Cultural and Educational Development: A Pathway to Resilience and Hope

Video and Edited Transcript 
Ziad Khalaf
Transcript No. 463 (July 14, 2016) 

Zeina Azzam:
We are so delighted to have Ziad Khalaf with us today — a big welcome to you — to talk about cultural and education development in Palestine. The prolonged Israeli military occupation has had far reaching ramifications for every Palestinian in the Territories in every aspect of their lives. And indeed the cultural and the education development is a meaningful and very important way to foster resilience and hope.

Ziad Khalaf currently is the Director General of the Abdul Mohsin Qattan Foundation in Palestine. Eighteen years ago in 1998 he lead the launching of the Qattan Foundation. And it has since become one of the leading organizations working in cultural and educational development in Palestine, and indeed that whole region. It has important arms in Lebanon, and in the United Kingdom, and a number of partnerships around the Arab world, Europe, and the United States. Mr. Khalaf’s presentation will include information on the foundation’s experience in Palestine and elsewhere, as well as its future plans in the fields of education, childhood development, the sciences, cultural initiatives, and the performing arts. Previously, he directed the human resources development program at the Welfare Association or Ta’awan. He also cofounded and has been active in a number of local and regional institutions including the Technical Development Corporation, Ramallah Municipal Council, Al-Haq Society, The Arab Foundations Forum, and the Future Pioneers School in Nablus.

I’ve asked Ziad to speak for about 40 minutes and we’ll open the floor for questions and discussion. Our online viewers can send us questions on Twitter to @PalestineCenter. So please join me in welcoming Ziad Khalaf.

Ziad Khalaf:
Thank you Zeina for the invite. It’s truly a pleasure to be among you, to share the story and future directions of the Abdel Mohsin Qattan — Mo’asas Qattan — the A. M. Qattan Foundation. Two months ago, actually, on the 6th of May, Fouad Moughrabi, Professor Emeritus at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga delivered the Hisham Sharabi Memorial Lecture on this very podium. In his lecture on Palestinian education for the 21st century, he touched on the experience of the Foundation’s Educational Research and Development Center, which he, along with the late Dr. Ibrahim Abu Lughod, helped us launch in 1999. During Dr. Moughrabi’s five-year tenure as director of the center, the grounds were laid for one of the main undertakings in educational development in Palestine. To emphasize the long term programmatic approach that the foundation adopts, last year the center was renamed the Educational Research Development Program.

Mr. Abdel Mohsin Al-Qattan [who] founded with his late wife Leila of the Foundation, has been known to say, “Happiest will be that day when the services of the Foundation are no longer needed in Palestine. Yom al-sabt,” for those of you who know Arabic. Unfortunately, that day is not forthcoming anytime soon. Neither he, nor I think any of us in this room believe that [day is] forthcoming anytime soon. The odds and challenges facing the Palestinian people are immense. Although Palestine garners the support of most of the so-called third world countries, and one may argue that there has been an important dent at the popular level in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the U.S. in favor of the Palestinian people, the geopolitical forces at official state levels in the Western world, especially in the United States and Europe, are still unfavorable. It is also worth noting that Palestine lost some ground over the past decade or so with a few countries that have traditionally supported the Palestinian cause: most notably China and India. Coupled with the human catastrophe that engulfs much of the Middle East and the dire challenges facing the world at large — just look at what’s happening, what has been happening in Greece, Ukraine, Nigeria, France, Belgium, Turkey, Bangladesh, Honduras, the United Kingdom of late, and here in the U.S. — we Palestinians realize the need to brace ourselves for the long haul.

Against this backdrop an amounting matrix of intersecting forms of controls [has been] imposed mainly by the prolonged Israeli occupation in all its manifestations, but also by donor policies and agendas, the Palestinian Government, or I should say governments, unfortunately, and refugees host countries. Activists, cultural practitioners, and organizations have been working diligently to foster social dialogue and engagement, and to instill resilience and hope. The A. M. Qattan Foundation is one of these organizations. And without sounding vain, I think it is at the forefront of this effort.

