Empty for a Year, the Palestinian Museum Finally Prepares Inaugural Exhibition

The Heneghan Peng-designed building will open its first show in September, following a big delay.

The Palestinian Museum in Birzeit. Courtesy The Palestinian Museum.

The Palestinian Museum—located in Birzeit, a city about 15 miles north of Jerusalem—is slated to fully open in September, after remaining empty since its opening last year. The Heneghan Peng Architects-designed building will be inaugurated with a group exhibition curated by Reem Fadda, that explores the role of Jerusalem as a global city.

“The museum’s program has been developed around a number of key principles, including the critical exploration of important milestones in Palestinian history, culture, and society,” Dr. Mahmoud Hawari, the museum’s director, explained in a statement.

On the agenda for 2017 and 2018 are five exhibitions, the implementation of an online platform, and the beginning of a digital archive, as well as education programs, research projects, and conferences.

The start of the museum’s exhibition schedule has been plagued by delays—the result of a disagreement between the board and former director Jack Persekian, and his ultimate departure. As such, the institution opened in May 2016 as scheduled, but without anything on display.

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian business consultant and human rights activist, told the New York Times in 2016 that he was shocked by the museum’s opening without exhibitions. “If there’s no substance,” Mr. Bahour said, “I wouldn’t open it.”

But come September, the museum will open its first show. And soon, it will launch its online platform, Palestinian Journeys—An Interactive Timeline, in collaboration with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Visualizing Impact. Spanning the entire history of Palestine from prehistory until today, the first stage will emphasize the modern era, defined as 1850-2010.

The second exhibition, to open in November of this year on the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, will investigate different facets of the collective Palestinian reaction to the declaration, and how it impacted their lives and futures.

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