Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anthropology News: Why Heritage Restoration Make Sense Under Occupation

Heritage by NGOs

A current map of the West Bank, showing its fragmentation. Only the dark brown areas are controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Courtesy of B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Why Heritage Restoration Make Sense Under Occupation

Walking through the empty alleyways of the Old City of Hebron, an otherwise prevailing silence is broken only by a curious and unexpected noise here on a key battlefield of the Israel-Palestinian conflict: the sound of ongoing restoration work on sites throughout the old souk. Life in Old Hebron came to a standstill in the late 1970s when a handful of Israeli settlers occupied some of its signature historic buildings, bringing with them several thousand soldiers. This militarization and the subsequent progressive depopulation of the Old City’s Palestinian inhabitants have made the once bustling center of the southern West Bank a ghost town. Since the mid-1990s, a heritage organization called the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) has been working to restore the city’s many dilapidated Ottoman and Mamluk buildings. The HRC is what might be called a quango, or a quasi non-governmental organization; though tied to the Palestinian Authority, it is largely independent of it, particularly concerning funding. The major functioning Palestinian institution in Old Hebron, HRC receives several million dollars a year from Arab and European donors. Yet, why invest so much effort and money into heritage restoration in a place literally under fire? HRC’s work allowed several thousand Palestinians to return to live in the restored houses of the Old City, preventing the expansion of Israeli settlements into abandoned areas. Ultimately, HRC helps maintain the city’s very “Palestinianness”, including the historical character of its traditional Arab-Islamic urban fabric. This organization’s other activities extend from providing much needed employment on its restoration projects to promoting socio-cultural development....READ MORE

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