This was my reaction when I read the announcement of the School and the owning association about the situation.
In a quite carefully written letter to me the director of the board of the school and the director of the association (one person) responded in the following :
“Dear Mrs. Harhash,
Thank you very much for your mail from July, 8th. We appreciate your commitment in this matter and send you as an attachment the statement of the German Association of the Holy Land (DVHL) regarding the Father Schmitz collection. Please be assured that DVHL as a whole and as a sponsor of the Schmidt School will continue to contribute to the education of Palestinian youth and the preservation of Palestinian identity.
Dr. Georg Röwekamp”
I opened the attachment with excitement; the man, after all, said that the association with the sponsored school would continue to contribute to the preservation of Palestinian identity.
Now that I am reflecting, I was quick to jump into assumptions; he said ” identity,” not “heritage.”
It was not a surprise, of course, this untiring attempt to excuse the school or separate it from this debate. They know quite very well this is not an issue that can be accepted by any Palestinian. The only thing anyone inside the school no matter how much they try to defend what took place can say, that the school has nothing to do with this and it is the “association” that did it, and after all the school is separate (supposedly) from the “association.”
This can be quickly sold as well, Jerusalem knows Schmidt, the “association” never really mattered, because maybe things never contradicted principled issues, and the students with their families have always been appreciating to the outcomes of what this school produced for generations.
But of course, we always knew as students and as locals, that the school is owned by this “association,” the “DVHL.”
Of course, we also know that whoever makes decisions regarding the school and the properties that are related is the DVHL.
We as locals never assumed terrible intentions; the school is part of the Palestinian structure in many ways. I remember one time, a friend of mine who is a Palestinian from Akka checked in the Paul’s House ( the guest house that is part of the school area, in the past it used to serve the dormitories of the nuns and the girls, as well as library and music rooms).
the reception refused to let him check in with his “Israeli passport.”
So things from our side were assumingly going just in line with what the community lives by, taking the consideration of the unique case of Jerusalem. After all, I thought, German’s are rightful people!
The Guest-house, as the DVHL runs the school. The director of the DVHL kindly responded to my email and the to the condemnation of the Ministry of Education and the promise of the Haaretz correspondent after a couple of weeks of reflecting ourselves about the matter.
The statement of the DVHL of course, which is not the school, this is something we have to keep in mind all the time ..it is not the school. The school has nothing to do with this … I get that. I don’t care who did it. I care that these belongings have been taken from the property that I called the school and donated it to the enemy side. Jerusalem is by the standards of the UN resolution an occupied city on its eastern side which this school resides in. So giving the belongings to the Israeli museum is a striking violation to the Palestinian cause.
This is an Abc to anyone who lives and works here.
The DVHL in the statement said :
“, and the school is and has never been authorized nor entitled to decide about it. Fr. Ernst Schmitz, a well-known zoologist, lived in Jerusalem in 1908 (he is not to be confused with the man whom the school was named after). He brought a collection of stuffed animals from the island of Madeira. During his period in Jerusalem, he expanded this personal collection with stuffed animals from the Holy Land. After Fr. Schmitz’s death in 1922, the collection came into the possession of the German Association of the Holy Land (DVHL), whose administration chose to have the collection on display in a small museum situated in the St. Paul’s Guesthouse opposite Damascus Gate. After 1948, when Schmidt’s Girls College was hosted in the Guesthouse, students from the school had the chance to visit the exhibits. This continued when the new Schmidt’s School building was erected adjacent to the Guesthouse.”
For a Schmidt’s graduate and someone who tried to be informed, and I am sure many are like me, know very well that the school is not named after Ernst Schmits. Wilhelm Schmidt (1833-1907) was the first director, whom Ernst Schmitz succeeded. If the administration chose to host the museum in the St Paul’s Guesthouse which later organized the school inside its territory, it is evident that the school and the guesthouse belong to the same association. We don’t have an issue with that. We know clearly that Schmidt’s school is the legal “Daughter” of the DVHL and for us it is is all one body.
