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The following is a speech on behalf of academicians and researchers in the celebration hosted by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of its founding, delivered by Dr. Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout (Beirut: 26/11/2014).

Honorable Guests,

In these trying times, it seems strange for an Arab to feel joy. However, today I do feel joy, because we are celebrating the great scientific achievements that a single Arabic scientific center was able to provide over a ten-year period. These years were the worst that the Arab nation had gone through in its contemporary history, with the exception of the victory years of 2006 and 2009, and the revolutionary days that varied between being victories or defeats.

Had I been asked: what is the biggest achievement of al-Zaytouna Centre? I would have said: it is the way it deals with obstacles and challenges, which is by confronting them and resorting to precise and relentless scientific research.

Each year, this center offers a gift to researchers and academicians, which is its publications that have become an essential source for any researcher working on intellectual, political and crucial issues that affect the nation’s presence and future, in particular the issue of Palestine and its struggle with the Zionist enemy. As for the center’s biggest gift… it cannot be held by the hand nor seen by the eye, for it lives in the conscience. It is the hope that this flourishing olive tree gives to every researcher and seeker of knowledge, which makes him feel that he is not alone, for there are those who guard his thought, effort and views.

Allow me – in this respect – to single out three scientific centers concerned with the Palestinian book, and three academician historians, each of whom has an unforgettable impact on sponsoring scientific research, producing the best references on the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and distributing the books globally. These are namely: Professor Walid Khalidi, Secretary General of the Institute for Palestine Studies; the late Dr. Anis Sayegh, director of the PLO Research Centre; and Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, founder and General Manager of al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations.

From scientific centers, I turn to researchers and academicians, and to an issue considered among the most prominent issues that directly concern them. It is the issue of providing references to researchers and seekers of knowledge wherever they are. But the question is: How?    

Sisters and Brothers…  

Whoever lived the Nakbah in his childhood and saw with his own eyes how his homeland got subjected to the worst kind of settlement colonialism, knows very well that the Israeli aggression against the land, the people, the stones and the trees was outweighed by an aggression that people do not talk much about, that against the book, the memory and private and public libraries. To this day, the libraries seized by the Israelis during the Nakbah days have not been recovered; while our most potent weapons in the Arab – Israeli conflict remain those of the intellect, the book and the word. 

I will not discuss the efforts made during the sixties of the twentieth century in more than one Arab capital and city, to establish Palestinian libraries and to collect rare books, manuscripts, documents and periodicals; noting that these efforts continue to be made. But today, we live in the electronic age; an age where there is a common belief that sources are no longer a problem for any research, for the internet supplies the researcher with sources and references. Is this belief an illusion or a reality? 

It is a combination of the two. It is a reality when a major university or a prestigious scientific center offers its library or libraries online. An example of that is the website Questia that contains more than eighty thousand books and more than ten million essays. However, this belief is an illusion when the online visitor expects miracles from “Google” or others. For despite the fact that the internet has made a tremendous global scientific breakthrough, in reality it gives us only what it had been given, hence … it contain errors. At the same time, it contains entire scientific encyclopedias and rare books.  What then are the specifications of the new site that we are seeking? And who are the decision–makers in that regard? The answer in short, is as follows.

I believe that we, “the Arab academics and researchers,” are, first, the decision-makers and those responsible for setting up a website on the internet, having the objective of securing sources and references to the researcher working on the Arab–Israeli conflict, and on the Palestinian issue. Second, we must bear the responsibility of putting this site on the right track to success; and third, we must also assume the responsibility of contributing to the development of this site toward becoming a research institute.

Sisters and Brothers…

Please allow me – in the end – to invite you to go on a quick trip through time to visit the great teacher Plato, surrounded by his students in some part of a beautiful grove, located on the outskirts of Athens, where olive trees are planted, and where on the sides, statues and temples stand. There Plato established his school that never bore his name, but the name of the grove’s owner Academus. Thus, his school became known as “the Academy.”

Since the time of that first academy, academic work continued having a close link to the place and the importance of the place. Thus, the most prominent universities bear the names of cities and locations. However, after the world entered the internet age, many imagined that internet sites exceed in importance university libraries. The truth is that, in the twenty-first century, the book is prevalent and is read inasmuch as people master dealing with two sources: the conventional academic libraries and the internet sites.

I conclude by offering, in my name and on behalf of my fellow academicians and researchers, our ample thanks to al-Zaytouna Centre, with our wish that the Center’s agenda for the coming year would include, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, communication with scientific institutes and centers as well as universities, with the aim of cooperating in setting up this anticipated new site on the internet. And why not let the olive tree, this blessed tree that has been living in Palestine and in Greece since thousands of years, be the emblem of this new site?

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 18/12/2014