Tragedy in context

Omayma Abdel-Latif, Monday 15 May 2023

The Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre web site provides an insight into the past and present of Palestinian culture

Khalil Sakakini Cultural centre website (2023)
Khalil Sakakini Cultural centre website (2023)


From Al-Ahram Weekly archives: Fifty years of dispossession 1948-1998*

Issue: 19 February 1998


Unlike most Palestine-related web sites which tend to be more politically oriented, that developed by the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre ( has opted to focus on a rather different aspect of Palestinian life, namely the arts and culture.


The KSCC site aims to show Palestinian culture as a culture that works to bind past and present generations together, as well as representing "a window on Palestinian art" to the outside world.


The KSCC has been operating for a year now from Ramallah, Palestine. It was initiated in January 1997 and has since made remarkable progress in disseminating the art and culture of the Palestinian people.


The building from which KSCC has been operating was given a pride-of-place review in the KSCC site. A whole section was devoted to shedding light on the history of this "model of traditional Palestinian architecture." Built in 1927 from massive pink stone, its floors tiled with traditional Palestinian tiles, it is surrounded by a large garden and orchard. It was built for Khalil Salem Salah as a family home.


Salah was mayor of Ramallah from 1947 to 1951. But his house is not just another historic building, it is also the headquarters of some of the leading players in Palestinian literary life. Besides the centre, it also houses the offices of Al-Karmel quarterly, Palestine's most prestigious literature magazine edited by poet Mahmoud Darwish.


Throughout the site, the organisers seem bent on emphasising the fact that KSCC's mission is purely cultural and artistic. In the words of its organisers, its aim is to contribute to "a renaissance of Palestinian arts and culture".


In the Events section, there is a review of recent cultural events in the self-rule areas, focusing mainly on those which reflect local culture. There are lectures by poet Mahmoud Darwish, a review of the new issue of al-Karmel, as well as information about the latest theatre performances, films, etc.. The range covered is wide, running from the latest activities of the Ashtar Theater company which is seeking to establish a theatre institute in Palestine under the name of the "Mediterranean Theatre Arts Institute", to a photo exhibit which was organized by WAFA, the Palestinian press agency, at Gaza City YMCA, showcasing war pictures taken by Palestinian photographers over the last thirty years in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan.


We also learn that the soon-to-be-officially-opened Baladna Cultural and Community Center in El-Bireh has hosted the premiere of the monodrama "Ayn Qandil", starring Amer Khalil, directed by Jan Willems, written by Jackie Lubeck, and produced by Theater Day.


However, one of the most important tasks performed by the KSCC site is to be found in a section entitled El-Nakba (Catastrophe). KSCC has devoted the major part of its autumn 97 and 98 programme to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba [the date of the establishment of the state of Israel]. The web site is still under construction and is periodically updated to include more testimonies by survivors of the Nakba and more information on the villages depopulated and demolished in 1948-49.


The Nakba website has been divided into five sections, including material on the destroyed villages, a photo gallery, bibliography and chronology. The chronology link reviews the events in the years before El-Nakba and the three years after including 1948 and 1949.


The "related sites" section in the Nakba brings together links to articles, documents and organisations concerned with the politics of Palestine, but stops short of dealing directly with the peace process or any current events. One link, Yafa, includes the Yafa diaries of Selim Tamari, a history of the city by expatriate writer Jafites, travel memoirs, recollections, reviews and commentaries: again the site is still under construction. There are also links leading to sites devoted to Deir Yassin Remembered, land day, and the September 1996 martyrs.


Using the organisations link, readers can browse through the Birzeit University site and the Inaash Al-Usrah society, a woman's organisation aiming to empower Palestinian women.


It's a strange and in some ways refreshing experience, browsing through a Palestine-related site without being bombarded with articles and documents devoted exclusively to the latest events in this ongoing tragedy. But the result is a site that transcends the merely documentary nature to provide new insights into the past and present of those troubled lands.


This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly’s special pages commemorating 50 years of Al-Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe when Israel was created on 15 May 1948. These pages, published in 1998, were part of a year-long series of articles documenting the history and nature of the Arab-Israeli struggle, as well as that of Palestinian dispossession and exile.

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