You are now assistant deputy minister of culture. Would you have
obtained your present position without the Intifada and your
participation in the negotiations?
During the Intifada, Palestinians tried to find the means to
explain to the Israelis why there was an Intifada. What I did,
along with others, was to address the Israeli society in the strong
belief that the only way to chal¬lenge the Israeli government
is through its own constituency. I participat¬ed in many of
the dialogues which took place between Israelis and Palestinians.
As a result, when the negotiations began, I was asked to
par¬ticipate. But in fact, I had engaged in dialogue with
Israelis at home and abroad even before the Washington talks.
Why is there only one female minister in Yasser Arafat's
The Palestinian government is no better than other Arab countries
or the rest of the world. There are few female ministers in the
Israeli government. Palestinian men in general are male
chauvinists; they are not going to make an effort to have more
women in the government. Women must fight for it.
There are political reasons as well. Arafat cannot fight two
battles at the same time: women's issues and fundamentalism. His
priorities are political. He has to handle the opposition; he will
not make an issue of gender equali¬ty. Those in the government
are political animals: they may support women's issues when the
elections come, not out of conviction, but for the vote.
What can be done about that?
Women have to work with one another more. The Palestinian women's
movement has been highly politicized, affiliated with different
parties. Women activists belonged to different factions. For the
last 20 years, women have subordinated the gender issue to the
national one. I think it was a mis¬take. It is only in the
last two or three years that a women's agenda has emerged and a
number of women have started working on strictly feminine issues.
Given a liberal family background, I have never suffered as a woman
in my family; therefore, for me nationalist and gender issues are
interrelat¬ed. I certainly don't give national issues more
There is the impression that Arafat and his team were not
prepared to take over the civil organization.
I do not think "prepared" is the right word. A number of problems
are involved here. The qualifications needed for building a state
are quite differ¬ent from those of a mobilizer or a
politician. The PLO has succeeded politi¬cally in mobilizing
the Palestinian people in the last 30 years. At least, it is the
one organization which has made me conscious of my Palestinian
I remember the exact date when this happened. I was living in
Jordan at the time, but having been brought up in a family with a
liberal father, I was never made to feel very strongly about being
a Jordanian or a Palestinian, nor a Christian or a Muslim.
National identity was never a big issue for me. Then in 1968, the
PLO and Fatah started talking about Palestine and organizing
demonstrations in support of Palestinians. One day I decided to
participate in such a demon¬stration. I was stopped, of
course, by the school administration and the Jordanian army, but
that was the beginning for me. Subsequently, I became totally
confused. At school, when teachers asked who was not a Jordanian, I
didn't know whether to stand up or not. All of a sudden I had
become sym¬pathetic to the Palestinian issue and gained a
So I think the PLO has acquired skill in mobilizing the Palestinian
peo¬ple. But now, the PLO has an entirely different job -
building a state. This requires altogether different
qualifications: it needs administrators to run the machine. In my
opinion, Palestinians capable of doing that are neither those who
are with the PLO, nor those who have lived under Occupation. The
only way would be to attract those Palestinians living in the
Diaspora. The problem is that Israel will not allow them to come
Tell us about your responsibilities right now in the Ministry of
Well, basically setting up a ministry. The Ministry of Culture is a
new one. During the Israeli Occupation it was part of the Ministry
of Education and the Israelis did nothing related to culture.
Almost a year ago, Yasser Abed Rabbo (the minister of culture) and
I sat in a room, looked at each other and tried to determine what
would be the role of such a ministry. We looked at other culture
ministries all over the world and in Arab countries. In Palestine,
we are lucky. A lot of NGOs ran the cultural activities under
Occupation without a ministry. There were various groups such as
the al¬Hakawati and al-Kasaba theaters, the Sabrine music
group, the Bir Zeit international festival of music and dance
(which has been running for the last ten years). Now there is a
ministry and there is a need to define the relationship between it
and these groups. There is a concern on the part of the NGOs, who
get their own funding from various sources, that the min¬istry
will now monopolize all the finances and all the work.
Do these NGOs want to be financed by the ministry?
There are two schools of thought at the ministry: One favors
centralization. The second, to which I belong, holds that the role
of the ministry is to sup¬port directly or indirectly all the
groups that exist, allowing them autonomy. I believe that this will
give a multiplicity of thought in cultural activities.
An emerging authority tries to find a role for itself. Because most
of the members came from abroad, it will take them time to settle
into a natural relationship with their own people. The Palestinians
are now going through what the Algerians or South Africans went
through when the leadership came back from outside.
What is the role of the Ministry of Culture in Palestinian
A major role is building a cultural infrastructure - we have been
left with no cultural infrastructure whatsoever. We have no
theaters (except for al¬ Kasaba and al-Hakawati in Jerusalem),
no concert halls, no dancing, no cinemas, no cultural centers in
all the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The Ministry must
also provide equipment, the cost of which runs in the millions of
dollars - basic things that people take for granted.