Now, to understand how it reached this status, some background information is of the essence. I’m going to tell you some stories. I think stories are very very telling. Both Abdel Mohsin Qattan and Leila Miqdadi Al-Qattan came from families that cherished and highly valued education. Abdel Mohsin’s father was a merchant in citrus produce in Jaffa before 1948. Although illiterate, he highly valued education, so he sent his son to board at a school in Jerusalem to study at the hands of Khalil Sakakini. For those of you who know Khalil Sakakini, or who don’t, he’s probably the foremost progressive educator in Palestine during the first half of the last century. And Sakakini left a profound impact on Abdel Mohsin Al-Qattan – [there are] so many stories that he’s been telling us about his relationship with Khalil Sakakini and how he impacted his life. On the other hand, Leila’s father, Darwish Al-Miqdadi was also one of the main teachers, educators, who left his imprint on his family and his students in Palestine and later on in Kuwait.

It is no surprise that both Abdel Mohsin and Leila started their careers as teachers. In 1948 when the Nakba took place, Abdul Mohsin was studying political science at the American University in Beirut. When his family was dispossessed, kicked out of Jaffa, they ended up living in Amman in a basement. I remember him telling me one day that they had no windows, actually. He felt that responsibility and he decided to switch specializations and started a business. And he graduated from the AUB in Business, started his career as a teacher, and got the chance to work in Kuwait. And in Kuwait he started working in the public sector and then moved to the private sector where he did extremely well. Of course during this period he met Leila and got married and Leila was studying at the Beirut College for Women when they met. He amassed a fortune – he had his opportunities. And I found out through some incidences, stories, that as early as the mid-sixties, as early as 1967 actually, he decided he was helping Palestinian students especially those studying abroad, studying at universities abroad. And he decided early on to dedicate a good portion of his wealth for public benefit, especially to benefit the Palestinian youth and provide them with opportunities. He always says that, “I had opportunities and would love to provide opportunities to others.”

He was one of the founders of the Welfare Association in 1983, but throughout [he maintained] at least on a deep [level, the] conviction that culture and education are the two pillars of any sustained human development. Both Abdel Mohsin and Leila had a dream to institutionalize, and this dream was realized in 1993 when the [Qattan] Foundation was established and registered in the UK as a charity. And as soon as the Foundation was established they started consulting with an array of people — Palestinians and otherwise — about, “what should we do? We know that the two sectors of interest of the foundation are culture and education.” They consulted with people like Ibrahim Abu Lughod, Edward Said, and others — and finally, and many many from Palestine as well — those, I mean, residing in Palestine. And, as a result of this, they decided that since the aim of the foundation is and will [be] Palestine, and it’s only natural that the operations and base of the foundation should be in Palestine; and in 1998 a branch of the foundation was established in Palestine and registered with the Ministry of the Interior. I’m lucky that I’ve been with them since then. I helped launch this dream. It really is a dream.

As soon as the foundation was established in 1998 we started consulting, brainstorming, with many carrying out needs assessment studies. We adopted a bottoms-up approach, to which we developed our three core programs. All along we knew that the two sectors that we would be working in are culture and education, but then it was time to develop the programs. And the three programs were developed: [they were] mainly, one in education which is implemented by the Educational Research & Development Program; one in culture and the arts, and that is implemented by the Culture and Arts Program; and the third is in childhood development, which is implemented by the Child Center in Gaza.

One thing so far — what is [it] that really measures these programs together? First and foremost, the Foundation is forward-looking. The Foundation is an implementor of organizations, with some grant-making schemes. But it invests in the future because we know that we have to invest in the new generation of Palestinians who hopefully will amass, will reach that critical mass one day of critical thinkers, activists, people who are engaged, passionate, who can make change that achieves our objectives of freedom.

So when we look at the management approach, it can suffice that we’re forward looking. We use the participatory approach. The management is based on a long-term results-based approach. We realize that change is time-dependent, and hence our work is based on a long-term interventionist approach. We want to feel that we really left an impact on our partners. I’m talking here about the students and teachers, about artists, especially emerging artists, and about children. When we find out that the child, teacher, or the artist have himself or herself developed a passion and become the main driving force behind his or her own development.

