His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah honors the “Rehabilitation and restoration of Historical Monuments and Residential Historical Buildings in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa Mosque inside the Old City of Jerusalem” project in Palestine, the winner of the Grand Prize of the ICCROM-Sharjah Award for Good Practices in Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management in the Arab Region (2021-2022).
The OCJRP project that won the ICCROM Sharjah award aimed to rehabilitate and restore residential complexes and historical buildings and preserve the historical and cultural heritage of these in the vicinity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The project included the restoration of many buildings in the area surrounding the Aqsa Mosque based on the results of the Master plan for the Old City of Jerusalem, which showed the urgent need to protect the cultural heritage in that area. Rehabilitation of many historical buildings. The subsequent phase of the project started in 2018 and included the implementation of the four components of the conservation process (restoration and rehabilitation, documentation, training, and awareness) to work on the following buildings in the Al-Haram Al-Sharif area:
1. Amineh Khalidi Residential Complex on Bab Al-Majlis Road
2. The home of the Kalouti family in Aqabat Shaddad
3. Al- Mazharyya School in Bab Al-Hadid , which is currently used as a residence for Jerusalemite families
4. The facade of the Arghoneyya school
5. Al- Mawardiyya Madrassa (School) (Al-Rasasiya) on the road to Aqabat Al-Takiya which is currently used as a mosque and a place for memorizing the Qur’an
6. The Jawhariyya school in Bab Al-Hadid
7. Turabat Al-Sit, Tonshuq Al-Muzafariyya
8. Al-khalidi Library on Bab al-Silsa Road
9. Al Qameem Public Space
This project falls within the objective of the Old Cities Jerusalem Revitalization Program (OCJRP), which was established in 1994 to preserve the historical and cultural heritage in the Old City of Jerusalem (registered on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1982) and seeks to improve the environmental and physical conditions of its buildings through rehabilitation and restoration. Furthermore, it aims to strengthen the residents' steadfastness in staying in the Old City of Jerusalem to protect it from settlers that seek to displace them and falsify the historical identity of the Old City, with the objective of eradicating the Islamic and Christian identity of the city and imposing a Judeo-biblical narrative onto it. The field visits and specialized studies prepared by the reconstruction program within the Master plan of the Old City revealed the following:
● There is a huge loss in the architectural and historical fabric of the historical buildings in the vicinity of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, which dates back to the Mamluk and Ottoman eras.
● The project area is constantly targeted by the occupation in its efforts to change its demographic composition, reduce the number of Jerusalemites living in the Old City, and to increase the number of Israeli settlers. They further aim to Judaize the history of the city and do so through excavations and continuous underground tunneling beneath the project area to prove their biblical narrative, consequently damaging the structural foundations of many buildings in the relevant area.
● Residents in the area also face the constant threat of groundless expulsion from their homes. Several buildings in the area are controlled by settlers, creating tension, and affecting the daily life of the inhabitants. Being in proximity to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall makes for constant political turbulence, as attested by the recurring assaults carried out by Israeli police. Ongoing Israeli excavations underneath certain parts of the Study Area have had and continue to have destructive effects on the historical buildings. Some of the settlers’ buildings are of Mamluk origin while others are controlled by the Israeli Municipality.
● Due to Israeli policies towards Jerusalemites and their need to keep their living rights, the population density within the Old City has increased. This, alongside growing local poverty and the neglect of Israeli authorities, has led culturally important structures to fall into disrepair.
For example, Amineh Khalidi Residential Complex housed forty-five families and was therefore very overcrowded, leading to very inadequate living conditions. Thus, the project improved their living conditions while engaging them in the rehabilitation process, allowing them to feel a sense of belonging and ownership over their homes while increasing their sense of pride for their culture. Another risk was encountered in Al Qameem, where settlers threatened to seize the area if it was not repaired. In response, the project restored it and turned it into a communal space, allowing for gatherings and encouraging values of solidarity. Therefore, work was done in the project area by OCJRP to protect it from such damage and to preserve and revive its historical heritage.
View of the Arghoneyya and bab al Hadid before restoration
An integrative approach to conservation was achieved through working through different stages using four key components: restoration and rehabilitation, training, awareness, and documentation. These work in concert to achieve a comprehensive and integrated revitalization process that goes beyond the restoration of historic buildings and monuments. The project also worked towards preserving the values and authenticity of the building and cultural identity.
The restoration sought to protect this heritage from surrounding dangers and challenges, most of which are of a political nature. Apolitical challenges consist of either misuse or mistreatment by its users or due to negligence and long-term disregard. Additionally, the renovations enhanced the residents’ living conditions and improved the physical, structural, and environmental state of the buildings. The project also rehabilitated public buildings to allow the renewal of institutional use.
Simultaneously, the workers and contractors underwent training programs that concentrated on teaching the historical importance of the monuments and safety measures alongside the technical skills needed to handle plaster and restore the stone. The training courses involved interns such as architects, civil engineers, and other professionals. They also covered training in risk assessment and how to develop mitigation plans relating to response or recovery targeting the local people in Jerusalem. Emphasis was placed on transferring knowledge regarding the historical significance of the monuments and building human capacities during the implementation of the project to establish a unit capable of viably carrying out conservation work due to their awareness of the correct methods and materials needed for the process. Thus, the project achieved a balance between preserving historical elements in them and meeting the modern needs of the residents that fall within international standards for the preservation process.
Community participation was of great importance and aimed to heighten the impact and sustainability of the project by enhancing the relationship and interest of the local community in the preservation of cultural heritage. By holding workshops with them and allowing them to contribute to special decisions, the project integrated the residents and increased their participation in it. To underline the importance of their role in preserving the cultural heritage in the area, the following awareness-raising activities were implemented: tours, competitions, events, and the release of publications and films directed at children, school students, and youth.
Throughout the project, information was recorded and added to different databases, as well as being translated into publications, booklets, and short films. Such documentation works to uphold the true history of the area targeted by the project, amplifying the social awareness and sustainability of the work.
Due to its multifaceted approach, the project had a stronger impact than solely restoring buildings. It strengthened the locals’ capabilities and understanding of cultural heritages, creating a conscious community capable of understanding its true importance and making them an essential part of the preservation of cultural and architectural heritage. The four components the project tackled have increased their resilience, establishing collective respect and appreciation for the area’s rich history and for the monuments that surround them. In addition, the project contributed to economic growth and diversity due to its resulting increase in employment and teaching skills necessary for future employment. In conclusion, the residents of the project area, as well as the rest of Jerusalem, will continue the flagship for cultural heritage protection.
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