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Carnage in the Middle East: urgent need to address the root causes

Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)

The carnage that is going on in the Middle East is a tragedy of mammoth proportions.

For the past long and desolate 75 years, a land no bigger than 30,000 km2, has witnessed endless cycles of violence. History shows us that a person is ready to sacrifice his or her life for the freedom of one’s country. It also shows us that a person willingly gives up his or her life to defend one’s homeland.

And in this relatively small but very important piece of land, situated between the Sinai Peninsula and Jordan, we have witnessed a repeated story of violence and counter-violence over and over again. A story of retaliation and counterretaliation. A story of aggression and counter aggression.

And huge thousands of innocent people standing on both sides of this enduring war pay their ultimate price in the process.

What we are seeing developing right now is a repeat of 2014 – but much, much worse.

What happened on the 7th October, that cruel and savage act of terror by Hamas which tore away the lives of innocent civilians, is completely condemnable. All hostages must be liberated at once.

We all saw how things unfolded after that. We saw the blood, sweat and tears from both sides of the war with our own eyes and heard the cries with our own ears – this, through the brave work of international journalists who, every day, risk their lives in order for us to know in some shape or form what is going in.

In such moments, rage and anger take centre-stage. But the path laid with wrath, anger and retaliation – history has shown us – is one which swiftly leads to yet the umpteenth cycle of violence. It is one which leads to the loss of thousands of innocent lives and the sowing of the roots of the next counterattack in the near future.

Right now, Gaza, a stretch of land the size of Malta, if not less, housing two million Palestians in the worst and most inhumane conditions possible, is being bombed to the ground. As I write this opinion piece, news has come in that a civilian hospital called Al Ahly in Gaza was destroyed and the two sides are blaming each other for what happened.

But there is also another path for the leaders of Israel and Palestine. The path of having the extraordinary courage, vision and greatness of addressing the root causes and consequently taking those decisions which would bring about not only a temporary ceasefire but sustainable and lasting peace.

This would be the path which would place these leaders right amongst the most noble figures in the history of humankind as the people who were peacemakers and conflict solvers, thus securing a future of prosperity for the people of Israel and Palestine alike.

Israel has a right to exist. Palestine has a right to exist. Two distinct, free and independent states can and should stand one by the side of the other and this for the sake of a better future for both people.

The international community has a huge role to play to create the right circumstances and political climate in order to achieve not only de-escalation of violence, but more importantly than that to bring the parties closer towards this seemingly elusive goal of achieving a sustainable solution and peace.

This land no bigger than 30,000 km2 is home to a number of Holy sites which are very important for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. May this land equally be the home of one of the greatest and most important peace-processes ever achieved in modern history of humankind.

Mattia Preti works of art loaned by Heritage Malta for Polish exhibition

Eight paintings by Mattia Preti from Malta’s national collection, along with two of the artist’s sketches and other artefacts, have been loaned by Heritage Malta to the Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw for an exhibition running until 3rd March 2024. The exhibition is being held under the patronage of HE the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda.

The eight paintings loaned by Heritage Malta are The Young St John the Baptist wearing the Habit of the Order of St John, Daniel interpreting the Dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, Lot and his daughters, Drunkenness of Noah, St Bartholomew, Doubting Thomas, Baptism of Christ, and Apelles painting Campaspe.

The painting Mattia Preti Distributing Alms to the Poor by Giuseppe Calì, also from Malta, further enhances the exhibition, as do two Mattia Preti works which form part of Poland’s national collections – Adoration of the Shepherds and A Game of Backgammon.

The other artefacts from Malta, meant to aid the understanding of the history of Malta and to place the paintings in their historical context, include a Muslim tombstone, a pair of steel gauntlets from the Palace Armoury, a maiolica pharmacy jar from the Knights’ period, and a sample of currency in use during the 38 years that Mattia Preti spent in Malta.

The exhibition, entitled Mattia Preti: Discovering The Baroque Secrets of Malta, offers a fascinating insight into Preti’s strong connection with Malta, his formative years and many travels before settling in Malta in 1661, his aspiration for knighthood in the Order of St John of Jerusalem, and the most ambitious project of his career – the painting of the vault of St John’s Conventual Church in Valletta.

Heritage Malta is working on various levels to make the national collection accessible not only to the Maltese public but also to international audiences. Initiatives such as the Mattia Preti exhibition in Warsaw help to nurture a better understanding of the value of such works of art and increase the public’s appreciation of these treasures. Exhibitions like these also serve as a platform for intercultural dialogue and attest to how national entities can work together to further enrich each other’s national identity.

Our Lady of Light Chapel

Thanks to the fantastic work undertaken by the Restoration and Preservation Division, I had the privilege of witnessing the ongoing restoration works on the historic Our Lady of Light Chapel. This sacred place, dating back to 1736, stands as one of the oldest chapels in Żebbug and holds immense historical and cultural significance.

The restoration of this venerable chapel is part of the last Local Councils Restoration Scheme Call, a commendable initiative that involves thirteen noteworthy projects. Proposed by the Żebbug Local Council, the restoration efforts kicked off in September 2023. Spearheading this ambitious endeavor are the excellent people at the Restoration and Preservation Department who are responsible for overseeing the project from the initial site documentation to planning permit applications and the subsequent meticulous restoration work.

One of the striking aspects of this project is the warm embrace it has received from the local communities. The residents wholeheartedly welcome such restoration projects, recognizing the intrinsic value they hold in preserving the heritage of their surroundings. Over the years, projects under this scheme have taken diverse forms, varying in scale and nature. These encompass everything from modest projects like traditional village crosses and statues to more extensive undertakings involving the restoration of historic buildings and monuments, some of which date back to the illustrious era of the Knights of St John.

A testament to the government's dedication, this Government’s commitment in safeguarding and restoring our architectural heritage. This dedication is driven by the aspiration to pass down this rich legacy for the enjoyment and appreciation of future generations.

The historical significance of the Our Lady of Light Chapel is deeply intertwined with the challenges it has faced throughout its existence. During a time of war, the chapel narrowly avoided a direct hit when an unexploded bomb fell nearby. However, the ensuing detonation caused significant damage, particularly to the bell tower. Immediate efforts were undertaken to reconstruct and repair the chapel, embodying the resilience and spirit of preservation that the local community holds dear.

We will keep working hard towards to preservation of our national heritage.


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