Ola Alhaj Hasan
Over the past week, those who passed by West Hall have certainly had their attention captured by the timeline of the history of Palestinian resistance.
Put together as a result of a joint collaboration between the Palestinian Cultural Club (PCC), the Cultural Club of the South (CCS), and Red Oak Club (ROC), the 40-meter poster depicts major historical events related to the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli struggle on a larger scale.
The three student clubs focused their efforts towards shedding light on the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the document that declares the official support of the British government for the creation of a home for Jews in Palestine.
President of PCC, Mohamed Awad, told Outlook, “Our initial idea was to compare the time before the declaration and the time after it, to get a sense of the declaration’s impact on the situation in Palestine, in terms of political, social, economic, and religious circumstances.
Then, we were approached by CCS and Red Oak with very similar ideas, so we extended the scope of the project to include the history of the Arab-Israeli struggle.”
When asked about the research process, an active member from CCS, Haidar Alaeddine, said that a few members from each club formed two subcommittees: one that focused on researching pre-1948 Palestine and the other which focused on post-1948 Palestine.
“We started by highlighting key events and then choosing the most signalling of them to be included in the timeline. It is a very long history of struggle, and to include every single event, we would need a poster that stretched throughout the whole campus [and not just West Hall].
Instead, we focused on mentioning the turning points such as the beginning of building settlements, the early waves of Zionist immigration, and the main wars,” said Alaeddine.
President of Red Oak, May Makki, said that the student body at AUB is alarmingly uninformed on Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and she sees the timeline display as an effective tool to educate the community.
“We wanted to counter the false common narrative that ‘Palestinians sold their land before 1948’ or that ‘they were oblivious to the political situation’, and the timeline is an efficient way to challenge these misconceptions and to correct them,” she added.
Every event on the timeline is accompanied by relevant images and is grounded in sources and references. Rana Makki, a member of PCC who worked as one of the main researchers of the timeline project, said that the most used source was the “Khazaaen” archive initiative, based in Jerusalem.
Because of their location in occupied Palestine, members of the “Khazaaen” archive had access to several Israeli archives such as those of the national library, the army library, and the Weizmann archive, which helped researchers working on the project.
Members of “Khazaaen” even translated some texts from Hebrew and offered explanations of them, hence aiding the researchers to get a clearer picture of the historical narrative.
Another key resource for Rana Makki was Walid Khalidi’s book “Before Their Diaspora”, which was especially helpful because it covered events from the 1830s onwards.
The researchers also made use of few documents from the Institute of Palestine Studies and from the online archive of the national library of the Congress, which is open to the public.
Rana Makki noted that even though Israeli archives are available online to the public, researchers could not use them because they are inaccessible from Lebanon.
Intellectual boycott, in this case, is problematic for Rana Makki, as she said, “our entire history is in [Israel’s] hands.”
The project was not free from administrative constraints. When asked about the challenges of including data in the display, Rana Makki said that AUB’s administration had objected to two things being mentioned in the timeline: “Intifadat Al Sakakin”, meaning the “Knives Intifada”, and images of Bassel Al-Araj, a renowned activist who was recently killed by Israeli forces.
To accommodate for the administrative restriction, the events of the 2015 “Intifadat Al Sakakin” were described in the timeline without a specific title.
As for Bassel Al-Aaraj, also known as the “Intellectual Fighter”, the timeline included information on the events that led to his killing, without a picture.
“With this timeline, we tried to fight the trend that aims to depoliticize the Palestinians and [to depoliticize] our cause, or to ‘pacify’ the struggle,” said Rana Makki.
The administration’s objection to the topic of Bassel Al-Araj is not the first of its kind. According to Rana Makki, the administration banned the publishing of “Al-Huwiyya” magazine—a former PCC initiative—for including the popular photograph of Leila Khaled holding a rifle, which was deemed as an invitation to violence.
The timeline was met with great interest from the public during the period of display, as Awad puts it: “At any given time during its display, there has been at least one person stopping to read the timeline, and that is an indication of its success.”