Photo: Contributed Photo. Faisal Saleh
WOODBRIDGE — Within the next few weeks, the history, art and culture of the Palestinian people will be on display at a museum in town.
Faisal Saleh, who was born in Ramallah on the West Bank, is executive director of Palestine Museum US, which is creating the museum that he believes will offer a fuller, more intricate portrait of his people than Americans see in the news media.
“The mission of the museum is to preserve Palestinian history and celebrate the artistic achievement of Palestinians in the U.S. and Palestine and tell the Palestinian story through art and literature and other forms of artistic expression,” said Saleh, 65, who lives in Wallingford and works in the employee benefits field.
Palestinians are a people without a state. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, 4 million of the world’s 10.3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip, occupied since the end of the 1967 Six Day War by Israel. Millions more live in Jordan and Israel, and 239,000 live in the Americas, according to the institute’s website.
A “two-state solution,” which would create an independent Palestine alongside Israel, has been endorsed by the United Nations and longstanding U.S. policy, but attempts to bring it about so far have failed. Saleh said his museum, run by an independent nonprofit organization, will not be overtly political, but will tell the story of a people who “have suffered over almost the last 100 years through a whole series of historic progressions.”
The area was part of the Ottoman Empire, then overseen by the British mandate of 1917 until the state of Israel was founded in 1948, “at which time hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, which is the majority of Palestine, were displaced and a good number of them were living in about 35 refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon,” Saleh said.
“The history will be presented through photographs and art,” Saleh said. “It will not take any political posture and political position on issues. … It will be quite independent and will not be influenced by any political organizations.”
The first exhibit will be of “old photographs from before 1948 that depict the history of Palestine at the time,” he said.
Future exhibits will draw on the work of some of the “thousands of Palestinian artists in Palestine, in most of the countries around the world,” Saleh said. “Their art covers the whole gamut of painting, drawing … films, poetry.”
He called the museum, which will open in November or December, “a nucleus.” “Eventually we can see a larger museum in a major city like Washington, D.C., or New York,” he said. Saleh said Woodbridge was chosen because “there was some opportunity to have some space there without spending a lot of money.”
Judy Alperin, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, which is based in Woodbridge, said, “We know Faisal. He is a friend of the Jewish community” and came forward to help “at the time of the crisis of the fire in our building.” The Jewish Community Center suffered serious damage in a Dec. 5 fire and Alperin’s temporary office is in the same building as the museum, she said.
She said of the museum, “We see it as a further opportunity for us to build better friends and relationships between our two communities and maybe even more of a cultural exchange.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to show what’s possible … that we can not just peacefully coexist, living side by side, but we can extend a hand in friendship.” Alperin said that the federation is on record as supporting a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
While Woodbridge land records identify Saleh as owner of 1764 Litchfield Turnpike (Route 63) and town Building Official Terry Gilbertson said there is an application on file to turn the first-floor space into an art gallery, Saleh would not identify the address as the location for his museum. “I think there’s concern that people would not want to have something like this in a particular area,” he said.
He also said, “We’re going to be showing art and photographs and I don’t see how that could be a problem for anybody. We welcome everybody to come visit the museum once it’s open. … We hope to have a dialogue with everybody.”
First Selectwoman Beth Heller said she didn’t have enough information about the project to comment on it.
Salah Al-Bakri of West Haven, who was born in Bethlehem on the West Bank and lived in Jerusalem until 1968, said of the museum, “I think it’s a great idea, a great move, and I can’t wait until it opens up because people like us left Palestine at a very young age and we haven’t seen very much of the culture, so something like this would introduce it to us.”
Al-Bakri said his family immigrated to the United States “because of the war and because of the lack of work and opportunity and the situation in general in Palestine.”
He said the museum will help correct distorted images of Palestinians as anti-Israeli terrorists. “All we know is stuff that we read about or see in the media,” he said. “It’s very beneficial to all Palestinians that are not able to go back and live that culture [of] Palestinian art and social life.” Saleh is “going to be able to show it to us up close and personal.”
Contact Ed Stannard at email@example.com or 203-680-9382.