I was able to go to the Ministry of Culture of the Palestinian Authority and speak with Muawia Tahboub, spokesman for the ministry.
What is the cultural infrastructure for Palestinians currently like?
MoC: Palestine is an emerging state. The Palestinian community lacks an extensive infrastructure for the arts, and it is one of our priorities is to build an arts infrastructure, especially in remote areas. We have projects to build cultural compounds in all Palestinian governerates, including Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Gaza, and Hebron. We do this in partnership with local governerates and village councils, who donate the land to us and take responsibilities of covering running costs. These communities have all been very cooperative in building this infrastructure. Running these centers require training, so recently we have been taking in experts from abroad and sending Palestinians abroad to learn these management skills.
What resources does the Ministry offer to the Palestinian community?
MoC: We offer scholarships in music, cultural administration, technical aspects, really all artistic aspects. They are available to all Palestinians and we announce them through newspapers. We also have the Palestinian Cultural Fund, which aims to support all cultural and artistic initiatives by submitted by institutes or individual here in Palestine. One of the major goals of the Fund is to build an institutional relationship with artistic NGOs in Palestine.
This year we had about 100 cultural projects being supported by the Ministry, including the Edward Said Conservatory, the al-Housh center in Jerusalem, which works with plastic arts. We also supported cultural activities in the Gaza Municipality and worked with building libraries and community centers in rural areas of the West Bank. We supported dance groups, theater plays, singing activities, a wide variety of fields in all governates.
We also featured an international book fair in October, in which all countries are invited to take part. It embodies our goal to build strong ties and cultural exchange with friendly countries.
What are some difficulties currently facing the Ministry?
MoC: As a new emerging state, the financial situation is very difficult. We get a little money from the Palestinian Authority. We recently had large donations from Norway, which donated 1.5 million dollars to us, and Sweden which is partnering with us in a major project with children's literature.
What is the situation like in Gaza for the Ministry?
MoC: In Gaza our resources were confiscated by Hamas. Our work is still continuing there, but on a smaller scale. We are still able to fund activities through the Palestinian Cultural Fund, which Hamas has let continue until the current time.
Does the MoC have a particular perspective on the Israeli occupation?
MoC: As a part of the Cabinet of the Palestinian government, we all wish to reach a peaceful end to this occupation through negotiation. It is true for everyone that we suffer a lot of difficulties; not just cultural, but daily troubles.
Continuity between all geographic places in Palestine is the major difficulty. For example now we have the cultural event "Jerusalem Our Capital- 2009." We cannot implement major events in East Jerusalem, maybe a few events here and there, but for the major events the Israeli soldiers and policemen forbid anyone to be even in the location of the event. It is the Israeli belief that all of Jerusalem is united under their rule.
How does the MoC support classical music in Palestine?
MoC: We had a meeting with an Italian group last month and we agreed that the Palestinian music field lacks for classical music teachers. I think we will reach an agreement to have Italian university scholarships for Palestinians to study classical music in order to teach here in Palestine. The program aims to create classical music teachers. The MoC and the arts directorate are really interested in this field of music.
It's a matter of putting this type of music in this country and getting them familiar with it; this is the first step. We feel that in Palestine there should be a significant knowledge of all arts of the world, including classical music. Along with the NGOs like al-Kamandjati and the Edward Said Conservatory we are trying to build the audience here, and the audence is growing.
What is the Ministry's vision for the next few years and beyond?
MoC: In the last three or four months we have been involved in a capacity building project with Birzeit University, in which we drafted a strategy for growth in the next five years with the assistance of the other ministries and intellectuals from the Palestinian cultural sector. These strategies say that in order to have coherence- to have a role in development in economic and social development in the Palestinian community we need to widen our role so we can avoid what happened in Gaza. One of our major priorities is to support and strengthen our shared cultural identity, to avoid these kinds of conflicts within the community.
Our major belief is that we have a deep role in the evolution of the community; in the coherence between all parts of it. And we have a role in supporting their cultural identity in view of an openness with all peoples in all the world.