The statement follows with :
“More than 25 years ago, it came to the attention of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History that the DVHL owns a historical collection of stuffed animals from all parts of the Holy Land. Their experts discovered the deteriorating state of the group and pointed out to the Association that the animals were stored under unsuitable conditions in respect to their preservation. At that time, the Association’s primary concern was to protect such a valuable and unique scientific collection showing species that are extinct nowadays. Since the Association lacked the means for the necessary restorations, and to avoid moving the collection outside the Holy Land, it arranged with the museum to have the collection maintained and restored at the expense of the museum. DVHL gave its consent that the animals are temporarily exhibited to the general public, to shed a spotlight on the fauna and ancient species found in the Holy Land.”
It makes me feel sick to say the word- reading the above paragraph. The attempt to save the stuffed animals and protect them was by uprooting them from their location instead of bringing experts to fix the current environment of the museum? Why didn’t the administration address the Palestinian Authority or even the German government to seek expertise? Does Palestine not have experts? All those graduates of Schmidt’s school did not produce an expert in the topic? In funding for the museum? In protecting the heritage of their school and this city?
There are no museums in Palestine, or research and educational institutes that can adopt the issue?
What has Schmidt’s school been doing for the last century educating the girls of Palestine if they did not bring to their country the expertise or the solutions to such a matter?
When the Tel Aviv museum approached them, they did not think of a Palestinian alternative? Did they not know that by interacting with the Israeli institution they sabotage the school and the community into normalization debates?
What does the Schmidt’s school pride itself with, if it did not succeed in graduating students and mothers who can preserve their city and their heritage?
What happened is nothing but an organized act of either total ignorance about the history, heritage, culture and education of this place, or total disrespect and just another normal behavior of orientalism. Those who believe that they deal with semi-civilized humans.
The statement continued:
“The DVHL has always been the legal owner of the entire collection, and on request of the Association, a small part of it was returned to the museum in the Guesthouse where it is on display for the public.
The Museum has been asked already to avoid the misunderstanding in the explanation at the showcase, which gives the impression that Schmidt’s Girls College once owned the collection and to make clear that the German Association is still the legal owner.”
I am not sure if I got this, the museum has been asked to avoid misunderstanding and change what is on display from information that the collection belongs to the school? So if the group is renamed to the DVHL the issue is over?
Seriously, do these people think that we are stupid? Are we fighting here over a name? We are struggling here over our heritage. They can name it after Merkel or even Trump. These are animals that belong to the Palestinian culture and preserved history. It does not matter if the owner is Schmits or Schmidt or DVHL or anyone. What matters is that this DVHL is supposedly serving Palestinian girls in East Jerusalem by giving educational services through Schmidt’s Girls College. If this DVHL body can use the heritage of what we believe is ours and transfer it to the Israelis who claim in their disposition on the collection as “Land of ISrael,” this means that there is striking sabotage taking place here.
To make my self clear , i really don’t mind if the Schmidt’s current administration with the DVHL of course decision makers decide that this is a school that is under Israeli authority , it is lovely.. as the deacon from the school keeps saying on facebook ” where were we when we gave up on Haifa and Akka, or why don’t I fight the Arabs for giving up Palestine” . Many Palestinians are on his line. But let us be clear.
In this horrific time of our life as Palestinians, the DVHL with Schmidt’s have been part of it before even the creation of the occupation , we need to be supported in at least preserving what reminds us of our history as people who are always threatened by a massive threat of ethnic cleansing that has been continuous in all forms and shapes for the last eight decades.
The statement ended with this :
“The Schmidt’s Girls College prides itself in having played a significant and influential role in the Palestinian community since its inception 150 years ago, and it will continue to provide the best education possible for the young women who attend this school.”
This is how you provide the best education to Palestinian community?
What is the difference between the DVHL and the Israeli government which at this moment continue to steal the heritage of this city, not only through its living humans and ancient history but from its cemeteries?
The Act of the DVHL \Schmidt’s School in giving away our heritage is a violation to all what our school Schmidt’s Girls college has encouraged us to become…
It is really heart aching to realize that nothing from the west comes with pure good to us. I stood so proudly for all my life, believing that the Schmidts ( I have to keep reminding myself now the DVHL) was part of what made me the strong Palestinian that I am. That they always helped us preserve our identities, our culture, our heritage… in many ways disciplined us to be better serving this identity.
Today, I know that orientalism is not just a notion, a past terminology of some ignorance… It feeds itself in the West and pours it all on us here … insisting that we are nothing but ignorant sub-creatures that will never mount the levels of their western civility.