"Landscape Perspectives on Palestine" - Conference Opened at Birzeit University

Birzeit University launched its fifth annual international conference today to a packed Kamal Nasir Hall as Professor Edward Said opened with a passionate keynote address.

This year’s theme, Landscape Perspectives on Palestine, is particularly important to Palestinian identity, said Mahmod Mi`ari, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, especially at a time when Israel continues to destroy and build on Palestinian land.

The conference has attracted over 37 speakers and participants from all over the world, including Palestinian author Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, and professor W. J. T. Mitchell from the University of Chicago.

In his address entitled Memory, Invention and Space, Said highlighted the existence of an intense conflict between two collective memories, one of the Palestinians and the other of the Jews.

For Palestinians 1948 represents the Nakba, catastrophe, he said. It is the notion of the Palestinian village destroyed, the notion of being driven out, of ruined empty houses, of new refugee camps. 1998 for Jews is the year of celebration, 50 years of recovery from the Holocaust. Theirs is a story of exile, diaspora and then return. "History books have excluded this irreconciable difference. Nobody wants to talk about the consequences of the Holocaust for Palestinians."

The interplay of memory, place and invention for Palestinians and Israelis are so intertwined, said Said. They share a history. "It is a folly to try to plan the future of one without thinking of the other. Israelis have done it throughout. We musn't."

In closing, Said tied the issue with the current political conflict. "Israelis refuse to see that Israel is built on Palestinian society. There is no hope for peace unless Israel acknowledges the dispossession of the people whose land they occupied."

The conference continues through until Sunday, and will address different landscape issues, some of which include the Landscape in Exile, Destroying\Reclaiming: The Landscape of 1948, Landscape and Archaeology, Naming and Mapping. During the conference, several exhibitions will be on display in the University library including the works of nine Palestinian artists.

This morning’s opening address included brief introductions by Birzeit University President, Hanna Nasir, H.E Minister of Higher Education, Munthir Salah, Dean of Faculty of Arts, Mahmod Mi’ari and Conference Chair, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod.

During the conference, the Birzeit website will be providing daily coverage of events including interviews with participants and reports on the major sessions.