian became a young man/woman wearing the kufiyya and carrying a machine gun. The PLO faced a complicated challenge, namely how to unify a nation and to develop a shared identity for people(s) living under different political regimes and living in different socio-economic contexts, Jordanian, Egyptian, Israeli, in addition to the regional and international diasporas. The PLO actually implemented different political, cultural, and social programs and worked very hard to strengthen, shape, reshape and develop a national identity, vis-à-vis an Arab identity, with the aim of creating a fighting nation seeking freedom. This, in the mid-sixties, was a dreamed approach, but it led to very tangible results. The shared political aspiration, which was not easy to maintain and to gather people around it, was efficiently used. This aspiration became the major vehicle in forming the current “Palestinian identity”. The PLO managed likewise to create communications systems connecting, under very difficult circumstances, the different Palestinian groups/communities all over the world. This hard work also led to recognition of the Palestinian people, first by the Arabs and then, slowly, by the rest of the international community. This recognition was not really aimed at recognizing identity, but rather aspiration and political rights. In order to understand the meaning of that, it is worth mentioning the famous statement of Golda Meir, the late prime minister of Israel who denied the existence of the Palestinian people. Now Israel officially recognizes the Palestinian people as such, regardless of the right to self-determination, and it will not be very long before Israel officially does recognize it.

Identity and Cultural Heritage

  • 2 A monograph series of around 25 books was published by Birzeit University to document the destroyed (...)

21The Palestinian people have had a long experience in the process of integration in the surrounding environment, thus producing a rich cultural heritage, which became an essential part of their identity. This heritage includes archaeological and historical sites, a very rich vernacular architecture, holy shrines and sanctuaries, folkloric songs, dancing and sayings, ethnographic instruments and tools, embroidery, etc. These various components have been utilized, reproduced, restructured and sharpened in the last five decades, mainly as a reaction to the denial of the existence of a Palestinian identity and as a reaction to the destruction of more than 400 Palestinian villages and towns in the aftermath of the 1948 war. The Palestinian cultural heritage suffered tremendous and mostly irreversible losses through this wave of destruction. The only remains are the built-up area maps from the Mandate period, people’s memories and a few pictures. But a great number of buildings, mosques, churches, plazas, maqams (the sanctuaries of saints), cultural landscape, land use, memories related to space and places, cemeteries, holy trees and caves…etc2 (Khalidi 1992), and other components of cultural heritage-based identity, were lost forever. It should be noted that most of these components are of rural origin. Palestinian urban centers are actually very difficult to be differentiated from those of the rest of Greater Syria, and do not figure in the same way as part of the particularistic identity. On the one hand, people tend to use cultural symbols of the village because they were mostly targeted for destruction; and on the other hand, village symbols are ideal to reflect on the relationship between the Palestinian people and their land, a theme that stands in the center of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The praise of the land was also used as a vehicle for cultural identity, reflected in literature, dance, fine art, and of course in political education.

22We have to bear in mind that the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 from their homeland was accompanied by the expropriation of hundreds of towns and villages by the state of Israel. The Zionist nature of Israel led to crude attempts to acquire a political, historical and cultural legitimacy in Palestine. This hegemony resulted in the exploitation, destruction and manipulation of the existing Palestinian cultural heritage. Thus, in a deliberate attempt to minimize all memory of the history and existence of Palestinians on their land, more than 400 towns and villages with their typical Palestinian architectural character were demolished or eradicated. Most physical aspects of Palestinian life and tradition, houses, furniture, personal belongings, photographs, and documents were lost. In the rush of leaving, people sadly chose to take just the necessary possessions, leaving behind households and public places full of belongings and memories, which evidenced centuries and centuries of the history, taste, beliefs and social life of Palestinian society.

23Most Palestinians were above all forced to leave behind all the historical and archaeological and natural heritage of their ancestors. Whoever remained in the land occupied by Israel had to struggle to keep their identity as “Arab” and/or “Palestinian”.

24There is no unified legal regime in Palestine. Different laws are still applicable to it, the country having been subject to different rulers since the end of the nineteenth century. The British Mandate, Jordan, Egypt, and the Israeli occupation issued large volumes of legislation over and above the Ottoman legacy, some of which is still applicable in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) that was inaugurated in March 1996 also issued legislation regarding different fields of life in the Palestinian territories. However, the various scopes of sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (areas A, B, and C), the continuing application of the Israeli military orders in area C, the continuation of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and application of the Israeli law there, and the reoccupation by Israeli troops of the areas A in April 2002 put serious constraints on the legislative role of the PLC, the role of the judiciary, and the executive role of the PA to enforce this legislation.

25The existing legal regime concerning cultural and natural heritage in the Palestinian territories are the British Mandate Law of Antiquities of 1929 (applicable in the Gaza Strip only), the Jordanian Law of Antiquities of 1966 (applicable in the West Bank) and the Israeli laws of 1978 in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Basic Law of 2003 contained a paragraph of relevance to Heritage Protection. Under this paragraph, the President swears, “to be faithful to the homeland and holy places, to the people and its national heritage.” This is currently the only reference to heritage, and it is limited, in the draft constitution.

  • 3 The modern terminology “cultural heritage” is not mentioned in any of the existing laws. The only t (...)

