The Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation is a non-profit organization that seeks to preserve the Palestinian cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. Since the establishment of the center in 2001, it has been remarkable for its efforts in preserving the sources of cultural heritage in Palestinian cities and villages of Palestine, to link the past with the present and to confirm that our heritage is one of the most important aspects of Palestinian culture and identity and an important tool for economic and social development. Whereas the Center managed to rehabilitate more than 45 urban spaces in the centers of historical cities and old neighborhoods, it also restored more than 150 heritage buildings for the service of the community. This created, in the short term, more than 300 thousand days of work while providing, in the long term, more than 400 permanent job opportunities.
The Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation has many goals. These include preserving the Palestinian cultural heritage and utilizing it as a mechanism for social and economic development, enhancing community awareness of the value and importance of this heritage, providing job opportunities and improving the living conditions of the local population, in addition to building local capacities in the field of restoration techniques and methodologies, and rehabilitation as well.
Since its establishment, the Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation has implemented many projects in the field of cultural heritage in different cities and villages in the district of Bethlehem. Its projects were extended to cover all regions in Palestine, besides the district of Jerusalem. The implemented projects varied in their intervention. This included restoration and rehabilitation of different buildings, rehabilitation of lanes and streets, corridors and stairs, and public facilities, besides preparing various studies and plans for protection and preservation, along with awareness campaigns and community partnership.
The center consists of several units that contributed to the success and continuity of its work and giving. They are:
1. Rehabilitation Unit
This unit is responsible for the restoration of archaeological and architectural heritage sites, historical and green tourist paths, traditional and ancient buildings and neighborhoods. It is also responsible for urban planning of historical spots. It implements all engineering design works necessary for each project. It prepares all tender documents and fully supervises the implementation of projects according to the technical specifications necessary to protect the project.
2. Public Relations and Community Awareness Unit
This unit is responsible for ensuring effective partnership and participation of the local community in preserving cultural heritage. It plans and implements many activities and awareness campaigns with different groups of society through lectures, workshops, cultural heritage competitions, field visits, artistic activities, volunteer work and other joint events.
3. Studies and Research Unit
It prepares research and plans required for the management and protection of archaeological monuments. It also prepares protection and management plans for old towns, aimed at reviving and investing in them, as an important factor in the development of the local economy. Moreover, it designs legal and environmental protection programs through the development of regulations and laws for ensuring protection of historic city spots. This unit also prepares nomination files for archaeological sites, monuments and cities to be registered on the International List of Archaeological Sites.
4. Culture Unit - Dar Al-Sabbagh Center for Expatriate Research and Studies
This unit has been restored through a grant from Swedish Wisdom - the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be used as a center for studies and research for expatriates from the city of Bethlehem, and properly document the city, to become a reference for the history of the city. Moreover, the unit implements various activities and events to market the city at the local and international levels. The center covers the operating expenses of Dar Al-Sabbagh - the Culture Unit in cooperation with the local community, especially the owner of the building.
The Center has developed a mechanism for the utilization of traditional buildings by obtaining the consent of their owners to rehabilitate them for the public benefit for a period not less than 10 years, in return for the cost of restoring these buildings. The owners can reclaim the building after the expiry of the agreed period. As far as the rehabilitation of public spaces were concerned, the Center cooperated with local councils and authorities, to restore them. These projects included;
1. Research, Training and Studies Projects
Research and studies are an important factor in the work mechanism of the Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation. They aim at defining strategies and plans for various activities implemented by the Center in various fields. While training is another important factor through which the Center is keen to communicate the knowledge it gained to all segments of society and those working in preserving cultural heritage resources. The Center, through the Department of Studies and Research, was a key partner in the preparation of two nomination documents for the inclusion of Palestinian sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List: "Bethlehem, the Birthplace of Christ: The Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrims' Way - 2011", and "Palestine: The Land of Grapes and Olives: The Cultural Landscape in South Jerusalem, Battir â€“ 2013â€ť.
2. Projects for the Rehabilitation of Traditional Buildings and Urban Fabric
The Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation has implemented many restoration and rehabilitation projects in various Palestinian cities and villages. Through these projects, the Center is keen to provide knowledge and experience, and to be an example of the techniques used in restoration and encourage others to follow them. These projects demonstrate the effectiveness of using traditional materials and applying restoration traditional techniques in a manner that preserves the original building. Knowledge transfer is implemented through seminars, lectures, workshops, site visits, etc. The number of projects implemented by the Center is about 200 projects. They varied in terms of the type of intervention. They included the restoration and rehabilitation of more than 150 buildings, 45 streets, corridors and stairs, and the rehabilitation of public facilities, and the preparation of various studies.
The Center has developed a mechanism for the utilization of traditional buildings by obtaining the consent of their owners to rehabilitate them for the public benefit for a period not less than 10 years, in return for the cost of restoring these buildings. The owners can reclaim the building after the expiry of the agreed period. As far as the rehabilitation of public spaces were concerned, the Center cooperated with local councils and authorities, to restore them.