We adopted the decentralized management approach at the program level. Program Directors have to develop their annual plans that respond to the strategic objectives of the foundation along with the budget. These are submitted to the management and then to the board of trustees, and once approved that is their plan for the year. [As for] the foundation’s team, we are 96 full-time staff members strong, mainly in Gaza and the West Bank, but we also have a staff in Lebanon and in London in the UK as well.

A word about the programs. The Educational Research and Development Program has its main objective to contribute to the development of school-based education including the pre-school. It adopts a student-based approach. Student is at the center of everything that we do. We work mainly with teachers, especially young teachers, and we are at the vanguard of introducing teachers’ professional development in areas like the use of drama in education, project-based learning, art and science in education, and other approaches as well. And this has really, really, been leaving an impact on the teachers that are involved in this. As I said, we adopt a long-term partnership approach and a functions approach with them. Some of these teachers worked with us five, six, even ten years. And we are so lucky that some of the teachers that have been involved with us have become, in their own rite, trainers of their colleagues and peers, be it in their own schools or in other schools.

As a result of this and our work with teachers, one interesting byproduct of this has been the springing of teachers’ forums throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and even inside — by the way we work with Palestinians wherever they are. We don’t believe in Green Lines nor blue lines. Whoever is interested, and fulfills the criteria that we set, whoever is passionate and serious about and in line with our objectives, and shares our values, ahlan wa sahlan, [they] are welcome to join us. We work with hundreds of teachers each year, mostly Palestinian teachers, but in some of our activities we even invite teachers from Arab countries to join in. For example, in Hadramaut, [we have] an education summer school which we hold each year in Jerash, and we do this specifically because we like to have Arab teachers join in with their Palestinian peers. We think that this inter-connectivity is extremely, extremely, important.

In culture and the arts we like to think of the program that we launched in 1999 both as an incubator, on the one hand, where we provide opportunities and training for young artists, but also as a springboard where we provide awards, grants for emerging artists mostly between the ages 22-35 to realize their creative potential. Each year we work with hundreds of artists. We support most of the festivals that you probably hear about in Palestine. We have a great number of partnerships throughout the world. Unfortunately we are less fortunate here in the [United] States than we are elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe. We have great partnerships with the Municipality of Paris, for example, Musée des Arts in Paris, with the Flemish — Royal Flemish Theater in Brussels, and many many others, the Delfina Foundation in the UK — and through these partnerships, just to name a few, where we collaborate each year. We send artists on residencies. We collaborate on many activities including training activities for young artists in all fields of the arts: the performing arts, the visual arts, and literature in all its manifestations, as well as in the organizational sector as well.

[Here is] one interesting development that we did a few years back to support co-funding from the government of Netherlands: we launched the Palestinian Audio-Visual Project. One of the byproducts of that project was to establish an equipment bank for audio-visual equipment in Palestine. Now filmmakers in Palestine do not have to go rent equipment when they want to make films. Those who do have grants from the foundation, we provide them the equipment entirely. We have almost the full range of equipment, as well as camera and light units and sound as well. Aside from that, we do rent out the equipment, and all income goes back to building up the equipment bank.

Just to cite one example of what we do in the foundation, concerning our “Intervention in Childhood” program. As I said, [it] was implemented by the Child Center of Gaza. The Child Center of Gaza is a multifaceted cultural center that caters to children up to 15 years of age in Gaza. It’s main component is a library that I am so proud to say is the largest specialized children’s library in the Arab world. I’d like you to imagine this, in the heart of Gaza. It contains at present 105,000 books and library materials. And aside from the library there is a multitude of facilities within the center, ranging from a computer lab to a science lab, multi-functional halls, art studios, etc… All [of them] work in an integrated manner to provide children in Gaza with opportunities that are really lacking in their homes or in their schools or by the society at large. At present we have over 11,000 children that are members of the center, and aside from the work and the services we provide at the center, there is IT and dance. We have ballet classes in Gaza. There are all designed to attract the children to the book, to read. Last year, we lent 57,500 books. When we first started, one of our fears that people would tell us is people don’t like to read. We lent 57,500 books last year. And we are so proud of that.

