The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, April 24, 2002  


Israeli soldiers arrived at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah on the morning of April 13. The building was closed and there was no one inside. After blasting the door open, they ran up the center's marble steps, set off another charge, and burst into the office, according to Martin Merzer of Knight Ridder News Service.

"In the hours they were there, they seized a computer and a cell phone, broke dozens of windows, swept books off shelves, peppered walls with shrapnel and bullets, allegedly stole 3,700 shekels (about $825), and spit pumpkin seeds on the floor," Merzer writes.

The center, founded in 1998, promotes Palestinian culture and art through exhibits, concerts, reading, and a visual arts program for children; the center also hosts visiting artists, lecturers, and performers. Funding comes from the Ford Foundation and the European Union, among others. "Abstract paintings hang on its walls, one frame now bearing a bullet hole," reports Merzer. "Sculptures -- one now broken in two -- still stand on display."

"On its second floor is the office of Mahmoud Darwish, the renowned poet often called the conscience of the Palestinian people. It is a jumble of shattered glass, books tossed from shelves, and letters and documents stripped from files. A bullet has left a neat hole in one window," writes Merzer. "Just outside the office, 15 more bullet holes perforate an adjoining wall and ceiling. Laidi said those holes would not be repaired."

"They will stay here forever," Adlib Laidi, director of the center, told Merzer, "because we have to remember, and it has to be a testimony of what Israelis did to an art center."

"This was not a security operation," Laidi asserts. "They didn't come in here looking for terrorists. You don't steal money during a security operation."

"It was just vandalism, part of a conscious desire to ruin everything Palestinian," she added. "Once you decide to do that, you go and methodically destroy every institution. Subconsciously, they are dreaming about shoving the whole Palestinian people out of existence."

Viewed in conjunction with the destruction wrought on the Palestinian civil infrastructure -- Palestinian Authority officials maintain that nearly every ministry building, including finance, education, and public works, has been trashed, attacked, or burned -- Laidi may be close to the mark.

The Israelis vow to investigate. "We condemn all kinds of vandalism and looting," said Lt. Col. Olivier Rafovitch, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces told Merzer. "And if we have evidence against soldiers, we will take the necessary action."

We're sure many Israelis are sleeping better at night knowing the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center's subversive and terrorist activities have been been put to rest. Quite a threat the center must have posed. "Palestinian art? I guess for Israelis that is considered subversive," Laidi said. "I guess our art is very dangerous, if you don't want us to exist at all."

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