26Since there is not yet an approved Palestinian constitution, the protection of cultural and natural heritage3 remains, until today, without a solid constitutional basis. The major problem with the 1966 Law of Antiquities is the definition, which states: “Antiquities are any movable or immovable remains or any part of them that were constructed, or formulated, or decorated, or inscribed or built in any form or any addition by a human being before 1700 AD. Antiquities also include human or animal remains prior to the year 600 AD. They likewise encompass any structure built after 1700 AD and declared as such by the Director of the Department of Antiquities.” The power delegated to the director was never used. The definition clearly excludes any archaeological sites (including historic buildings) and artefacts (movable objects) that postdate 1700 AD. The definition also excludes religious buildings, as well as natural heritage sites. Neither architecture (groups of buildings, monuments) nor movable objects are defined or included as separate categories in these two laws.

  • 4 The Palestinian Department of Antiquities with the help of different civil society initiatives and (...)

27The diversity and wealth of the Palestinian heritage can be seen not only in the archaeological sites, but also in the architecture. In addition to its numerous monumental religious sites such as the Dome of the Rock, the Nativity Church, the Holy Sepulchre, and the Ibrahimi (Abraham) Mosque, Palestine has a number of valuable historic towns such as the old cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus and Bethlehem. Further, Palestinian villages with their organically beautiful peasant architecture add to the variety and richness of this heritage. The desert monasteries located in the eastern slopes illustrate another typology of architecture in Palestine, as does the “throne village architecture”, which refers to the feudal palaces in eighteenth and nineteenth century rural Palestine. The caravanserais along historic trade routes, in addition to the dispersed holy shrines (maqamat), and the beautifully constructed dry stone farmhouses, within the typically terraced hills of Palestine also illustrate the variety and richness of this cultural heritage. The old city of Jerusalem is listed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, as well as on the list of threatened cultural reserves. Other Palestinian old city centers could be added to the list, as soon as proper conditions emerge.4

28Unfortunately, architectural heritage in Palestine has been facing alarming deterioration, destruction, and negligence resulting mainly (but not only) from the construction boom that took place from 1995 to 2000. As a result, urban as well as rural and natural landscapes have changed in an unprecedented manner. Almost 50% of the buildings having been constructed in most Palestinian towns and villages, were built during this time. The other 50% make up all the construction from previous centuries.

29This unprecedented scale of construction, at least in Palestine, took place within the boundary limits of Palestinian towns and villages that have not been allowed to expand since 1967. This is due to the fact that Palestinians can only build within areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority (Areas A and B), while the vast majority of land is still under Israeli control (Area C). All the Palestinian historic towns and villages are located in areas A and B. As a result of this completely uncontrolled, and unplanned, chaotic building sprawl, the historic towns and villages have lost many of their buildings and much of their fabric.

30Most of the well-known symbols of Palestinian identity were drawn from the fact that the majority of the Palestinians are refugees. The identity of the refugee was a movable one: kufiyyah, embroidery, traditional songs, dabka, house key, pictures, land registration document, Palestinian passport (British Mandate), map of Palestine, picture of the Dome of the Rock and many stories about places, which are full of nostalgia. The immovable cultural heritage had played a minor part in the formation of identity. These components of identity could be carried by the refugees and diaspora Palestinians wherever they move, and they could be easily exposed. Before 1991, the occupied Palestinian territories witnessed a growth of interest in material culture, mainly ethnographic collections in museums. These were mostly established by women’s charitable organizations such as In’ash al-Usra in al-Bireh, Dar al-Tifl al-‘arabi in Jerusalem, and Baituna al-Talhami in Bethlehem. They were strengthened through the challenges of the 1967 Israeli occupation of what remained of Palestine. In parallel, a series of publications appeared to highlight the Palestinian cultural heritage and identity. Most prominent was Majallat al-Turath wa-l-Mujtama’ (Heritage and Society), published by Jam’iyyat In’ash al-Usra. This phenomenon was dominant in Palestine (both 1948 and 1967 Palestine) as well as among Palestinians in the diaspora. Nonetheless, until 1991, the most important elements of cultural heritage were the movable objects and relevant research. The influence of the PLO is palpable here, as a diaspora liberation organization. Heritage, in its hands, became a tool to fortify the united identity of different Palestinian groups spread out all over the Middle East and the rest of the world. The tool was used efficiently in the conflict and mainly to stress the right of return and the right to self-determination; hence, it was understood that the owners of such a heritage are the owners of such rights.

31The PLO, as mentioned above, was mainly a diaspora representative; immovable cultural heritage was not then the focal point of its activities. Research could only be carried out by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. This was not really achieved during the first two decades: inside Palestine, the ideologies as well as the practices of the PLO prevailed. One component of the immovable cultural heritage in Palestine, namely archaeology, has been a subject of intensive research since the second half of the nineteenth century; even so, it was a victim of ideological struggles for possession. In spite of that, the long period of research produced an enormous amount of information on major sites all over Palestine, reconstructed the main historical periods, gave rise to thousands of publications (books, articles, maps, illustrations, report, etc.), unearthed countless numbers of archaeological artifacts (exhibited or stored in museums, academic institutions, and private collectors all over the world).

32Archaeologists came from the West, sought out archaeological sites using local Palestinian workers, but did not communicate with the communities around these sites. They were hunters of objects as well as publishers of the results of their research in their mother tongue. The local population was a very important element of anthropological reference in order to understand the discoveries. Nonetheless, the level of attachment between the local population and their historical sites was marginal. This local situation, despite the establishment of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, has not changed much until today. The most dangerous development is the ongoing economic crisis, as there is a clear-cut relationship between unemployment and poverty and the destruction of archaeological and historical sites.

