Palestinian Heritage Foundation Holds 17th Annual Banquet

By Jane Adas

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

December 2004

 The 17th anniversary banquet of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation, held Sept. 12, was devoted to a memorial for Prof. Edward W. Said. Last year’s honored guest, Dr. Clovis Maksoud, sent a letter from Jordan in which he remembered that Said, very near death at that point, had sent a message regretting his inability to attend the tribute for Maksoud: “Imagine that Edward even thought of the event at that moment!” Maksoud further wrote that Said was disdainful of compromise under the pretext of realism, but was passionate about the need for reconciliation, not only to heal wounds, but also to animate the integrity of common humanity.

Said’s widow, Mariam, told the guests that her husband’s political involvement began during the Vietnam War. Because his education had been Western, he re-educated himself by reading non-Western writers and learned to link the Palestinian issue to other struggles. Separation between peoples is not a solution, Mrs. Said concluded, arguing that our only hope lies within interaction and cooperation, as in the East-West Divan founded by her husband and the Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. The family is striving to keep that project alive, she said. In that spirit, the Palestinian Heritage Foundation donated proceeds of the banquet to the National Conservatory of Music in Ramallah.

Keynote speaker Dr. Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, said it is natural for a community that has been subjected to racist hostility to be proud of its intellectuals. Arab Americans should cherish the memory of Edward Said, Khalidi said, but warned against creating a cult of devotion. What the community desperately needs now, he emphasized, are not shining leaders, but institutions that are not based on a personality. He pointed out that in its greatest time of crisis, the Jewish community failed to influence the U.S. racist immigration policy in the1930s because its institutions were insufficiently mature. Since then, as we all know, they have built powerful institutions.

Khalidi exhorted the Arab-American community to quit focusing on the role of individuals, to quit waiting for a savior, but instead to build institutions that are so strong that those in power cannot afford to ignore them. He acknowledged that this requires hard work, time, money, and self-effacing teamwork. It requires skills in fund-raising, management, public relations and accounting, and is far less glamorous than relying on charismatic leaders. But it is what is most necessary to change the situation, Khalidi insisted.

Much of Said’s work was directed to American audiences, Khalidi explained, because he understood that the challenge of furthering the cause of justice and redressing the image of Arabs lies here in the U.S. The same reasoning inspired Farah and Hanan Munayyer to establish the Palestinian Heritage Foundation. The Munayyers frequently travel with their collection of Palestinian and Syrian costumes and embroidery to educate Americans about an aspect of Arab culture of which they otherwise would never have heard. This past year the couple presented lectures and exhibits at the Museum of Natural History in New York, the White Plains Public Library, the Ibn Rushd Arab cultural organization in Richmond, Virginia, and the Heritage Museum and Center in Pennsylvania.

The Munayyer collection was recently augmented by two generous donations: the late Hala Maksoud’s collection of Arab costumes, donated by her sister Hania and brother Ousama Salam; and a unique set of antique dolls dressed in Arab costumes made in the late 1940s by Palestinian refugees at UNRWA camps in Lebanon, donated by Ambassador William Stoltzfus.

                                   Ambassador Stoltzfus being recognized at Banquet