Palestine Museum of Natural History officially opens in Bethlehem

Mazin Qumsiyeh

Opening talk by Professor Qumsiyeh

On behalf of Bethlehem University’s Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability and Palestine Museum of Natural History and Botanical Garden, our staff and volunteers I welcome you. Thank you Brother Peter for the introduction. Welcome to our distinguished guests representatives of the university Brother Peter Bray and other officials, Honorary Minister Adalah Ateereh and other representatives of the Environmental Quality Authority, agriculture and education ministry representatives, Mr. Munib Masri, representatives of civil society organizations, our colleagues, donors, and friends.

This is a dream come true to arrive at this stage, a culmination of countless hours and countless volunteers. It reflects the ten pillars of transformation from the Buddhist philosophy: generosity, ethics, renunciation, wisdom, effort, patience, truthfulness, determination, kindness, and equanimity. We started preparing and working here in Mar Andrea in August 2014. We had a strategy to officially open the museum after five years but here we are with an opening ceremony in about half the time. We consider this a Palestinian national accomplishment. You received a brochure that highlights our mission and goals in research, education and conservation. I want here to quickly highlight our accomplishments (because you will see them on the ground) and highlight our vision going forward and
seek your further support without which we could not do any of this.

In research, we managed to publish over two dozen research papers in areas ranging from genotoxicity, to biodiversity of various groups of animals (ranging from scorpions, snails, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals), to museology (museum science), to environmental education. This is applied and collaborative research that helps accomplish our other goals of education and conservation and elevates Palestine’s name in international scientific standing. You can see our research table and display board down below.

In education, we hosted dozens of schools, did workshops educating our children on areas like reducing waste, recycling composting, respecting nature, biodiversity, critical thinking, science, anthropology, ecotourism, and more. We also worked with university students and faculty not just at our own Bethlehem University but also at other universities in Palestine and abroad. You can see our education table and display board down below. We also held workshops ranging from taxidermy to math in nature to recycling.

In conservation and sustainability, we built models of sustainability including in composting, aquaponics, rain harvesting, organic gardening, solar electricity, and more. We transferred knowledge to farmers and agriculture engineers, for example 12 who came from Gaza and learned aquaponics. We also worked with Environmental Quality Authority to create a management plan for Wadi Al-Quff protected area and are working now on a similar plan for Wadi Al-Zarqa al-Ulwi near Salfit.

Our plans going forward are ambitious. We plan to build our PIBS to offer degrees (diplomas and higher degrees) in areas like environmental conservation, permaculture, and museology. We plan a future green museum building of nearly 2000 square meters right here where we are. We plan a mobile museum to go to remote villages. We plan to have a virtual tour of the museum so that people around the world can visit Palestine and learn about areas like its fauna, flora, ethnology, history, and the human spirit that guides us. We will develop museum exhibits that are interactive. We will develop an animal rehabilitation unit. We plan to develop our botanical garden to be a permaculture research facility and a place for ex situ conservation of wild plants and some animals threatened with

This is a huge effort done largely with volunteer efforts and initially only with our own funding and with partnership with you representatives of NGOs, governments, and academia, and others who could not come to join us
in this celebration. I would like now to acknowledge those who made this work possible and ask you to stand up. We thank the PMNH advisory board Brother Peter, Dr. Ghassan Handal, Dr. Irene Hazou, Youil Samour, Isaac Shahar,the departments at the university that made this possible like the finance Department (Youil, Luda, Elie, George, Diala, and others), engineering and maintenance (Nagib, Maher, Jiryis, Raed, Philip, etc), Biology (Dr. Ghassan and students).

We thank donors from the American Consulate in Jerusalem, the Representative Office of Canada, Consulat General de France à Jerusalem, UNDP/SGP/GEF, Cultures of Resistance, GIZ, Tetraktys/Masar Ibrahim, Hanns Seidel Foundation, Telemachus Foundation, Hope and Play UK, and individual large donors such as Nader Qumsieh, Makram Qumsiyeh, and Rajaie Qubain.

We thank all the international and local volunteers (so far over 100 internationals and over 100 Palestinians have volunteered with us and several of them are here with us.

I spoke to you on behalf of our internal team whose work is exemplary and relentless. I start with Jessie who spent seven days a week as a volunteer administering and dealing with little and big things. Elias, Mohammad, Najajreh, Mubarak, Mohammad Abu Sarhan, Khawla, Reena, Dany, Majd, are core team members that made this possible.

And I am sure there are some people still seated who either helped us and I forgot to mention them, or plan to help us.

As I said in the beginning, we consider this step a Palestinian national accomplishment.

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