Palestinian Minister of Culture Ihab Bseiso announced Monday the launching of a project to turn the guest palace in Ramallah into a Palestinian national library, stating that it will serve as “the cultural response to the Balfour Declaration.”
Speaking during a press conference in the city, Bseiso stressed that the decision for the transformation was taken by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, adding that the initiative constituted a “cultural-political vision which flows from the necessities and reality of the future.“
Originally, the guest palace in Ramallah was intended to serve as the residence for the Palestinian president and to house international diplomats, leaders and delegations during visits.
However, a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying that Abbas decided to remain in his own home out of fear that the extravagant 4,700 square meter palace, which cost 6 million dollars to build, would evoke negative reactions among the Palestinian public.
According to Bseiso, the national library will serve as a cornerstone for the preservation of Palestinian national heritage, which he said would strengthen the collective memory and history of Palestinians. He also pointed out that it would not only be a library, but also a Palestinian cultural center.
“The basic function of the library will be to bind heritage and creativity, which has happened with other nations,” Bseiso said. “Moreover, it will see the returning of property and cultural rights to the Palestinians which have been looted by the Israeli occupiers since 1948, including books, documents and Palestinian newspapers.”
The establishment of the library will be funded by Palestinian government officials and private donors.
Bseiso was also keen to highlight that the library would cover more land than the current guesthouse for international officials and that in time, extensions would also be made to it. In addition, the library will contain special areas for exhibitions and conferences.
Bseiso said the site in northern Ramallah was chosen specially because of its proximity to Birzeit University and the Palestinian Museum.
“The location is a connection between the main roads from the north to the south. This is also an attraction for visitors from all over the homeland.”
Responding to one of the journalist’s questions, Bseiso said that the timing of the announcement of the initiative was deliberately calculated to coincide with the year marking a century since the announcement of the Balfour Declaration—a pledge by the British government to create a Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine.
“The announcement of the project this year, which marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, is a message to the world that the Palestinians are inexorably linked to the homeland, as a matter of right, culture and identity. That is the cultural answer to the Balfour Declaration, and we are saying this out loud: We are staying here on our land.”