Legacies and Possibilities: Perspectives on Palestinian Heritage

by Archie Williams, Amber Khan and Cecilia Cáceres Juan

Our project looks at Palestinian cultural heritage, its many forms, its history, the threats facing it, and what the international community can do to assist in its conservation. The inscription of Palestinian Embroidery on UNESCO’s list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage in December 2021 raised awareness of how crafts and heritage have become symbols of the experiences of the Palestinian people in the last hundred years. Embroidery has become a particularly potent symbol of the role women have played in constituting Palestinian identity, since embroidery was a craft practiced exclusively by them. We seek to raise awareness of what this UNESCO recognition means through an online exhibition on the Balfour Project website. We will bring together diverse voices discussing what embroidery means to them, as well as images which attest to the patience and skill of their makers.  

Though the inscription was a major success, there is still a long way to go. Other forms of Palestinian cultural heritage remain threatened. Using our exhibition as a point of departure, we will host a series of online panel discussions to talk about three very different types of heritage: architecture, archaeology, and food. We will discuss what each of these mean to Palestinians today, and hear from some of the people working to safeguard them. Through open and honest conversation we hope to show followers of the Balfour Project the ways in which heritage has been a victim of the situation between Israel and Palestine. We will also consider the possibilities for applying heritage to broader peace advocacy. It is interesting to remark that although the UN does not recognise Palestine, UNESCO does. By building Palestine’s presence in what claim to be more ‘apolitical’ institutions, we believe we can strengthen the case for broader recognition of Palestinian nationhood.

We believe that this project is particularly relevant to the Balfour Project because of the importance of the legacy of the British Mandate in the situation with Palestinian heritage today. Though these years saw surveys completed of Palestine’s historic monuments, ethnographies written of its people, and collections built of its art, the colonial mindset of the scholars carrying out this work led to the development of misunderstandings, inequalities and blindspots. In many cases, the legacy of these attitudes endures in the challenges which hamper the understanding and preservation of Palestinian heritage to this day. We believe that in Britain there is much we can do to promote a more equitable approach and address those historic injustices, and in our panels hope to discuss how to bring that about. 

Contact fellowship@balfourproject.org if you would like to find out more information.