The center is at the heart of Gaza City. When we first started our studies, it took no genius to deduce [that] the needs of children in Gaza were acute. So we decided to do this center in Gaza. We toyed with two scenarios: one was to build a large center in Gaza with an outreach program, and the other was to establish three or four smaller center disbursed in the Gaza Strip. We opted for the first option, and I think rightly so because we wanted quality, quality services for the children of Gaza. Aside from the services we provide in the center itself, we have an outreach program and a mobile library, where we take much of the services and information, IT, library services, as well as cultural and art services, to children elsewhere. Especially in marginalized areas. The mobile library roams the entirety of the Gaza Strip, from Rafah in the south to Beit Hanoun in the north. And annually, over 35,000 children within the age group we target, benefit from the outreach services program. Considering the numbers, the 11,000 that are members of the center as well as the 35,000 that benefit from the outreach services program, almost seven percent of children of the child population within the age group annually benefit from the services that we provide in Gaza.

We are really proud of all that we did, and mainly proud of the staff, volunteers, and interns that work for the foundation. They have been absolutely remarkable. And I am so happy to see one of them here. Concerning funding and sustainability, some of you may know the Foundation is a family foundation, it is endowed by the Al-Qattan family. The family is responsible for all administrative expenses, as well as the majority of its program costs. For the first 10 years of the life of the Foundation from December of 1993 to when it was registered up to 2004, every penny that was spent came from the family. I think this was a strategic decision, an important one. As they say here in the [United] States, “You put your money where your mouth is.” We did that for ten years.

In 2004, we had the Palestinian Audio Visual Project; that was so ripe and ready to be launched. When we approached the Board of Trustees with this project, we were told then that the finances are not there, “We only have 30 percent or so of the needs, so let’s postpone it.” It was only then that we asked the BOT for permission to seek outside funding. We were granted permission, but on the premises that no conditions whatsoever should be attached. This is a policy that still withstands. We were successful in seeking and getting a half a million Euro grant for that project. As a result of the pressure we are under almost on a daily basis to expand and extend what we do, we’ve decided to seek outside funding. But still as a matter of policy, 60 percent of the budget has to come from the Foundation. Any outside partner meeting has to be no strings attached. This is the policy. And we have to lead. We only seek funding to extend and expand what we already do.

Concerning sustainability, the Foundation is on extremely solid footing. As I’ve said in the beginning, we are poised for the long haul. We know that our path will not be easy, and it never was. It won’t be easy, and it is a very long path. Mr. Al-Qattan, in his will, bequeathed 25 percent of his wealth to ensure that the Foundation is sustainable. So the Foundation is financially on extremely solid bases. I think as far as the vision and strategies of the Foundation, which are just as important as the finances, and the credibility that it has garnered over the years with the community, it is on a very solid bases.

By the way, as of 31st March, 2016, which is the end of the operational fiscal year, the Foundation since it was launched in 1998 in Palestine, has spent 58 million dollars, of which less than 11.5 million dollars came from external funding. That constitutes 21 percent of the total expenditure of the Foundation over the years. This year, our budget is larger than ever. I just came back from London where we have our annual meeting. Our budget for this year, our approved budget, is 20 million dollars. And I’ll explain later on why is that.

Concerning the partnerships, we are extremely, extremely proud of the partnerships that we have been able to establish over the years – be it in the Arab world, in Egypt, in Jordan, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Tunisia, and elsewhere, or in Europe, in India, and here in the U.S. But I must say that here in the U.S. we haven’t really tapped that huge market in the US, and we think we should do better. We have a good, solid partnership with the United Palestinian Appeal, with ANERA, and with the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and with many, many professionals in universities, in academia throughout the United States. What we know and what I think we will be [doing is] exerting more effort in the future to develop these partnerships and extend them further. As for Europe, we have an extensive, an extremely solid partnerships with many, many organizations. I would like to talk about one that is so telling. We have a partnership with the Royal French Theater and Labelle (I’m so terrible with my French) which is one of the main dance troupes in Belgium. It’s a ten-year-old now partnership and still going and extremely strong.