We also feel the Ministry should have a role in human resources,
training people in the different fields. So far most of us who
worked in the cul¬tural field, whether in architectural
conservation, music, theater or paint¬ing, did so out of
passion. Very few people went to college and studied the¬ater
or music. So one role the Ministry could play is in training -
sending people abroad to universities or training schools or
We are very keen on the conservation of historic buildings. In
every Palestinian town or village there is an old center. The
restoration of these areas would generate an important amount of
income for the Palestinians from tourism. The Ministry of Culture
is focusing on the potential of all these historic places.
A major problem facing the Palestinians is cultur¬al isolation
during the Occupation. For 27 years Palestinians' travel was
restricted by the military gov¬ernment. Persons under the age
of 35 still have to stay out at least nine months if they leave the
country (unless they have a special per¬mit). Therefore the
majority never left the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. This meant
isolation in general but also cultural isolation from the world.
Most seriously, Palestinians were isolated from the Arab countries:
culturally, a whole generation that grew and lived under the
Occupation was totally cut off. The level of creativ¬ity among
the people of the OPT has deteriorated, and the artistic level is
quite mediocre, to say the least.
We have to reunite culturally with the Arab world, as well as with
the rest of the world. We plan to either get artists to Palestine
or send Palestinians to Arab countries or abroad to participate in
cultural activities. This is why we have started placing emphasis
on international festivals. This year we've had international
festivals in Bir Zeit and Bethlehem and we are having two more in
Nablus and Gaza.
The basic role of the Ministry is to restore normalcy in our lives:
to sit in a cafe, to go to movies, to relax, to sit in a park with
one's children, to do things that are taken for granted by other
nations. People in the OPT are under tremendous stress. It is felt
in their behavior. Any opportunity with which we can provide them,
to enjoy themselves, would be a great achieve¬ment on the part
of the Ministry.
What other difficulties are you encountering? Are you facing any
difficul¬ties with the Israelis in running the
I'll start with the Palestinians. A major problem is lack of
experience. Salaries are so low that there is no way to attract
people with experience or competence. Some individuals have indeed
come to work because they believe in this period of transition and
the importance of giving.
Another problem is setting up the whole structure of the
government. As a ministry we cannot function unless the whole
government is func¬tioning. We need more employees and proper
civil service regulations.
On the other hand, we are still functioning under occupation. At
the outset we were treated very shabbily by the Civil
Administration. The Ministry of Culture was the first authority to
be transferred to the Palestinians, yet our office was threatened
with closure by the Civil Administration on the grounds we did not
have a permit to operate. So far there has been no follow-up, but
the attitude towards the Authority is one of just pure harassment
or an attempt to undermine the credibility of the Palestinian
National Authority (PNA).
Also the overall atmosphere is not conducive to work. For example,
we were not sure whether it was a good idea to hold festivals while
the hunger strike for the release of prisoners was going on. And it
takes forever to obtain permits or visas for a group to come to the
The mobility issue has become very serious and is causing a
tremendous amount of difficulty that we are feeling right now. In
the Ministry, for example, we have an office in Ramallah and one in
Gaza. None of our Gaza people can come to us in Ramallah and vice
versa: I don't know what my employees look like. It was much easier
for me to get a permit to go to Jerusalem before I became part of
the Authority. Now it takes me three months to get a one-month
permit. The rest of the employees in the Ministry cannot even get a
permit. It is impossible to get any work done between our offices
in Gaza and the West Bank.
Will things improve once you have negotiated the final
I hope so. The interim period was an Israeli creation because the
govern¬ment was not ready to transfer the authority to the
Palestinians or give back the territories. It was a means of
getting their population to accept the fact bit by bit. For the
Palestinians this transition period is not very reassuring.
Is there anything you might like to add?
I would like to talk about how I saw the Israelis at one point and
how I real¬ly worked very hard and believed strongly in the
Israelis trying to convince their government about the importance
Oslo was forced on us. I personally don't think there is a fair
solution for the Palestinians after what happened to them
historically, and I am saying this from the heart: the two-state
solution is the minimum possible of what is acceptable to
Palestinians psychologically and emotionally. Israelis do not try
hard enough to understand what is really acceptable to Palestinians
on the psychological and emotional levels. I understand Rabin: he
is a mil¬itary man; he wants to get as much as possible. If he
really wants peace he must have a solution acceptable to both
Initially I supported Oslo totally, but now I feel that even Oslo
has not been respected by the Israeli government and I do not feel
there is enough pressure by the left or the peace camp; they just
accept whatever has been imposed on the Palestinians by their
government. I must admit that on a personal level, I feel somewhat
demoralized. I am especially disappointed in the attitude of those
Israelis who have accepted Oslo but now are bar¬gaining again
not to implement it. For a long time now I have refrained from
participating in many of the things I used to do in the past, such
as dialogues or shared activities with the Israelis. I have been
greatly disap¬pointed, especially by the left; Oslo has