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Heritage for Development: Challenging the Comfort Zone

Date : 2012-09-27 09:45:04

DescriptionHeritage for Development: Challenging the Comfort Zone By Dr. Norma Masriyyeh In August 1973, the Palestinian National Council threw its support behind cultural and political activities in the occupied territories, aiming “to protect Palestinian culture and history from Zionist manipulation and distortion,” and, “to revive popular heritage and the literature of resistance as being an embodiment of the Palestinians’ attachment to their land and their heroic struggle to defend it.” Since then, a number of arts and heritage organisations for women, students, and workers have emerged, contributing to the crystallisation of the Palestinian consciousness and identity in the occupied territories. There is no doubt that Palestinian heritage offers many lessons and wisdom. As we revive it in this modern era, it will simultaneously revive both our society and ourselves. This renewal will come from within the society itself. As we go forward, our society should not accept being spoken about by proxy, nor should we seek development from others. Rather, we should develop ourselves using our inner strengths, most significant of which is our collective national identity. Our aim is to put trust in modern development by adopting the “heritage for development” approach. According to Fekri Hassan, who is among the few Arab pioneers in the fi eld of heritage, this approach is a bottom-up approach to development. The goal of this approach is to ensure that people have hayah kareema, which may be roughly translated as a decent life or life with dignity where one has both economic and emotional security, especially at times of political and economic uncertainty and instability. Heritage in this context can be utilised to enhance the social standing of local communities in a participatory manner, promote intercultural understanding, and reinterpret heritage within a narrative hand is neither intended nor possible in this limited article. Therefore, we pose the question for review and debate. But, here is a summary of some thoughts on the issue. There are continuous and systematic attempts to assault and destroy Palestinian heritage by all means. The Israeli Occupation is unceasingly attempting to implement a tight “heritage policy,” which aims at achieving the following goals: • Promoting the culture of occupation for the purpose of consumption, while marginalising the national culture of the Palestinian people, especially in East Jerusalem. Consequently, the Palestinian people are stripped of their most important “reservoir,” namely their cultural heritage, with the aim of uprooting them totally from their cultural and spiritual assets and values. • Promoting the so-called “culture of peace,” which aims at attacking identity, destroying culture, and uprooting the Palestinian cause. Fanon reminds us that a coloniser turns “to the past of the oppressed people and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.” The occupier looks at Palestinian heritage as a challenge to its existence and authority, especially when emphasis is placed on Palestinian identity, such as art, singing, poetry, struggle, etc. This perspective from the Israeli occupier coincides with another perspective, which sees the heritage of the “other” (the Palestinians) as one of the elements of backwardness and an obstacle in the way of achieving development, which the occupier rather than the Palestinian seeks. That is why the Israeli occupiers considered their attempt to destroy Palestinian heritage as a major prelude to their so-called modernisation project. The occupiers proposed a discourse that talks about the superiority of one society over another and plans programmes for modernising the “lower” society, as noted by Eila Shohat. is first of all a social construct, defined, protected, conserved, and mobilised by social groups for a common good.” If we take this as a basis for examining the cultural and social future in Palestine, We are the Wall, 2005. Artwork by Ismail Shamout. that highlights the social processes and values of past societies. This approach requires an open but critical perspective, a belief in the collective nature of the goal, and an attempt to balance responsibilities with benefits. Heritage is not just what we see in museums, a mere recollection of the distant past, or a history book. No, heritage is action rather than words. Fekri Hassan is convinced that “heritage 22 w e find ourselves confronted with a social dilemma that cannot be solved except through self-examination and some questions that require honest answers, such as, what are the general characteristics of the “heritage scene” in Palestine? It is important to emphasise that this question is rhetorical, as the comprehensive coverage of all the aspects and nuances of the issue at 23 It seems that the Israeli Occupation, in its varied attempts to have the upper hand in determining the course of our present and future life, has ignored or intentionally neglected the repercussions of its violation of our rights, which has led to our clinging to our national identity even more. Faisal Darraj explains this as follows, “Identity remains ‘dark’ or asleep, and then the opposite identity emerges to lighten and awaken it. It exists, and all that the opposite risk, opposite identity does is to revive and awaken it.” The attempts by the Israeli Occupation to generate suitable conditions for the formation of a submissive Palestinian society, and to strengthen its material domination through a comprehensive cultural and symbolic supremacy and “subjugation of the spirit after the subjugation of the bodies” have failed to bear fruit. If we survey the current conditions of our Palestinian society, it becomes clear to us that our battle is waged on four fronts: • The battle against the Israeli Occupation’s attempt to usurp our cultural assets and impose its superiority through racist policies, as previously mentioned. • The battle against the process of globalised cultural infiltration, especially at present. The risk here is the erosion of the distinctiveness of cultures and human communities around the world. It is a “calm war” without artillery, but it is no less severe than the war of tanks and aircrafts. It afflicts individuals, groups, and governments as it spreads, destroying immunity, and thus paralysing local cultures. It awards individuals an identity other than their own, thus making them mere tools for consumption. • The battle against the monopolisation of progress by the strong. • Finally, the battle against the fear of progress, which causes a culture to cling to the past. No comprehensive development intervention can succeed in modernising heritage, society, and individuals, unless this activity addresses all these fronts. However, this does not prevent us from posing a big question: what is the status of Palestine in its relation to the issues of the dominance of the national will, heritage, and development? There is a cyclical relationship between heritage and development because no history, culture, or heritage can exist without human beings, who are the agents of future change. Thus, it is important to link the process of developing our heritage to the process of developing our social capital, which is considered the most precious wealth that we possess. This comprehensive development process will bear fruit in the creation of an innovative, responsible, constructive human, who is an agent of change. In this context, Amartya Sen emphasised that development requires the expansion of freedom and the objective capabilities of the people. So, what is the nature of the relationship between heritage and the development of Palestinian social capital that leads to real, comprehensive development? Within this vision and critical sociological perspective, it should be noted that there exists a striking contradiction between discourse and reality. 