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Within the framework of celebrating al-Quds (Jerusalem) capital of the Arab Culture for the year 2009, al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations held an academic conference entitled “The Cultural Heritage of Jerusalem (al-Quds)”, in Crown Plaza hotel, Beirut/ Lebanon, on 16/7/2009. 

The conference was attended by a select of academics and intellectuals with specialty, concern and interest in the cultural issues and those related to al-Quds. The participants included, Lebanese MP Imad al-Hout, former minister Beshara Merhej, Fr. Dr. Antoine Daw, Dr. Abdul-Jabbar Sa’eed -secretary general of Palestinian Intellectuals Abroad, Dr. Mahdi Abdul-Hadi -chairman of the Palestinian Academy Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), Abdullah Kina’an -secretary general of the Jordanian Royal Committee for al-Quds Affairs, Prof. Mohammad Issa Salhieh -expert in Islamic history and civilization, and Prof. Salameh al-Harfi al-Bluwi -chairman of the History department at the University of Sharjah.

The Opening Speech was presented by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, General Manager of al-Zaytouna centre, who welcomed the participants, recalled the pioneering cultural and civilizational role of the city, and emphasized the objectives of the conference that aims at presenting a critical academic reading of the cultural heritage of al-Quds in its different aspects, especially with the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, and the continuous Israeli attempts at destroying this heritage, or counterfeiting it to eliminate the Palestinians’ right to the land and the city; and at projecting the future of this heritage, and the various possible strategies to preserve it.

Next was the Keynote speech by Prof. Anis Sayigh, Dean of the Palestinian Academia, presented by Dr. Hussein Abu Al-Naml. The speech included excerpts from al-Sayigh’s personal experience of visiting al-Quds before 1948, and the various rich meanings attached to the city, reminding that in this sense he (al-Sayigh) is indifferent from the majority: “My experience with al-Quds is the experience of the world with all its dimensions, and the history with all its epochs”. Al-Sayigh called on supporting the city and not leaving it alone in this conflict, because it is the city that contributed much to the whole world.

The First Session

The first session was moderated by Lebanese MP Imad al-Hout, member of the political bureau of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah of Lebanon. In this session three papers were presented.

The first paper was presented by Prof. Muhammad Issa Salhiyyeh under the title “Highlights on Jerusalemite Figures and their Role”. Salhiyyeh started by noting that his paper is not about the conflict going in al-Quds, but on a different aspect: “al-Quds, the city that was a distinguished civilizational spot contributing to the whole world”. This contribution was, according to Salhiyyeh, with no limits or discrimination against or in favor of, any religion, nationality, or race; but rather rich and open to all other cultures and civilizations. Salhiyyeh considered five Jerusalemite figures as case studies in this context: Ibn al-Ha’im in the field of mathematics; Mujeer al-Deen al-Olaimi in the Historical research and theory field; Khalil al-Sakakini in the field of education; Muhammad Isa’af al-Nashashibi who called for incorporating certain aspects of the European civilization into the Arab world, specifically in technology and modernity; and Aref al-Aref who established cultural links with the German, Turkish, French and English cultures.

Second in this session, was a paper on the “Visions and Projects for Dividing al-Quds in the Context of Political Settlement of the Palestinian Issue”, by Dr. Mahdi Abdul-Hadi. Abdul-Hadi’s paper raised some heated arguments and discussions on the possibility of separating “the cultural” and “the political”, or even isolating the former from the implications of the latter, especially in the issue of dividing the city. 

The third paper was presented by Dr. Badee’i al-Abed, a Palestinian engineer specialized in Architecture. Entitled “al-Quds: Architecture and Identity,” al-Abed’s paper considered the dual relationship between the city’s identity and the religious buildings, arguing that the buildings of al-Quds reflect a Muslim-Christian partnership, and not a Jewish historical root as the Israeli occupation claims. Al-Abed supported his argument by going over many Zionist and Jewish claims on the City’s religious buildings/ places, and critically analyzing them; concluding that the conflict on the architectural realm should not be ignored, especially “the Jewish attempts at destroying the strong Islamic architectural touches in the city,” noting few of the many Israeli policies and practices in this direction.

The Second Session

The second session was moderated by Fr. Dr. Antoine Daw. Four papers were presented. 

