Last week, the laying of the cornerstone of the new "Palestinian Museum" made headlines worldwide. The museum is a private initiative that aims to tell a 200-year-old Palestinian history.
Established adjacent to Birzeit University near Ramallah, the museum will be build in two stages and eventually encompass an area of almost 100,000 square feet.
Palestinian sources said a museum is one of the things every proper state needs. "I hope that the museum gives the Palestinians the opportunity to present their story to the world," said museum director Jack Persekian. While the exhibits will purportedly treat Muslims, Christians and Jews equally, the focus will be on the Palestinian Arab version of events since the end of the Ottoman period in 1917.
Presenting a history going back any more than 200 years will be difficult, as the Palestinians themselves are divided over their own past.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat emphasized frequently that the Palestinians are the successors of the Philistines; former Palestinian politician Abu Siad Siad told Israel Today that they are the descendants of the Canaanites; several years ago, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Khamal Khatib, told Israeli radio that the Palestinians are from the line of the Jebusites.
Perhaps most honestly, former Arab member of Israel's Knesset, Azmi Bishara said on Israeli television years back that there never was a Palestinian people, but only a wider Arab nation. Bishara has since had to flee Israel after collaborating with Hezbollah, but his remarks on the origin of the "Palestinians" can be seen in the video below.
Palestinians on the streets have told us repeatedly in private conversations that they are followers of various Arab tribes from Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries in North Africa.
Nevertheless, Israeli President Shimon Peres said years ago that "even if there is no historic Palestinian people, there exists a de facto Palestinian people today with whom Israel must negotiate."
Even so, a museum is not going to be able to change the past and rewrite (or, rather, invent) the history of a people.