24 Folk dance 1993. Artwork by Ismail Shamout. in the southern hemisphere). It says that, “The conquered always love to imitate the conqueror.” They reject anything related to popular heritage. The Arabic word baladi (literally of local origin) becomes a derogatory term denoting something common or mundane, as described by Fekri Hassan. Thus we find that rural areas are closer to authentic cultural heritage than other areas. This phenomenon is characteristic of people in rural areas, which in Jalal Amin’s words “does not indicate that those are necessarily simple in wisdom or less aware of the reality of things. It only means that they, unlike others, were not exposed to these strong doses of the creed of progressiveness and derogation of anything that is old.” Second, despite the fact that some elite groups cling to the necessity of preserving their First, while the official Palestinian discourse underscores the necessity of clinging to the Palestinian heritage and identity, at the same time, we observe an increase in the evolution of new cultural manifestations that are spreading across the entire community, especially the youth. Young Palestinians show no interest in getting acquainted with heritage, even if out of curiosity. Their linguistic abilities in Arabic are also deteriorating. Language is not only a means of communication, but a cultural characteristic and one of the most significant features of a cohesive society. On the societal and psychological levels, Palestinians are engaged in a kind of imitation of the “other,” whether westerners or Israelis. They fear that they will lag behind the standards of the age in modern communication tools, fashion, hairstyles, fast food, the craze for speed, etc. Ibn Khaldoun’s law of imitation is applicable to Palestine (as it is to other cultures 25 authentic national identity, their behaviours and practices contradict their official discourse. This points to the clash between elite perspectives on culture and heritage and those of the people. How do we explain the position of the elite with regard to the construction of commercial and residential buildings for economic purposes, which obscure the old houses in Ramallah? Or what about the trend to send children to foreign schools in West Jerusalem, where the education system is a symbol of modernity and a bridge to climb the professional and social ladder? Or what about those who shop at Rami Levi’s supermarket, despite the fact that their goods are produced and manufactured in illegal settlements built on occupied Palestinian land? These realities raise two major questions: • How can we create an integrated s ocietal project for reviving heritage, humans, and society? • Alternatively, what should we, as citizens and institutions, do to preserve our intangible and tangible heritage? The answer to these two questions is multi-faceted. It requires the adoption of a scientific method for analysing past heritage alongside the present. This is acquired from the experiences of people themselves and is done in their own interest. As the river does not flow against its current, neither do people. We must formulate a development strategy with clear objectives and a vision for integrating both heritage and human development. We do not target any specific heritage or development, but instead want to create a space for dialogue and criticism. This is where I will close Traditional Dance, Dabka, 1999.. Artwork by Ismail Shamout. 26 the exposition above, we have learned that the distinctiveness of Palestinian culture is targeted by the Israeli Occupation, even before water and land, since control over the cultural field paves the way for exercising control over everything else. Thus, we need to mobilise civil society, intellectuals, and institutions interested in heritage in two ways. The first direction is an initiative f rom the Ministry of Education to engage in designing curriculum that will help acquaint youth with Palestinian heritage. This can be achieved by including the subject of Palestinian heritage in the educational programme, so that students study it through analysis and criticism. Being acquainted with this subject deepens learning and tolerance and equips the new generations with knowledge and skills relevant to preserving heritage, which in turn boosts their national identity and helps them to adapt when facing current challenges. The second direction is an initiative to create practical trainings and activities relevant to heritage, for example visiting museums and other cultural activities related to Palestinian heritage, instead of youth spending all their time freely, mostly interacting with social media. Finally, unless reality on the ground changes, promotion of heritage for development in all fields, tourism, e conomic, social, environmental, and others, will not be actualised. Therefore, it is necessary to engage in “civilised criticism” of the conditions of our reality, which requires us to face the obstacles and problems that might prevent Palestinians from acquiring the scientific and historical capabilities that Hisham Sharabi and many others have called for. this article, instead of presenting a readymade prescription for solving the issues of heritage and development. We start from a basic conviction, which states that our national cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, is the foundation and scaffold for development. It is impossible, as emphasised by the lessons of recent history, to expect any development or modernisation, except by espousing national heritage as a principal tool for education, scientific research, and cultural communication. The heritage for development model that we call for can be called “open heritage” or “dialoguing heritage.” Both models reject cultural “introversion.” It is a multi-faceted model that operates on the following complementary levels: • It is open to the self, or the national “we” in all its dimensions and levels: past, present, and future. It embraces or “dialogues” with cultural pluralism, and avoids excluding others, even within the same society. • It is open to the other, the cultural counterpart, and recognises them without excluding or idolising them. It interacts with them on cultural and scientific levels, provided that this is done within the framework of a well organised and purposeful development program. • I t is open to the conditions of t he “cultural moment,” forming a historical framework for the interaction of the self with the other. Here I recall what Mahatma Ghandi said, “I don’t want my house to be surrounded by walls from all sides and my windows closed. But I want the culture of all countries to blow on my house with the utmost freedom possible. I refuse to be stormed by any of these cultures.” The question remains, how can we create an environment supportive of heritage that boosts our cultural and human endeavours? From Dr. Norma Masriyyeh is a researcher and associate professor of political sociology at Bethlehem University. She can be reached at normah@bethlehem.edu 27

Name of InstitutionHeritage for Development: Challenging the Comfort Zone

Author(s) NameGiulia Macola

Added/Updated byGiulia Macola



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