33The other component of immovable cultural heritage in Palestine, namely architecture, failed to attract the same level of interest as archaeology. Three different kinds of architectural heritage in Palestine need to be examined in order to clarify the issue. The first one is that of monumental historical buildings. These fall under the judicial definition of archaeology if they were built before 1700, and are protected by the current antiquities laws. In general, they have attracted the interest of the authorities as well as the researchers. We are speaking here of Greco-Roman, Byzantine, Early Muslim, Crusader, Ayyubid, and Mamluk monuments (Burgoyne 1987). Recently, the Ottoman buildings also became a subject of research (Pringle 1981). Next come religious buildings: Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, regardless of their judicial level of protection, were also a subject of interest on the part of the authorities (mainly religious ones) as well as researchers. Finally, very little attention was given to vernacular architecture, which can be considered a major component of cultural heritage in Palestine. Early studies and documentation were conducted by such scholars as C. T. Wilson (Wilson 1906) and G. Dalman (Dalman 1928-1942), with the aim of reconstructing the biblical traditions rather than examining the relationship between the people of Palestine and their environment. As a result these studies, which are very important for the reconstruction of traditional life in Palestine, are overloaded with Biblical and Talmudic citations. The Palestinian physician Tawfiq Canaan managed to define the connection between man and his environment much better than previous researchers (Canaan 1933). And after the 1967 occupation, along with the growth of the local Palestinian intellectual elite, the importance of the connection between people and their environment slowly grew. Israeli settlement policies added urgency to the quest to rediscover and cling to heritage, and increasing numbers of people showed interest in the cultural landscape (Fuchs 1998, p. 54-67; Kanáan 1993; Khasawneh 2001; Amiry 2003).

34When Western researchers arrived in Palestine 150 years ago, the concept of a cultural landscape did not exist. Since they worked in the framework of historical geography, places were only linked to historical or religious events. Discoveries in the cultural landscape of Palestine started with the Palestinian Excavation Fund, and the Survey of Western Palestine. Palestine was divided into 27 sections of maps with a 1:100 000 scale; cultural and geographical landmarks were referred to in their local and biblical names. Various other surveys were carried out in parallel with this one. In fact, the most important survey dates back to the 1799 French invasion of Palestine. The problem with these surveys however, is that they failed to produce realistic maps. Instead, they indicate geographical and cultural landmarks without linking them to geography, sea level, or scale maps. In addition to the surveys, many of the foreign missions wrote about their travels in accounts that interwove documentation of Palestine with geographical, ethnic or historical concepts. (Smith 1894; Edward and Smith 1841). The value of these texts is based on their description of the cultural landscape of Palestine. However they did not get benefit from 20th century technology.

35The focal point of research gradually changed from cultural landscape to historical and cultural sites. This is because the main interest continued to be focused on historical sites connected with Old Testament events, and also because of the influence of urban archaeology, which studies civilizations living in the same area from antiquity to the present through observations of changes in pottery. The connection of a site to its environment, its cultural landscape, was thus neglected. The field of cultural landscape remained relatively intact, and was influenced only to a certain extent by the Bible. This makes it a key for future development in archaeology and other sciences of history, since the progress of modern scientific technology, and theories connected to sciences of cultural landscape, especially geology, favor the expansion of its areas of study.

36Archaeology in Palestine was, and still is, a very sensitive, ideologically and politically tainted issue. This is because archaeological research in Palestine has been intricately tied to the region’s historical development since the 1850s. It is therefore essential to review this context in order to assess the current status and its perspectives for the future. The aim of this assessment is not just to reflect shortcomings, failures, and successes of past efforts, but also to trace the history of those tendencies which led towards today’s more scientific, objective and modern archaeology, which still struggles to free itself from the ideological pressure and influence of political conflicts.

37Around the end of the Egyptian occupation of Palestine in 1840, the Ottoman Empire implemented a series of changes known as the Ottoman Reforms (tanzimat). These constituted an attempt to modernize Ottoman societies through new legislation, but also a reaction to growing European pressure on the Empire. This coincided with the commencement of European consular and religious missions to the “Holy Land” in general, and to Jerusalem in particular, and the introduction of foreign working groups in the fields of geographical, archaeological and historical research. They virtually all adopted an Orientalist approach dominated by a conservative school of thought derived from fundamental Christian beliefs in Old Testament texts. These texts were mainly used to interpret the cultural past of Palestine (see Arieh 1984, p. 1-12). In so doing, basic factual data were collected, but not without bias, since there was no interaction with the local intelligentsia. At any rate, an intellectual elite, with the knowledge necessary to establish an information framework for the history of its people in general and its urban society in particular, did not exist. Available scientific knowledge was derived mainly from the traditional Islamic educational system, which was far removed from the one adapted in the West at the end of the 19th century (see Khalidi 1992, Manna’ 2000).

38Foreign institutions such as the Palestine Exploration Fund, the École Biblique et Archéologique Française, the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology, the British School of Archaeology, and the American School of Archaeology (The Albright Institute) explored Palestine’s topography including the main cultural and archaeological sites. As a result they made detailed maps, often in harmony with Old Testament interpretations. Findings from archaeological excavations of the period have largely been dispersed to international museums, to European academic establishments, “Oriental” research institutes, and museums. On another level, and coinciding with the period of industrial development in Europe where much of local, undocumented tradition and heritage was vanishing, western travelers and ethnographers turned to the Near East. There, the local population was still closely linked to its traditions, living them physically and conceptually. It was possible to establish a better understanding of the nature of social and economic systems in Palestine through the Survey of Western Palestine (carried out by the Palestine Exploration Fund): e.g. by maps which document the distribution of the territories dominated by agricultural communities. However, this effort was not purely an instrument for defining the socio-economic context of the area, but rather a part of an attempt to link this situation with the tradition of biblical tribes that inhabited the region during the Iron Age.

