“Crossroads and Contexts: Interviews on Archeology in Gaza.”

Shar(e)d Domains | Exhibition


“As a contributor to the Geneva exhibition, I had the opportunity during the course of its two-year development to reflect on the various vantage points that the project brought together. I wanted to fix these in dialogue, in the form of interviews with the persons representing these vantage points, which, taken together, reflect a compass for archaeology itself: museum curator, private collector, field archaeologist, and governmental antiquities department administrator. More specifically, my four interviews were with the Swiss curator Marc-André Haldimann, head of the Geneva museum’s archaeology department and initiator of the Gaza project; the Palestinian private collector Jawdat Khoudary, a businessman with a passion for archaeology whose collection comprised half the exhibition; the French field archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Humbert, a professor at the Ècole Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem, who has led excavations in Gaza on behalf of the PA since 1994; and the Palestinian administrator-archaeologist Moain Sadeq, head of the Gaza branch of the PA Department of Antiquities since its establishment.

The interviews also offer what amounts to the only in-depth English language account of the exhibition/museum project that exists to date. They were conducted over more than a year, on three continents, reflecting the difficulties of mounting an exhibition in a situation of turmoil, war, and volatility. The four interlocking interviews, sometimes evoking the connections among the four interviewees, inevitably contain some overlap, though from differing perspectives and with different emphases. Together the interviews raise—again from differing perspectives—a number of the issues facing archaeology today, not only in Gaza, but in all places where the struggle for survival is a prominent feature of the landscape. Such issues include the pressures of urbanization, the tension between the needs of development and the mandate to preserve the past, the clash of private interests with public patrimony, the repercussions of poverty and the difficulties of raising public awareness in situations of economic deprivation, the competition of priorities in the face of scarce resources, and the need to settle for the feasible at the expense of the desirable (as manifested, for instance, in the need to forgo established methods of archaeology in favor of necessity-driven salvage methods).

Traditionally, the establishment of national archaeological museums, particularly in the West, belongs to earlier epochs, reflecting part educational Zeitgeist and part promotion of a perceived national identity and a certain view of the history of civilization, indeed of empire. The establishment of an archaeological museum in Gaza can be said to embody another perspective, one conceived in an atmosphere not of self-celebration but of occupation, of history suppressed, of harbors and borders closed, of movement curtailed. What attracted the record number of attendees of the Gaza exhibition at Geneva’s Musée d’Art et d’Histoire was not just the opportunity to see interesting artifacts from an entirely unexpected place, but an entirely novel discourse. Although the exhibition (and its catalogue) presented a narrative of Gaza’s past, the inescapable subtext was Gaza’s present.”