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Protecting and sharing Palestine’s social history

Sep 22,2020 - Last updated at Sep 22,2020

In examining the authenticity of a historian’s account of the past one often discovers huge gaps between the reality of what exactly happened and the chronicler’s narratives.

That also applies to biographies of world leaders. Reasons vary, ranging from ignorance, deliberate distortion, opportunism, undue flattery, profit, political intent, cover up and much more.

Even with the availability of superior technological tools for recording and documenting the most minute details of daily events, the gap often remains wide between reality and the way it is presented. The dark side of technology is that it can also help in the disseminating fabrications and untruths far and wide.

There is no better case to demonstrate the most flagrant and straightforward forgery, not only of history, but of current events, than that of Palestine.

Palestinians not only have to resist their forced expulsion from their land, but they must also resist history being rewritten to suit the Zionist project. The purpose of this rewriting is clear: To erase the presence of the Palestinians and promote the lie that Palestine was a barren “land without a people” until its true owners returned to make the desert bloom after thousands of years absence.

It is therefore soothing to find a hidden treasure of truth shining amid heaps of fake history.

It is a handwritten manuscript written by an unknown traveller to Palestine and other parts of the Holy Land dating from about 120 years ago. The author did not even put her name on it, just referring to herself as “One Who Went”. The rare find was spotted by Dr HishamKhatib, a dedicated art collector from his days in Jerusalem in the 1930s of the last century, in an auction in the UK years ago.

Khatib, a prominent scholar and author, currently a member of the Jordanian Senate, decided to reproduce the manuscript in a very beautifully printed book. It shows in original colours the handwriting as it was done in 1902 with a typed text on the facing page.

The 160-page book titled “A Voyage to Jerusalem” includes the manuscript and illustrations.

Along with the handwritten descriptions of life in Palestine, social history and geography of Palestine is beautifully illustrated. The journal includes 69 watercolours, 17 pencil sketches, 16 large albumen photographs and other small photographs. It also includes short poems by the author who must have owned artistic and literary skills as well.

The handwriting is clearly legible. It shows when the pen ran out of ink before it was next dipped in the well as the writing fades but remains clear. While reading, I felt attracted to the handwritten text rather than the print as it felt more natural that way. I only checked the print to verify some names.

It is not easy in this short article to mention even some of the places visited and the very interesting stories told. The book is a great read. It is the kind which once started is difficult to stop.

This publication is the latest of Dr Khatib’s valuable contributions to our knowledge of Palestine’s history. He owns an extensive collection of art works including paintings, prints, books, maps, letters, manuscripts and more, which he began gathering at an early stage in his life for no other purpose than his love of art mainly related to the Holy Land.

Among the other books which Khatib lately authored, highlighting some of these treasures are: “Palestine and Egypt under the Ottomans” (2003), “Jerusalem, Palestine and Jordan” (2013), “Wild Flowers of Palestine and Jordan,” (2015), “Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Holy Land and Egypt in Paintings by Carl Werner,” (Private edition, 2018), and Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts in the Khatib Collection, Private Edition, 2019.

Dr Khatib, an economist and energy expert, has published widely on those topics as well, and has assumed ministerial portfolios and other important positions in Jordan.

We are fortunate indeed that his great passion for art and history is such that he has preserved and shared such important records of our history, at no profit and often at great cost. That is a true gift that will last for generations to come.

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