39The First World War resulted in the collapse of Ottoman rule in Palestine and the onset of the British Mandate. British specialists were dispatched to Palestine to establish a department of antiquities (initially the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem) where they implemented various excavations and archaeological surveys. In the 1920s a Department of Antiquities was created, in 1929 the Antiquities/Archaeological Law came into force (the Israeli Authorities later applied this same law, incorporating slight Jordanian amendments from 1966.). The law focuses on the protection of archaeological sites with little mention of other cultural assets. The Muslim Waqf Administration founded the Islamic Museum (at the al-Aqsa Mosque) in the early twenties, but at the time this museum did not play a central role. In 1930, the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem was established, renamed the Palestinian Antiquities Museum in 1966 under the Jordanian regime, and again renamed the Rockefeller Museum by Israel after the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. The Museum was established to house Palestinian archaeological findings from excavations run by foreign archaeological teams. In the 1930s a group of foreign nationals living in Jerusalem, and some local residents, formed the Pro-Jerusalem Society for the protection of Palestinian cultural heritage, and the promotion and encouragement of local crafts. A substantial collection of Palestinian costumes and ethnographic artifacts was gathered by the Society with the idea of exhibiting it in the Rockefeller Museum. The 1948 war prevented the implementation of this project. In the 1970s, members of the Society in London decided to give it to Dar al-Tifl society (now Dar al-Tifl museum) in Jerusalem. There were few Palestinians then working in the Department of Antiquities, and those who did worked mostly as clerics since they did not possess the competence for research. The exception was Dimitri Baramki, who worked as an inspector at the Department of Antiquities, and published numerous articles in the Department’s Quarterly Journal. He later became professor of Archaeology at the American University of Beirut, and his publication report on Khirbet al-Mafjar (Hisham’s Palace) is still the main reference on the subject.

40Between 1905 and 1946 Dr. Tawfiq Canaan gathered a unique collection (1400 items) of Palestinian amulets, talismans and other objects related to healing, superstitious beliefs, etc. His library and icon collections, which were of great value, were ransacked and stolen from his house in the Musrara Neighborhood (now in West Jerusalem) in 1948. The amulet collection is considered one of the rarest of its kind in the region, being comprehensively and thoroughly documented by Canaan himself. Canaan also published numerous articles on cultural heritage, documenting social customs and beliefs. In 1996, the Canaan family donated this collection to Birzeit University (cf. the exhibition catalogue, 2002).

41In the aftermath of the collapse of Palestinian society following the 1948 Nakba, and the establishment of the State of Israel, sovereignty over Mandatory Palestine was divided between three countries, Jordan (in West Bank and East Jerusalem), Egypt (in Gaza Strip) and Israel (the rest of Mandatory Palestine). The recent history of Palestine, as marked by the 1948 and 1967 political events, triggered the destruction, dissemination and dispersal of many aspects of Palestinian cultural heritage. As mentioned above, the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 led to the expropriation of hundreds of towns and villages by the state of Israel. Israel’s attempts to acquire a political, historical and cultural legitimacy in Palestine resulted in the exploitation, destruction and manipulation of Palestinian cultural heritage. Thus in a deliberate attempt to minimize all memory of the history and existence of Palestinians on their land, scores of villages with their typical Palestinian architectural character were demolished or even eradicated. Whoever remained in the land now occupied by Israel had to struggle hard to keep a “Palestinian identity”. As a consequence of all these changes, the academic elite working in the Humanities now had to resume work in new political and institutional circumstances. The Palestinian Department of Antiquities was annexed to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, which took the task of managing surveys and issuing licenses for foreign archaeological missions working in the West Bank. (Kenyon 1957). The Jordanian Government subsequently did major renovation work on the site of the Haram al-Sharif, particularly on the Dome of the Rock, as well as rehabilitating several archaeological sites, and opening them for tourists. In this international context a new Palestinian elite emerged. Under the auspices of a rising Palestinian intellectual community the countdown started for a scientifical link between this contemporary Palestinian existence and its old physical heritage in historic Palestine. This connection was noticed from the onset in novels, stories and poetry utilizing symbols of the physical heritage that are interwoven in the cultural fabric. Various Palestinian universities were founded, and specialized academic programs were developed in the historical sciences including archaeology. Birzeit University in particular established the Palestinian Archaeological Institute in 1975 (the author of this article is one of the early graduates of this institute). Here, a connection was established between contemporary Palestinian society and its old physical heritage, using contemporary tools of knowledge in interpreting the past. It is the first time that Palestinians themselves practiced archaeological research.

42In the aftermath of the 1967 war, there was an official yet “undeclared” Israeli policy of dominating archaeological activities, and discouraging the development of local expertise in this field. Restrictions were imposed on Palestinians preventing them from carrying out local excavations, while the Israeli archaeologists had a free hand in exploring any historical site that asserted the Biblical history of the Jewish people in Palestine. Even Israeli government ministers were involved in illegally excavating archaeological sites; the best known is Moshe Dayan. In the process of these “focused” digs much archaeological evidence from periods succeeding those of interest to the Israelis was neglected and damaged. However, since the late 1970s in general, and since the Camp David Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt in particular, the tendency to impose ideological aspirations on archaeological work has begun to slow down. Several Israeli archaeologists opened themselves to critical approaches, and dealt with archaeology outside the biblical framework. This tendency became even stronger after 1991 when the first negotiations between Israel and PLO were launched. But still, all archaeological findings from digs in the Occupied Territories were handed over to either Israeli Military Administration, the Israeli Department of Antiquities, or to Israeli museums. During the peace process, the Palestinian team insisted on getting back every artifact that had left the Occupied Territories, in the same way that Egypt received all objects excavated or found in Sinai. The Israeli position in general was not total denial. Nonetheless, no official agreement was reached.