A couple of years back this partnership culminated in the coproduction “Badke.” I don’t know if any of you saw it, but I wish you would google it and see it. Badke is a play on the word dabke and actually that whole performance, a musical performance. There’s a sort of questioning of our folklore dance; it’s questioning of who we are in a sense or another. And each year we implement a performing arts summer school with our two partners. We bring about some of the best choreographers, stage designers, etc., from Europe who work with young Palestinian performers. And by the way “Badke” has been staged 97 times now in eleven different countries including the U.S., Canada, Congo, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Greece, the U.K., and what have you. Thousands, I think close to thirty thousand, people have seen this performance and, I assure you from what we hear from people, they come out rethinking the Palestinian and Palestinians and in a positive sense. I think what we have been doing, and not only us, but an array of cultural practitioners and organizations in Palestine are really leaving an impact, a positive impact, to counteract the negative, stereotypical image that is being built about us, Arabs in general and Muslims, as a matter of fact, in the West, [which] is the worst. We think that culture is a very strong tool in order to convey that positive and right image of the Palestinians and Arabs.

Aside from our work in Palestine we also work in Lebanon, through the Netherlands a lot, [in] the arts, which is a collaboration between the Foundation and the Prince Claus Fund in the Netherlands. We provide 66 percent of the budget, Prince Claus Fund provides one third of the budget, and this is a project which has just been extended for three more years in support of cultural and artistic endeavors for the benefit of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. And we work in the refugee camps, as well as outside the refugee camps. And most of, one positive element that we look at, are those projects and activities that enforce interaction between the Palestinian community and the Lebanese society in Lebanon. We think that there is a dichotomy, actually; there is a such a separation [confirmed] through the studies that we have done, so we do encourage this interaction to take place.

In London we launched the Mosaic Rooms. It’s an exhibition/cultural space in London that receives thousands of people a year, where we have exhibitions of all sorts of individual arts as well as book launching, a series of lectures each year. And this has been contributing tremendously to changing that image of Palestinians and Arabs, in London in particular.

As for governance, as you may expect, the Board of Trustees is the highest authority in the Foundation. Three years ago the board took a decision that is unprecedented in the Arab World. They decided to turn it from a family board to a professional board and they have invited people, professionals from outside the family to join the board. As a matter of fact, Dr. Khalil Hindi, who was an expert at the Birzeit University and is now a Visiting Professor of Engineering at the American University in Beirut, is the third non-family member to join the board. This is unprecedented in the Arab World. But at the same time, I want to emphasize that the family is fully committed to the sustainability and financial support of the foundation.

Some major highlights that we’re working on [and] future directions: if you check our website, if you look at our newsletter you find out we’re building a new building in Ramallah. It’s a cultural center and office building. Seven thousand, seven hundred square meters of space that will contain (among other facilities) a school theater, a gallery, studios for artists to experiment in visual and the performing arts, multi-functional halls, training halls, better spaces, a library, as well as a gallery, I think I mentioned that. It will be one of the first purpose-built galleries in Palestine. We’re hoping that the space will be a place where artists, teachers, children and the family at large will be able to enjoy, to use to its fullest extent. We hope that come next winter we will receive the building from the contractor and we’ll start moving into the building. And as a result of this we’re launching our third — our fourth core program, which is the “Public” program, which will design and implement an array of activities, cultural and artistic activities in the building itself, but it will also have an outreach arm.

Finally, we’ve just finished managing the Palestinian Performing Arts Network Program. It was a four-year program that culminated in registration of the first network in the performing arts in Palestine. It has a membership of eleven of the most active, prominent organizations working in the performing arts. The network will be advocating for the culture at large, for the performing arts to take center stage and get the support that it deserves.

And finally, and this is a pitch, we’re so proud that as we speak, as I speak today. We have a team of six young people — new graduates, in engineering, in sciences, arts, and education that are being trained now at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. We are launching a pilot project, a science studio and we hope that this pilot project will form the nucleus for and to establish in the future in the active sciences, which aims at developing science education and science communication in Palestine. We are extremely excited about this endeavor, extremely excited about the team that is being trained in San Francisco, and about our partnership with the Exploratorium in San Francisco. We think that once this is realized, the interactive center that is — it will have a great impact on the new generation of Palestinians and on education at large, but most importantly on science education in Palestine. We want people who are producers, makers, and we think with this we could have a new generation of people who can think critically, scientifically, and be productive in all senses of the word.