Exhibition in the West Bank Aims to Preserve Palestinian Art from Gaza

Exhibition in the West Bank Aims to Preserve Palestinian Art from Gaza

The museum in Bir Zeit, a town in the West Bank, has made it its mission to preserve heritage before it is destroyed by the fires of war. The exhibition showcases paintings, costumes and archaeological objects from around a hundred artists, some of whom were tragically killed.

Located in the occupied West Bank, the museum in Bir Zeit provides an alternative space in solidarity with the war-ravaged territory of the Gaza Strip. The exhibition includes works of art and artifacts from Gaza, a place where cultural sites have been devastated due to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Ehab Bssaisso, former Palestinian Minister of Culture and one of the museum’s managers, explains that the objective is to “preserve Palestinian heritage that was destroyed by the war in Gaza”.

The conflict in Gaza was triggered by an unprecedented attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas from Gaza on Israel on October 7. This resulted in the death of more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to official Israeli data as reported by AFP. In response, Israel pledged to annihilate Hamas, which has been in power in Gaza since 2007. Their military offensive has resulted in nearly 29,700 deaths in Palestinian territory, the vast majority of them civilians, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.

The conflict has also resulted in irreparable cultural damage, sparking a solidarity movement in the West Bank. Bssaiso says, “We were surprised when the works of hundreds of artists reached us from universities and cultural centres and from Palestinian individuals in the West Bank.”

The exhibition aims to be “an alternative space to the one that existed in Gaza before the fires of war destroyed it”, according to the museum administration. It displays paintings, traditional costumes, archaeological objects, and provides “a way to address the challenges and difficulties that artists and culture face in Gaza in a context of destruction and siege”, as per Ehab Bessaiso. As reported by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, 24 cultural centres were damaged or completely destroyed by the war.

Cultural and historical sites such as the Al-Qarara museum, which was surrounded by 5,000-year-old Roman columns, and an ancient Phoenician port were destroyed, along with the Arab Orthodox cultural and social centre and the Rashad Shawa centre, which included a theatre and a library.

The exhibition is “a journey through Palestinian art from Gaza, especially after the assassination of dozens of artists, writers, poets and journalists”, Bssaiso adds. He emphasizes that “this trip affirmed the unity of the Palestinian people that the (Israeli) occupation is trying to destroy”. The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since 1967 and is home to three million Palestinians and around 490,000 Israelis who live in settlements deemed illegal under international law by the UN.

The exhibition also portrays the devastation caused by the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. In the main room, rubble symbolizing destruction, sound effects from Israeli surveillance drones, and videos of ambulances transporting the wounded, immerse visitors in the harsh reality of Gazans. The names of 115 artists are listed at the entrance to the exhibition, some of whom were killed during the war.

“The exhibition is a reminder of the solidarity between the West Bank and Gaza”, says Mohammed al-Houwajia, an artist from Rafah, a town in the south of the Gaza Strip. A series of paintings by Tayseer Barakat, a Gaza-born artist who has been living in the West Bank since 1984, is also on display. Some of his paintings carry written messages about the war.

Barakat explains to AFP that this series is “a message and an expression of what I have seen and heard about the senseless war our people are enduring in Gaza.”