  • 5 See, for instance, the UN Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed (...)

43During the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, the Israelis took control of the Palestine Museum and put it under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Department of Antiquities, which moved its headquarters into the Museum premises. It is generally believed that a certain number of objects from the museum were transferred to other Israeli museums – in defiance of clauses contained in international conventions specifically forbidding the mishandling or removal of any “protected” historical evidence, and cultural heritage by occupation powers.5 Since the 1967 occupation there has been a rekindling of national interest among the Palestinians in preserving material culture as a way to affirm “national identity” and attachment to the land. This “Palestinian awakening” arose in the 1970s to safeguard what remained of the local heritage, notably historical buildings, monuments, archaeological sites and ethnographic remains, personal belongings, art objects etc. Initially started by individuals (Asia and Sophie Halabi in Jerusalem, Ellen Mansour in Ramallah, Wadad Qawar in Amman, to name just a few), this interest in salvaging, collecting and promoting all sorts of “heritage” objects (mainly embroidered costumes) later developed into a more structured framework. In the absence of a governmental body it was the NGOs, mainly women’s charitable societies and other national establishments, who initiated this drive (Ina’sh al-Usrah, Women’s Unions in Ramallah, Bethlehem, etc.). In the plastic arts, characteristic “Palestinian” objects, pottery, embroidery, architecture, designs and landscape became intrinsic to the themes chosen by the artists, as symbols of national identity, pride, belonging, and rootedness.

44A few specialized academic programs were developed. Birzeit University in particular was a pioneer having established in 1975 the Palestinian Archaeological Institute, which managed to conduct several salvage excavations in Tell Jenin (mid 1970s), and later (early 1980s) in Tell Ta’annek. However, the necessary permits, issued by the Military Officers of the Israeli Military Administration, were for the American director, Prof. Albert Glock, in his personal capacity, and not in the name of Birzeit University. Al-Najah (Nablus) and al-Quds (Jerusalem) Universities also developed teaching and degree programs in archaeology. The development of historical sciences which advocate the understanding of old behavioral patterns by investigating physical remnants or old texts, and the introduction of geology with a historical perspective which strives to search for a relation between ancient groups and their environment, i.e. cultural landscape, is currently underway. Due to these new approaches, we now have opportunities for independent research on cultural landscape. Along with the achievements in information technology, this enables the Palestinians to establish a different picture of the past.

  • 6 The author of this article was responsible for the project; he drafted the first vision of the muse (...)

45With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the situation required urgent programs and structural actions. Both the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the Ministry of Culture (Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museum Department), since 2003 part of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, sought to make plans to invigorate research. Strategies for the promotion and the safeguarding of cultural properties under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority were also considered. Some of these initiatives reached the level of feasibility studies, and consultations for establishing a National Museum to house vestiges of the past. Inventories and lists, and other data were collected as a way of starting a national inventory. Although the political situation delayed the completion, an inventory of most Palestinian museum objects, including those in East Jerusalem, was completed. In 1998 a committee was founded in order to establish a “Palestinian Memory Museum”. The concept paper was prepared and approved by the Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with the French Consulate General in Jerusalem, as well as the French Ministry of Culture. A historic building was selected to house the “Museum of Memory” in the village of ‘Ain Sinia, 7 km north of Ramallah. The first phase of restoration was completed, and the second phase had just started when in 2002 the PNA areas were invaded by the Israelis, resulting in the freezing of the project.6

46The establishment of the Palestinian National Authority, as a result of the Oslo Accords, gave Palestinians control over their own towns and villages built on 6-8% of the total land (referred to as area A, where the PNA has full civil control, except overall security; this was the case until 2000, and is now de facto lost), while the remaining areas (B and C) constituting more than 92% of the land were left under total Israeli control including the civil administration. This situation created a major danger for the cultural heritage located in area A. The PNA gave the deprived Palestinian communities, in both villages and towns, more or less “complete freedom” to build within area A. This permission, accompanied by the flow of considerable private Palestinian capital, resulted in an unprecedented rate of construction. The land available for new construction was limited to PNA areas, leading to land speculation. Historic old towns and villages were suddenly sitting on extremely expensive lots, which were potential sites for “new developments”. Many historic buildings were pulled down. High-rise buildings surrounded historic villages, minimizing cultural heritage. The eagerness to build high-rise concrete buildings was insurmountable. The “shameful”, dilapidated, and cold old houses had to be replaced by modern high-rise apartment buildings, which are considered by many as a valuable source of wealth. Hence, the fabric of most Palestinian towns and villages underwent a dramatic change. They became victims of bad planning, lack of taste, and marginalization of cultural heritage.

47This was an irreversible loss, but the euphoria for new construction came to an end as the political scene deteriorated and the economic situation changed. As people became more concerned with survival some local authorities developed a greater awareness on the issues of heritage conservation. Cultural preservation has not achieved full momentum in Palestine, but the PNA, the private sector and the communities will hopefully initiate their efforts.