The first paper in this session was presented by Prof. Salameh al-Harfi al-Bluwi on “The Educational Institutions and Libraries in al-Quds”. Al-Bluwi started by noting the additional significance of this topic at this moment, when the city is facing one of the most fierce violations and exploitations of its culture, and attempts at counterfeiting its history; emphasizing the deeply rooted cultural identity of the city, that will not be destroyed by all means. Al-Bluwi presented his paper in five subtitles: the history of educational institutions in al-Quds, and their major characteristics; the current –miserable- state of the educational institutions in the city; the history of private and public Arab libraries, including school libraries; Libraries of religious places, churches, organizations and clubs; and the various administrative systems of these libraries for management, maintenance, development and outreach. He concluded by hoping that his study would help in reactivating these institutions and developing them to be up to the current stakes and responsibilities of the conflict.

Second, Dr. Ibrahim Abdul-Kareem, Editor in Chief of al-Ard

[lit. the land] Centre for Palestinian Studies, presented on “The Israeli Practices to Manipulate the Civilizational and Cultural face of al-Quds”. Abdul-Kareem observed the different lines of work, along which the Zionists are attempting at Judaizing al-Quds; and on the underlying context revealed through the Israeli political discourse, on-ground practices and propaganda.

The third paper in this session was entitled “The Cultural Heritage of al-Quds from the Perspective of International law, Treaties and Decisions”. It was presented by Dr. Riad Yassine, head of the culture and communication sector in the Jordanian national UNESCO committee. Yassine started by noting the need to a legal definition of “cultural heritage” from an international law perspective, since the latter usually identifies the “cultural possessions”. Specifically with regards to al-Quds, Yassine considered the International law position from the Israeli violations, first as stated in relevant international agreements and treaties; and second as tackled by the United Nations and its bodies, namely the General Assembly and Security Council and UNESCO.

The last paper in this session was presented by Dr. Sami al-Salahat, consultant of the International Institute of Islamic Waqf in Malaysia, on “Waqf institutes in al-Quds”. First, al-Salahat defined the Islamic Waqf institute, its historical development in al-Quds, and the various roles it played throughout the consequent ages of Islamic rule; then its weakening with the British mandate/ occupation and the Zionist/ Israeli occupation, whereby the later confiscated the majority of the Waqf land claiming the absence of its owners, and has continuously targeted the remaining Waqf institutes up till today, with the aim of ending the presence of Islamic identity from the city’s cultural and civilizational face.

The Third Session

The papers of the last session focused on the necessary role needed to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of al-Quds. Dr. Hafez al-Karmi moderated this session, and three papers were presented.

The first paper was presented by Dr. Abdul-Jabbar Sa’eed, and considered “The Role of Academics and Intellectuals in preserving the Cultural Heritage of al-Quds,” and the possible practical activities in this context; while the second paper considered “The Arab and Muslim Role in Preserving the Cultural Heritage of al-Quds”. It was presented by Mr. Abdullah Kina’an, who touched upon the Arab, Islamic and International parties that are concerned or responsibly bound to protecting and preserving the Heritage of al-Quds, including countries, organizations and institutions. Kina’an also recommended activities and initiatives in this context, and suggested a few.

The third paper was presented by Dr. Muhammad Akram al-Adlouni, Secretary General of al-Quds International Organization, on “The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Preserving the Civilizational and Cultural Heritage of al-Quds”. In the first part of his presentation, Al-Adlouni classified the efforts in this context in five main categories: protecting al-Aqsa mosque; Art and Culture Institutes; Studies and Research Centres; Theaters; and Libraries. The second part presented the experience of al-Quds International Organization as a case study, highlighting the possible efforts and the obstacles faced; and emphasizing the massive need of additional efforts for protecting the city of al-Quds and preserving its heritage, because “all efforts, no matter how huge, are small when compared to the Israeli practices and violations, and to the harsh circumstances experienced by the city and its people”.

Noteworthy is that the conference proceedings also included a presentation by the renown scholar Muhammad Amara, on “The Centrality of al-Quds in Conflicts”. Amara however apologized because of a compelling health condition.

The conference was closed with a speech by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, who thanked the participants and praised the discussions, hoping that it will be a constructive effort in protecting and preserving the cultural heritage of al-Quds.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 16/7/2009