Leaders of the Palestinian Authority recently dedicated the Palestinian Museum: a $24 million building meant as “a space to celebrate and redefine Palestinian art, history and culture.” The only problem: the sprawling museum opened with no exhibitions at all—highlighting the troubled nature of Palestinian identity.
What is “Palestinian art, history and culture”? Who are the most famous Palestinian artists or rulers over the centuries? Actually, there are virtually none—because Arab residents of the region never identified themselves as distinctly Palestinian until the 1960’s. The only independent nation-states that ever existed in the area were the ancient Jewish commonwealths of Israel and Judea.
Far from displacing an indigenous population, Jewish efforts at return and rebuilding spurred growth in local Arab populations: between 1918 and 1939 more than 400,000 Jews arrived, but even larger numbers of Arabs arrived from Egypt and elsewhere, drawn by the new economic activity.
The empty museum communicates the synthetic, empty nature of Palestinian nationalism and extremism.