  • 7 Riwaq was established in 1991:
  • 8
  • 9 An NGO sponsored by wealthy Palestinians and Arab countries;

48In the field of heritage protection, several civil society organizations are now active in restoration, promotion and management. Some of them, like Riwaq Center for Architectural Conservation,7 work all over the Palestinian territories; others, like the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, the Nablus Restoration Unit, the Bethlehem 2000 Project,8 and the Welfare Association9 are working in specific localities. Both the Ministry of Tourism (Department of Antiquities) and the Ministry of Culture (Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museum Department) have devised plans to invigorate research, and the safeguarding of cultural properties under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.

49It is a heavy task to preserve the heritage of Palestine not only for the Palestinians, but also for the world community at large. Palestine provides infinite opportunities for investment in cultural heritage resources. This investment should form part of a mainstream development and be considered a national priority. International attention has risen in providing funds for the implementation of projects for the preservation of this heritage. Further, there is a relative Palestinian control over a large number of sites, despite the prevailing political conditions, which makes it possible to carry out programs in the short run. In recent decades, international organizations and donors, as well as the public, have enabled various restoration projects – and above all a certain level of public awareness. It is true that the efforts invested in the field have not yet met the challenge. More than 50,000 historic buildings cannot wait any longer. The PNA until now were not able to convert cultural heritage into a national priority, in spite of the fact that its interest in the field is growing rapidly.

  • 10 A helpful report on some of the activities of the Department of Antiquities can be found in Focus, (...)

50The field of archaeology still ranks second. Although it is considered a state monopoly, the Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, despite its tangible efforts, has failed to protect archaeological sites. In the previous four years hundreds of archaeological sites have been plundered by thieves, not surprising given the level of unemployment.10 The discouragement and lack of resources both human and financial, and not just lack of vision, constitute substantial problems, and there are therefore very few field initiatives. The most important achievement is the excavation of Byzantine Churches in Gaza, conducted jointly with a French expedition (École Biblique in Jerusalem). This led to an impressive exhibition in Paris (Humbert 1999, p. 66-67). The restoration of Umayyad (8th century AD) floor mosaics in Khirbet al-Mafjar (known as Hisham’s Palace) in Jericho is another achievement of the Department. Tell as-Sultan (ancient Jericho) has also received some attention from both the Department and from international groups, as well as Khirbet Bal’ameh (south of Jenin, a water system/tunnel from the Late Bronze and/or Early Iron Age). Several other archaeological sites and historic buildings have, in cooperation with the École Biblique, began excavating the Hellenistic Port of Gaza (Anthedon). The excavation results are of great value to the cultural history of Palestine. (Humbert1999). After 2000 with the beginning of the Intifada, very little was done.

51Two universities were recently involved in excavations: Birzeit University excavated the nearby Khirbet Birzeit (Nashef 2000, p. 4-12), during three seasons, led by Khaled Nashef and Omar Abd Rabu and Khirbet Sayya northwest of Ramallah (two seasons); and al-Quds University has conducted several seasons in Khirbet Shweika (2 km south-west of Ramallah).

52It is clear that the amount and quality of achievements in the field of archaeology are very modest and do not meet the minimum level of challenges. If we look at the restoration of historic buildings, cities and villages the situation is much better. Several hundred buildings were restored in the historic center of Hebron (by the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, a semi-governmental organization), and many more buildings were restored in Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahur. The Old City of Jerusalem also witnessed the restoration of several dozen, mainly medieval monuments, by the Welfare Association, in addition to restorations executed according to the conservation plan (Tuqan 2004). A number of preventive restorations were directed by a popular initiative, “the Social and Economic Welfare Committee of Jerusalem”, depending on local and Arab contributions. Riwaq implemented several restoration projects (over 60 housing complexes) all over the West Bank. Besides its work in restoration, Riwaq has built up a database with information on more than 50 000 historic buildings. It is now involved in preparing conservation plans for historic centers, with the aim of compiling six sites every year in order to integrate them into existing master plans, or those in preparation. The Municipality of Nablus has conducted restoration work, especially after the Israeli tank-led invasion of the Old City in April 2002. The same municipality is now working together with UNESCO in restoring one of the historic caravanserais of the Old City, which was deeply affected not just by the invasion but also by misuse and neglect. Small initiatives of restoration undertaken by private people can be seen in several cities and villages, who either decided to restore their house and to use it or to restore parts of the historic fabric for the benefit of the public.

53The previous discussion has focused on the historical context, in which emerged the multifarious elite working in the historical sciences over the past century or more. One needs here to note the progressive transformation of the discourse of these elites, from a concentration on historical or antique texts to one stressing the interaction of sciences, and finally to an emphasis on the concepts of environment and urban landscape in an effort to reconstruct the past. This transformation is likewise mirrored in the changing research curricula, with a current emphasis on “cultural landscape.” This term refers to the space in which humans were active in the past, and are still active in the present. It is composed of a physical entity initially resulting from the power of nature. Upon the emergence of man, the physical landscape started to change progressively into a cultural landscape under the influence of the strong human hand. Consequently, human civilizations appeared in their nomadic and stable forms in pre-historic times, before the advent of writing.

