Khaldun Bshara

Director of the Conservation Unit / Riwaq Centre. Awarded a Bachelor of Architectural Engineering from BirZeitUniversity, and MA in Conservation of Historic Towns and Buildings from Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.

Author and co-author of number of books and articles; Ramallah, Architecture and History; “Breeze from the North”; Riwaq’s Guidelines for Maintenance and Restoration of Historic Buildings in Palestine.

How it is to run a practice of preservation under occupation?

“Perhaps more than any other aspect of Palestinian material culture, the Built Heritage is experiencing a rapid loss of its distinctive character. Particularly disturbing is the state of negligence to old buildings all over Palestine. Valuable historic buildings are being bulldozed or abandoned, and allowed to collapse only to be replaced by new constructions that echo no link with the past architectural heritage. Traditional construction methods, building crafts, know how, and skills are nearing extinction with the retirement and death of master builders and craftspeople. The rest of the natural environment is also undergoing devastating changes. The beautiful rocky landscape and stone-terraces, typical of Palestinian landscape are being replaced by badly finished concrete buildings.”

(Riwaq’s brochure)

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Palestine has always had a particularity that is not applicable to other countries regarding safeguarding and conserving built cultural heritage. This reality neither stems from unique building techniques nor from stone types used in the historic buildings of the Holy Land, but rather from the objectives and goals foreseen of these conservation works.

A quick review of conservation works, implemented in Palestine for the past two decades, indicates undoubtedly that the main objective of these operations if not the sole, was the struggle against the Israeli occupation. The issues of land liberation and putting down obstacles in front of Israeli occupational measures played a major role in directing the largest portion of conservation works in Palestine. This applies to the rehabilitation works done in Hebron by the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee to protect the Old City from the Jewish Settlers. It also applies to the rehabilitation works implemented by the Welfare and the Waqf in the Old City of Jerusalem to boost up the Palestinian presence in the City to be used later as a pressure card in the peace agreement negotiations. Nonetheless, the Bethlehem 2000 Committee implemented restoration works which shows not only the interest in the place of Jesus birth but also it has been looked upon as a political commitment to the Peace Process. Riwaq-Centre for Architectural Conservation, as well, has been engaged in the Job Creation through Restoration projects since 2002, a project with its main goal is to alleviate poverty and help improvement of the economic situation of the Palestinians affected by the Aqsa Intifada.

In preservation works under occupation, cultural heritage has been in the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict. A process doesn’t consider built heritage as a possible reconciliation driving force, but as a substance for conflict and a substance for making visible in space the historicity of the struggling sides.

What do you think about the Lifta renovation project?

From architect conservator point of view, Lifta stands as a reminder of a typical evacuated Palestinian village during Arab-Israeli war 1948. Hence it has values that vary from historical, architectural, and social values. Lifta provides us with a reminder on one hand of the Palestinian lost landscape and dispersed community, and on the other stands as ethnically cleansed village to be located soon on the list of gentrified villages discriminating again the original founders and owners of these spaces.

Hence, we should advocate the preservation and restoration of Lifta village as an example of the very few Arab villages remained intact in the heart of the conflict. It also represents a social history reflected in the architecture and urban setting (the mosque, the square, the spring, the oil press…). The place is inseparable from its community and can not be understood without the people who made it and used it. The ultimate success of a plan for Lifta would be the return of the owners of these houses and let them get connected to their past. In so doing, a reconciliation process could start not only among the Palestinians and their history but also among the Arabs and Israelis. Any solution which doesn’t take into account the correction of the historical mistake of uprooting the Lifta citizens will be of no value especially know to all of us that there are many Liftawis living some kilometres from their homes in Jerusalem and under the Israeli jurisdictions.

An international protection of the village is needed. It could start with media campaign to shed light on the village and the discrimination policy of Israeli state against the original Liftawis. A possible way also is to engage the UNESCO in the protection of Lifta by nominating to the WHL, this process has to do with the state and may be complicated. However, other possibility is to put and nominate the village on the most 100 endangered buildings by the World Monument Watch. We as professionals and the original owners could put together a nomination form which has nothing to do with the state of Israel.

I believe also that the original owners living inside Israel could go through Israeli courts supported by international bodies, and Israeli ICCOMOS and Universities to halt the project. Sending the case to the Supreme Court will be the ultimate confrontation with the State policies.

 

 

From architect conservator point of view, Lifta stands as a reminder of a typical evacuated Palestinian village during Arab-Israeli war 1948. Hence it has values that vary from historical, architectural, and social values. Lifta provides us with a reminder on one hand of the Palestinian lost landscape and dispersed community, and on the other stands as ethnically cleansed village to be located soon on the list of gentrified villages discriminating again the original founders and owners of these spaces.

Hence, we should advocate the preservation and restoration of Lifta village as an example of the very few Arab villages remained intact in the heart of the conflict. It also represents a social history reflected in the architecture and urban setting (the mosque, the square, the spring, the oil press…). The place is inseparable from its community and can not be understood without the people who made it and used it. The ultimate success of a plan for Lifta would be the return of the owners of these houses and let them get connected to their past. In so doing, a reconciliation process could start not only among the Palestinians and their history but also among the Arabs and Israelis. Any solution which doesn’t take into account the correction of the historical mistake of uprooting the Lifta citizens will be of no value especially know to all of us that there are many Liftawis living some kilometres from their homes in Jerusalem and under the Israeli jurisdictions.

An international protection of the village is needed. It could start with media campaign to shed light on the village and the discrimination policy of Israeli state against the original Liftawis. A possible way also is to engage the UNESCO in the protection of Lifta by nominating to the WHL, this process has to do with the state and may be complicated. However, other possibility is to put and nominate the village on the most 100 endangered buildings by the World Monument Watch. We as professionals and the original owners could put together a nomination form which has nothing to do with the state of Israel.

I believe also that the original owners living inside Israel could go through Israeli courts supported by international bodies, and Israeli ICCOMOS and Universities to halt the project. Sending the case to the Supreme Court will be the ultimate confrontation with the State policies.

Link to Riwaq