In recent decades, Palestinian heritage organizations have launched numerous urban regeneration and museum projects across the West Bank in response to the enduring Israeli occupation. These efforts to reclaim and assert Palestinian heritage differ significantly from the typical global cultural project: here it is people's cultural memory and living environment, rather than ancient history and archaeology, that take center stage. It is local civil society and NGOs, not state actors, who are "doing" heritage. In this context, Palestinian heritage has become not just a practice of resistance, but a resourceful mode of governing the Palestinian landscape.
With this book, Chiara De Cesari examines these Palestinian heritage projects—notably the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, Riwaq, and the Palestinian Museum—and the transnational actors, practices, and material sites they mobilize to create new institutions in the absence of a sovereign state. Through their rehabilitation of Palestinian heritage, these organizations have halted the expansion of Israeli settlements. They have also given Palestinians opportunities to rethink and transform state functions. Heritage and the Cultural Struggle for Palestine reveals how the West Bank is home to creative experimentation, insurgent agencies, and resourceful attempts to reverse colonial violence—and a model of how things could be.
About the author
Chiara De Cesari is Senior Lecturer of European Studies and Cultural Studies at the University of Amsterdam.
"Chiara De Cesari provides a creative and thoroughly researched account of the way space and the material reality of buildings have become an important, if also contradictory, site for Palestinian claims. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in cultural and architectural heritage, urban transformation, museums, or landscape—and how these are used to counter dispossession."
—Helga Tawil-Souri, New York University
"Chiara De Cesari boldly and creatively shows that politics does not always happen where we expect it to be. In this book, heritage emerges as a site of political mobilization, one in which Palestinian women do more than play a central part: They shape the idioms and create the very materiality in which the temporalities of struggle are woven through people's lives. Through the stories of activists, architects, and residents of Palestine, De Cesari makes a strong case for how Palestinian heritage can make claims and demands on the Israeli state."
—Ann Laura Stoler, The New School for Social Research
"This pathbreaking book links cultural heritage and the postcolonial condition in new and provocative ways. Chiara De Cesari's nuanced ethnography of Palestine reconfigures our understanding of the relationship between sovereignty and culture."
—John F. Collins, author of Revolt of the Saints: Memory and Redemption in the Twilight of Brazilian Racial Democracy
"De Cesari's rigorous analysis takes the reader through a web of complexities which show the different dynamics of heritage. A meticulous treatise indeed—the book makes for valuable reading, in particular when it comes to understanding the many layers of resistance against cultural dispossession and Israel's colonial violence."
—Ramona Wadi, The New Arab
"Chiara De Cesari's book on Palestine appears as a groundbreaking work that offers a different option for understanding how heritage is deployed in a proxy state, a political entity under siege, whose international sovereignty is still being renegotiated."
—Cheikh Lo, Journal of Folklore Research
"De Cesari argues convincingly that NGOs and museums are initiating processes of institutionalization and governance in the absence of a stable [Palestinian] state....This book provides an important opening for a critical discussion regarding the ways in which the word "Palestine" has not lost meaning."
—Rasmieyh R. Abdelnabi, Journal of Palestine Studies
"Chiara de Cesari's study is noteworthy for its acute analysis of the relations between cultural heritage and the nation-state, and for the thoroughness with which she examines this relationship in the case of Palestine."
—Rosemary Sayigh, Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies
"Heritage and the Cultural Struggle for Palestine is an illuminating study, useful for both a better understanding of life and struggles in Palestine, and for a broader discussion of the politics of heritage."
—Adi Kuntsman, International Journal of Middle East Studies