54Upon the arrival of the Western, Orientalist elite in Palestine, the concept of a cultural landscape had not yet materialized in Europe or the United States as an independent field in its present form. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, this field was still growing in a historical geography framework and did not form an entity of its own. Historically, the various elites in Palestine, particularly the foreign ones, dealt with the cultural landscape from a historical geography perspective on place. Upon the arrival of organized missions to Palestine beginning in the mid-19th century, place and space were linked to historical or religious events or to the actions of social groups inhabiting the area. The focal point of research changed very gradually from searching for clues to the veracity of Old and New Testament accounts, to the study of civilizations having lived in the same area from the most ancient to the most recent times. Landscape is thus understood as the permanent area of investment, which yielded a source of living to ancient societies. These societies weaved a relation with the cultural landscape by establishing landmarks such as towns, rural and nomadic settlements, along with the other phenomenon such as roads, water systems, agricultural paths and others. At the same time, these societies weaved cultural relations with the landscape.

55The gradual development of the historical sciences began to attract attention to local history based on oral sources or traditional material used in the society. By the latter is meant the material fabricated and used by the traditional society, since there is a link between the living behavior and the cultural material. This material not only has a functional significance but also meanings and clues linked to the culture from which it emanated. It is necessary, in other words, to start from the present and return to the past, or from the defined to the non-defined, by expanding the surface to include the location and its cultural environment, and thus encompass data that reveals the behavioral patterns of ancient civilizations The universe thus revealed is in a constant state of change and instability. Societies, always cognizant of their past, are encouraged to treat this past by moving it from a fictional image to a scientific one, employing scientific instruments and methodologies. Local societies possess an intrinsic link with their habitus, but also with the cultural landscape. This link is spontaneous; it is at first limited to the traditional knowledge of the various groups of Palestinian society. Such knowledge has now been shown to establish a strong basis for the development of scientific research through the cultural landscape, the goal, once again, being to transfer traditional knowledge from fictional to scientific images based on field studies and analysis.

Managing Cultural Landscape

56The establishment of a scientific vision of the cultural landscape is the first step towards managing it, i.e. conserving and developing cultural heritage resources which are above the surface and are in turn attuned to the society’s cultural and developmental needs. So far, common scientific research on the cultural heritage of Palestine has failed to set its results in a developmental framework, due to the prevailing research history of the past, which grew in the shadow of the agenda of others, and not in a local one. In the age of information technology and advanced research methods, it became vital to abandon the classical scientific research mechanism focusing on the site per se through excavations. This methodology is still legitimate, but needs to be placed within a new context based on mapping cultural and archeological features and population settlements, whether towns or villages, by using modern techniques such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing, which map the components of the cultural landscape in a comprehensive and accurate manner and provide the possibility of defining the next levels of mapping, based on detailed and accurate information. GIS, remote sensing and field mapping all provide the possibility of understanding the strong relationship between the various components of the cultural landscape. One could certainly apply this methodology in Palestine, particularly given the prior existence of a variety of studies and published surveys, in addition to the availability of maps of different scales.


57The revision of historical methodology and objectives was a necessary precondition for approaching the question of the relationship between cultural heritage and identity. It is clear that the Palestinian people were very marginal in developing the relevant scientific methods, and applying them to Palestine over the past century and a half. Nonetheless, the relatively long history of research in Palestine managed, despite its inherent biases, to create a strong basis by way of historical writings. What needed and still needs to be carried out is the reversal of the existing marginalization of specific ethnic groups, historical periods, materials and, above all, notions of legitimacy. The weighty volume of publications dealing with Palestine/the Holy Land/the Land of the Bible/Israel/Canaan deals primarily with the land as though there were today no people living on it, or at the very least, as though those now living on it had no historical relationship to it.

58An acceptable treatment of the history of Palestine starts with abstaining from deliberately marginalizing or even erasing the history of others. The particular Palestinian strength resides in the traditional cultural and religious pluralism that shaped the history of this land. Once this concept of pluralism has been understood and integrated, a balance in historical research becomes possible. This understanding, of course, includes a critical assessment of the written sources on which research relies, and which present the country’s history as a mere history of the generations of sovereigns who governed Palestine. Modern historical epistemology, in contrast, considers the history of large social groups with varying cultures. For the sake of greater precision, the history of cities and countries cannot be reduced to kings and dynasties; it is also the history of collective social groups.

59The Palestinian people in general and the groups working in historical writings face a grave challenge, in rewriting the history of Palestine. This challenge is an amalgam of a series of imperatives: no ethnic or religious groups must be excluded from the history of Palestine; Palestine was never empty, and its history cannot be researched in isolation from the peoples who lived in it; historical periods (and archaeological strata) cannot be studied in isolation from the periods which preceded and followed it; cultural materials are a product of accumulated cultural experience, both as a result of people’s interaction with the surrounding environment as well as other cultures; Palestine, from a cultural perspective, is an essential part of the region and not isolated from it; the Palestinian people are the result of the amalgam of all nations, religious or ethnic groups who ever settled in Palestine or passed through it. Therefore the history of this people is the history of Palestine and the history of the land in all its periods.


Al-Maqdisi, 1906: Ahsan al-Taqsim fi Ma’rifat al-Aqlim, Leiden, The Netherlands, Brill Publishers.

Amiry S., 2003: The Architecture of the Throne Villages, Riwaq, Ramallah.

Arieh B., 1984: Jerusalem in the 19th Century, the Old City, Jerusalem, St. Martin’s Press, p. 1-12.

Athamina K., 2000: Filistin fi khamsat qurun (Palestine through Five Centuries), Beirut, Institute for Palestine Studies.

Auld, S. and Hillenbrand, R. (eds.), 2000: Ottoman Jerusalem, London and Jerusalem, British School of Archaeology and World of Islam Festival Trust.

