After years of setbacks, it seems a decade long dream to bring the first Palestinian museum on African soil to life may soon come to fruition. The final phase of completion of the eight storey Human Rights Centre and the Palestinian Museum is under way. Founder of the Kaaf Trust Dr. Anwah Nagia said now is the time to bring Cape Town and the world the first Palestinian museum and to bring South Africa the first human rights centre.
The centre will endeavour to bring South Africans a discourse on forced removals that have occurred and continue to occur around the world, as well as other socio-political issues that face communities.
The planning committee began the process by submitting plans to the local city council, which was partially accepted for five floors only. The process was stirred by a series of objections that included objections made by certain neighbouring building owners.
“The city for whatever reason blocked [the process], and after two and a half years we overcame some of the difficulties in terms of the town planning and the land management,” Nagia noted.
Nagia further explained that during the process of approval the building was burnt down, which “allowed us the opportunity to build eight storeys.”
He noted that since the building is considered a national monument, construction is restricted to the boundary lines that were established in 1838. However, due to the destruction caused by the fire, the South African Resource and Heritage Council and city planners had no opportunity to “say that construction could not exceed the stipulated five storeys.”
“[This] allowed us to put in everything that a human rights centre and a Palestine museum require in terms of the discourse that is Palestine.”
The fire occurred during the weekend after the museum sponsored the Russell Tribunal. Following the fire, the museum was faced with difficulties due to the owners of the building, who for nine months, withheld access to the building.
“By some coincidence they handed me the keys on human rights day 2011,” Nagia noted.
Construction began in 2011 after the building was purchased at Century City.
Nagia explained that the face of the building is “keeping with a period theme” and represents all of humanity. The building will be known as the Al-Kaaf human rights centre – “the cave of knowledge.”
Two floors of the museum are dedicated to the Palestine prior to occupation; the; 14th, 15th and 16th century.
Visitors will also be presented a more contemporary discourse, inclusive of; the Belfour Declaration, the Nakbah, the 1967 war, and the first, second and third intifada.
“In 1948 the United Nations declared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was formed as a prerequisite for the United Nations, the same year that the United Nations allowed [Zionism] and [Apartheid] South Africa to be born – the same period where almost nine million Palestinians lost 87 per cent of their land, many of whom remain in exile scattered around the world.”
The sacred sites and burial sites of Palestinians, who were forcibly removed, have been turned into night clubs and “shebeens.”
Furthermore, noting that “half” of Nablus, which is considered to be one of the oldest cities in the world, is destroyed.
“Turkish baths, the olive plantations, the irrigation – all of the trace lines of Palestinian civilisation, before occupation, are destroyed.”
Nagia explained that through this analysis, the museum endeavours to encourage a discourse on the reality that a people once resided in these desecrated lands.
The layout of the Museum
The ground floor will act as an introduction to the museum and will showcase the prehistoric history of Palestinian land.
The floor will also be donned by a 35 metre wall covering depicting the entire period of Christianity in terms of all 14 Stations of the Cross – the Via Dolorosa. The depiction was created by numerous artists from all around the world, including artists from; South Africa, Norway, Britain, Italy, and Bethlehem.
“The Via Dolorosa can now be symbolically performed for the first time in South Africa.”
Nagia explained that the family that designs the tiles for Al-Aqsa mosque continues to do so to this day and is designing the tiles of the ground floor of the Museum. Further noting that, the 35 villages that were destroyed by the Zionist regime will be etched into the tiles.
The international Research Council of Islamic Antiquities and Art, which is based in turkey, has agreed to paint, pictorially, the 14 centuries of Islam and the 700 years of Ottoman rule.
“We are absolutely elated to have a world class organisation that is the [Islamic] equivalent of the United Nations Antiquities Board.”
“We will have people of international calibre who will be doing the research and the presentation of the ground floor. This sets the tone for how the presentation of the discourse should be placated and presented.”
The first floor will showcase the consequences of the occupation; the 8 500 prisoners, the imprisonment of 2 500 children under 16, torture, rape, and destroyed land, inclusive of the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
“All of the places that are not only sacred to Muslims, but that are sacred to other faiths as well.”
In addition the first floor will house pieces of antiquities dating back to the era of the pharaohs.
In addition the first floor houses a lecture theatre, which during the day, is opened for documentary screening. The floor also houses a restaurant, fittingly titled “The Wall” – “as in the; Berlin, Palestinian, Myanmar, North Korean, and the Chinese walls.
Visitors will also be given access to the Library, the only public private library in the world, and library will house every collection of every African series writer.
The museum also has an 18-seater synagogue, an 18-seater chapel, and a mosque that can accommodate approximately 180 musallis.
Nagia explained that the museum also houses a 35 person conference room that is open to community workshops.
The eighth floor will befittingly house a peace garden that overlooks the silhouette of Table Mountain and Robben Island.
He further notes that the museum is linked to numerous schools and has developed interesting programmes directed toward school goers.
In 2016, Nagia notes, 100 pupils that will be chosen by their principles will be invited to the centre during their exam period. The pupils will be collected by the Al-Kaaf Trust from their homes, fed breakfast, lunch and supper, and will be taught their subjects, inclusive of computer classes. Starting in 2017 the library will be exclusively open to matriculants during their final examination period.
“We will have visiting exhibitions, so we will not forget Apartheid, District Six, and the Inca,” Nagia concluded.