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Imprisonment: National & Literal

Yesterday, we visited the main campus of Al-Quds University in Abu Dis. Serving over 13,000 students in three campuses, Al-Quds is the largest Palestinian university. It also houses the Abu-Jihad Museum for the Prisoners Movement Affairs, which J.Cam equated as the Palestinian equivalent of Yad Vashem.   The comparison is fair; Yad Vashem uses the Holocaust as a basis for justifying the formation of an Israeli state and Abu-Jihad uses the suffering of Palestinian prisoners as a microcosm for the larger “imprisonment” Palestinians feel without their own sovereign state. Every Palestinian we’ve interacted with thus far has expressed the same pro-nationalist sentiments. We are not in Israel or Palestinian-dominated neighborhoods but in Palestine. We are not in (East) Jerusalem but in Al-Quads. Abu-Jihad is yet another reminder of this.

The inside of the museum takes on the appearance of a jail cell as visitors are greeted by a barred wall and gate. Several exhibits also utilize this technique by having barred windows between them. A cactus grows in the center of the museum, although I am not entirely sure what this is meant to represent. Perhaps it symbolizes the bareness felt by lack of sovereignty, or maybe it is a statement of steadfast resolve in that Palestine will flourish just as a cactus does in the desert. Who knows? The surrounding exhibits contain many photographs of Palestinian prisoners and narratives of their days in captivity. Other exhibits contain traditional crafts made by Palestinian prisoners.

Placing the museum within the Al-Quds University campus is an interesting choice. It makes sense, of course, considering the fact that museums are an academic as well as a political and social space. College-educated individuals are also more likely to visit museums. But instead of having a typical university museum showcasing pieces from various eras and geographic regions and perhaps a gallery or two dedicated to works by students and faculty (much like the museum at Smith), AQU chose to house a museum focusing on Palestinian prisoners. Perhaps this is because education and the Palestinian question are so interconnected. Before we entered the museum, one of our guides emphasized that “The Palestinian people love education. Our literacy rate is over 96%. It is very important for us to be educated because we are the future of Palestine .” When we visited East Jerusalem a few days prior, I noticed that most of the pro-Palestinian graffiti on the dividing wall was in English and French, like many of the glass-encased posters in the museum. In my experiences, Palestinian cab drivers and shopkeepers speak more fluent English than their Israeli counterparts. I was also surprised by the kind hospitality shown towards us by every Palestinian we met. In Abu Dis, East Jerusalem, and Hebron we could always hear gleeful shouts of “Welcome, Welcome!”. It’s interesting because the United States media usually does not portray Palestinians (or Muslims, for that matter) in a positive light.



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