AUB recently celebrated what President Fadlo R. Khuri described as “a landmark occasion in the history of the university.” The reason for the occasion was the inauguration of the Palestine Land Studies Center (PLSC) at AUB made possible by an extraordinary gift from Dr. Salman Abu Sitta of a singular collection of documents, records, maps, books, photos, and aerial surveys proving, in the words of Dr. Abu Sitta, “a continuous reality of land and people in Palestine” dating back to 1800. Dr. Abu Sitta has been collecting these materials for 60 years from dozens of locations around the world – including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the US, Switzerland, Turkey, and Russia; from private collections and public libraries; and from the archives of NGOs and governments.
He was prompted to embark on this quest by an experience he had as a PhD engineering student at the University of London in 1962. “I went looking for a map of Palestine and couldn’t find one,” he remembers. “In every map, ‘Palestine’ had been replaced by ‘Israel.’ It was then that I decided that I would start collecting documents, records – anything I could find – that proved the existence of Palestine.”
Dr. Abu Sitta has used the material that he has collected to publish more than 400 articles and papers on Palestine, as well as several books, including The Atlas of Palestine, 1917–1966 (2010) and The Atlas of Palestine (1871-1877), published in August 2020. “Knowledge must be put to use to correct mistakes and/or to pursue justice,” he says. It is especially important to Dr. Abu Sitta that his collection be available to young Arab students. He addressed himself to them in his address during the inaugural ceremony: “You do not need to wear a uniform and carry a gun to assert your identity or recover your lost home. You just need to be diligent and determined, never despair, never lose hope, never betray your roots, claim your own rights,” he said.
Abu Sitta explains his decision to select AUB as the home for his collection by noting its long history of bringing knowledge to the region. “There is no better home than AUB for this collection,” he says. President Khuri agrees. “Here it is safe, here it will endure, here it will grow, here it will be sought by scholars for generation after generation.”
The Palestine Land Studies Center at AUB will become, in the powerfully eloquent words of Abu Sitta, “the hub of dynamic, powerful, and effective scholarship about the land and people of Palestine and a shining light in the imposed darkness about Palestine’s just cause.” As founding director of the Palestine Land Studies Center, Dr. Howayda Al-Harithy has worked closely with Dr. Abu Sitta to bring his inspiring vision to life. “It has been a labor of love and a privilege to contribute to making more visible and concrete the positioning of Palestine at the heart of AUB’s academic inquiry and pursuit of justice,” she says.
The plans for the future of the center include the establishment of an endowed chair, research fellowships, scholarships for undergraduate students, and research funds. “Dr. Salman is leading the way in our fundraising efforts for the center as well,” commented VP for Advancement and Business Development Imad B. Baalbaki, “with the establishment of a research fund. These are not easy times in which to fundraise, but I am sure that we will be successful in securing support for this ever-just cause.”