3. Capacity Building Activities
The Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation recognizes the need for capacity building in the field of cultural heritage preservation for engineers, architects, artisans and workers. Accordingly, the Center adopts many practical and theoretical means to build and develop the capabilities of many specialists in the field of engineering, planning and restoration, as a starting point to support and enhance national efforts and preserve the cultural heritage in Palestine and ensure its permanence. Among the most important activities carried out by the Center for capacity building are:
- Capacity building in the field of oil painting in traditional buildings;
- Introduction to the structural analysis and consolidation of historical buildings in Palestine;
- A remedial course for tourism guides in Palestine entitled â€śCultural and Architectural Heritage in the City of Bethlehemâ€ť;
- Building the capacities of local government engineers;
- Building the capabilities of planning and engineering students.
4. Awareness Projects and Community Partnership
What the Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation has accomplished, and aims to accomplish, in the field of protecting, developing and managing cultural heritage resources in Palestinian cities and villages needs community participation to keep pace with this development process. This is the reason that the Center is accelerating the implementation of various programs and campaigns to promote awareness of preserving and developing cultural heritage sites by targeting all sectors of society. The center implement many activities and follows many means to involve the community, such as workshops, field visits, volunteer work, publications, and pilot projects. The Center has so far implemented more than 4,000 activities and succeeded in reaching more than 120,000 people, which in turn achieved a kind of positive change in community awareness of the value of cultural heritage and the importance of preserving it. Important activities of the Unit included:
- Community Planning:
In parallel with the restoration and rehabilitation projects, the Center holds meetings with decision-makers and relevant stakeholders to involve them in the planning process and in formulating appropriate strategies and implementation plans for the proposed projects upon their completion. It considers their observations, comments, suggestions and development priorities in the project area. In addition to preserving the cultural heritage, these projects aim to use this heritage as a tool for the development of the tourism sector in the given city.
- Lectures and Workshops:
Lectures highlight the importance of the role of the local community and its responsibility in protecting cultural heritage sites. They also raise awareness of the importance and value of cultural heritage as a component of national identity and as the most important factor in supporting and developing tourism. Different segments of society were targeted through video presentations on the importance of these projects and interventions in the old towns and their impact on society and surrounding environment.
- Field Visits:
The Center coordinates its field visits with all aforementioned sectors of society and decision makers, to completed projects or those under implementation, environmental tourism paths and archaeological sites that aim to provide a vivid example of preserving cultural heritage and its impact on society. Through this, it aims at introducing these sectors to the stages of restoration processes and rehabilitation of heritage and archaeological sites in. To ensure the success and achievement of the objectives of these visits and to benefit the participants, the Center conducts an opinion poll with each participant about the importance of the visit and its outcome.
Publications are an important part of the comprehensive plan and activities of the Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation, in addition to being a means of raising awareness of the importance of this heritage and introducing it and its historical and social value to the public opinion.
Major Challenges Facing Cultural Heritage
Palestinian cultural heritage is an essential part of the Palestinian national identity. However, it faces many challenges that affect its protection and preservation. These challenges include:
1- Occupation: The Israeli occupation poses a major challenge to preserving the Palestinian cultural heritage, as it seeks, through its practices, to obliterate, harm, and erase this heritage.
2- Inadequate Legislation: Palestinian heritage suffers from lack of legislation and laws for the protection of cultural heritage sites. Insufficient or weak legislation may lead to failure to provide adequate protection to Palestinian cultural heritage, exposing it to deterioration and vandalism.
3- Increase in Urban Expansion: The Palestinian territories are witnessing an increase in urban expansion and development, which means a change in the urban landscape and a loss of historical and architectural sites that form part of the cultural heritage. Urban crawling causes historical infrastructure to be neglected and traditional buildings to be destroyed, affecting the cultural and historical identity of local areas.
4- Lack of Awareness: Palestinian communities suffer from a lack of awareness and interest in cultural heritage. This may be a result of the economic and social challenges facing Palestinians. Some may ignore the importance of preserving the Palestinian cultural and historical heritage, which leads to the deterioration and distortion of some sites.
5- Scarcity of Financial Resources: This is a major obstacle hindering efforts to preserve Palestinian cultural heritage. Appropriate funding plays a critical role in implementing programs to preserve historical sites and monuments, providing training and education to the community, and organizing exhibitions and cultural events. However, there may be financial constraints that limit the possibility of providing the necessary resources to preserve the Palestinian cultural heritage.
6- The Complexity of Ownership: Heritage sites in Palestine face challenges related to ownership and legal regulation. Due to the complex history of the region and the ongoing political conflict, cultural sites may face complexities regarding property rights and legal protection. Negligence, deterioration, and inappropriate exploitation of historic sites and buildings may result.