Nashef, K., 2000: “Khirbet Birzeit Research and Excavation Project 1998: Second Season of Excavation”, Journal of Palestine Archaeology 1/1, Jan., p. 4-12.

Beebe, K., 1968: “Ancient Palestinian Dwellings”, Biblical Archaeologist 31, p. 38-58.

Beebe, K., 1975: “Domestic Architecture and the New Testament”, Biblical Archaeologist 38, p. 89-104.

Berlin A., 1997: “Between Large Forces: Palestine in the Hellenistic Period”, Biblical Archaeologist 60, p. 2-57.

Brug J., 1985: “A Literary and Archaeological Study of Philistines”, British Archaeological Reports, Oxford, International Series, 265.

Burgoyne M., 1987: Mamluk Jerusalem: An Architectural Study, Essex, World of Islam Festival Trust.

Canaan T., 1933: The Palestinian Arab House, its Architecture and Folklore, Jerusalem, Syrian Orphanage Press.

Dalman G., 1928-1942: Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina (7 vols.), Gütersloh, Bertelsmann Verlag.

Deger-Jalkotzy S., 1983: Griechenland, die Ägäis und die Levante während der “Dark Ages” vom 12. bis zum 9. Jh. v. Chr., Vienna, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Edward R. and Smith A., 1841: Biblical Researches in Palestine, London, J. Murray.

Edward R. and Smith A., 1856: Later Biblical Researches, London, J. Murray.

Fuchs R., 1998: “Palestinian Vernacular Architecture – the Ottoman Connection”, in Ireland S. & Bechhoefer W. (eds.), The Ottoman House, Ankara, British Institute of Archaeology, Monograph no 26, p. 54-74.

Hirschfeld Y., 1995: The Palestinian Dwelling in the Roman-Byzantine Period, Jerusalem, Franciscan Printing Press.

Humbert J.-B., 1999: “Redécouverte de la Gaza Byzantine: le chantier de Jabaliyah”, Dossiers d’Archéologie 240, janv.-fév.

Kanáan R., 1993: Patronage and Style in Mercantile Residential Architecture of Ottoman Bilad al-Sham: The Nablus Region in the Nineteenth Century, Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the Master Philosophy degree of Oriental Studies, Oxford University.

Kenyon K., 1957: Digging up Jericho: The Results of the Jericho Excavations, 1952-1956, New York, Praeger.

Khalidi W., (ed.), 1992: All that Remains, Beirut, Institute for Palestine Studies.

Khalidi R., 1997: Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, New York, Columbia University Press.

Khasawneh D., 2001: Memoirs Engraved in Stone: Palestinian Urban Mansions, Riwaq, Ramallah.

Manna’ A., 2000: Tarikh Filistin fi awakhir al-‘ahd al-‘uthmani – (The History of Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period), Beirut, Institute of Palestine Studies.

Peters F., 1984: “The Arabs on the Frontier of Syria before Islam”, in Proceedings of the First International Conference on Bilad al-Sham, Amman.

Pringle D., 1981: “Some Approaches to the Study of Crusaders Masonry Marks in Palestine”, Levant 13, p. 173-199.

Shahid I., 1984: Rome and the Arabs: A Prolegomenon to the Study of Byzantium and the Arabs, Washington, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Smith A., 1894: The Historical Geography of the Holy Land, Especially in Relation to the History of Israel and of the Early Church, London, Hodder & Stoughton.

Tuqan S., (ed.), 2004: Jerusalem Heritage and Life: The Old City Revitalization Plan, Jerusalem, Welfare Association.

Wilkinson J., 1975: “The Streets of Jerusalem”, Levant 7, p. 118-136.

Wilson C., 1906: Peasant Life in the Holy Land, London, John Murray.


1 A serious discussion began in previous years among Oriental Jews (Mizrahi) about their complex set of identity crises. This general discussion had impacted on Palestinian Jews. Identity crises began among Palestinian Jews with Zionist settlement, when many of them ceased to call themselves Palestinians. More recently, discussions have gone in the opposite direction, as they rediscover their Palestinian roots and identity.

2 A monograph series of around 25 books was published by Birzeit University to document the destroyed villages. Other initiatives were taken by the refugees to document their own lost and destroyed villages. This wave began in the 1980s, reached its peak in 1998 with the commemoration of fifty years since the Nakba, and has continued ever since.

3 The modern terminology “cultural heritage” is not mentioned in any of the existing laws. The only terminology used is “antiquities” for both movable and immovable heritage. The law uses the terminology “historical buildings” and “historical sites” as well.

4 The Palestinian Department of Antiquities with the help of different civil society initiatives and with the support of UNESCO prepared a tentative list of sites to be placed on the World Heritage List. This can not be accomplished before Palestine is recognized as independent state. For details, see the Inventory of Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites of Potential Outstanding Universal Value in Palestine published by the Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, Ramallah, June 2005.

5 See, for instance, the UN Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 154, and Protocol 1, specifically Article 1.

6 The author of this article was responsible for the project; he drafted the first vision of the museum’s components before it was halted due to the invasion of Palestinian towns and villages by the Israeli army in April 2002.

7 Riwaq was established in 1991:


9 An NGO sponsored by wealthy Palestinians and Arab countries;

10 A helpful report on some of the activities of the Department of Antiquities can be found in Focus, Cultural Heritage 1, 2004, published by the Program of Assistance to the Palestinian People [UNDP], Jerusalem.


Director, Riwaq, Center for Architectural Conservation Ramallah, Palestine.

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2008

Conditions d’utilisation :

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search