Scaffolding against Dar al-Consul, an ancient structure restored in Jerusalem's Old City


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PASSIA Conference Highlights the Importance of Heritage Protection in Jerusalem

On Tuesday, November 30, 2021, PASSIA (the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs) held a conference at the Legacy Hotel in East Jerusalem on “Protecting Islamic and Christian Cultural Heritage in Jerusalem.” The conference is part of a larger ongoing project, funded by the European Union with the partnership of Palestinian Vision and ACT—Conflict Resolution, which aims to “contribute to preserving the Palestinian character and cultural heritage of East Jerusalem by strengthening the Palestinian identity and enhancing the sense of belonging among Palestinians.”1

The conference considered approaches to heritage protection as based on the case of East Jerusalem. Almost 50 participants attended in person, and about 20 others attended the live sessions via Zoom. Simultaneous Arabic-English or English-Arabic translation was provided.

The program had four sessions.

First Session: Frameworks

The first session delved into the institutional and legal frameworks. This gave an outlook on the different time periods and laws that influenced heritage protection in Jerusalem. Dr. Ibrahim Shaban, lecturer in law at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, highlighted the right to heritage protection as articulated in international law. Dr. Wasfi Kilani, representative of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, stressed the importance of the religious holy sites in East Jerusalem, specifically the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is the duty of the Hashemite custodianship, he noted, to preserve those sites and protect the holy places in Jerusalem.

Dr. Chiara De Cesari, associate professor of European and cultural studies at the University of Amsterdam (who attended via Zoom), gave an overview of the projects she worked on in the West Bank toward the preservation and protection of Palestinian heritage. She shared a few photos from successful projects, such as the restoration of the old town in Birzeit, although she also noted the serious limitations in this field, namely, the limits of sovereignty, the unclear role of non-state actors, and the nature of cultural property.

Second Session: The Situation on the Ground

The second session looked into the situation on the ground. In his overview about cultural heritage, Khaled Khatib, director of the Palestinian Heritage Museum, highlighted two examples from Jerusalem—the Dar al-Tifl al-Arabi Museum and the Issaf Nashashibi Library—which he considers to be two valuable places of significant importance for the preservation of history and culture. The audience comments following his examples stressed the need to further promote these spaces, especially for the younger generation who may not be aware of their existence or their cultural importance amidst the stress and hardship of the general extreme political situation facing the Palestinian community in the city.

Attendees at a PASSIA conference on cultural preservation in Jerusalem

A segment of the presentation (via Zoom) by Dr. Chiara De Cesari at a local hotel in East Jerusalem on November 30, 2021


Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

Third Session: Case Studies

The third session was titled “Case Studies.” The first two speakers in this session, Dr. Munir Nusseibeh from Al-Quds University, and Oday Bajali, representative of Truth, brought forth rather painful examples of the realities of the Muslim and Orthodox Christian properties in Jerusalem that had been sold, and thus lost from their rightful owners (the residents). The speakers stressed the need for the respective religious entities and authorities to be held accountable for their actions that favor short-term individual interest over longer term collective interest and preservation of cultural heritage for future generations.

Meanwhile, Motaz Dawabsheh, project manager at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Amjad Taweel, project manager at UN-Habitat, shared accounts of rehabilitation work in the Old City of Jerusalem. Their presentations included visual documentation of the case of Dar al-Consul civic and residential complex, which is in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem and has foundations that date back almost 1,000 years to Mamluk times. The building complex covers about 2,400 sq. m. divided into 6 buildings, bounded by Khan El Zeit Street, where there are souk shops, and El Tkiyyeh Street, where the entrances to the complex are. For three decades in the mid-19th century, the complex served as the Prussian Consulate and the residence for the Prussian Consul; hence its name Dar al-Consul (Arabic for the House of the Consul).

Blog Post Rehabilitating a Unique Ancient Complex in the Old City: Dar al-Consul

After eight years of work, an ancient complex in the Old City of Jerusalem that dates back to Mamluk times is fully rehabilitated, creating an exciting new community space.

The interior of Dar al-Consul, a Jerusalem historic site that was restored and preserved by Palestinians, the EU, and UN-Habitat

A view of the work undertaken to restore and rehabilitate Dar al-Consul, an eight-year project


Christian Media Center

From ancient times to today, Dar al-Consul has served as a “historic, civic, and commercial hub,”2 and the project aimed to enhance that purpose. The complex has been newly reinaugurated and restored (with the support of the UN-Habitat, the European Union, and the collaboration of Al-Quds University). The project took eight years and was completed October 31, 2021, and inaugurated in early November 2021. The site will now be available to welcome pilgrims as well as provide space for the local community to develop projects. Ideally, it would become a museum.

Fourth Session: The Role of the Community

Finally, the fourth session, titled “The Role of the Community,” could be considered (as the participants agreed) the most hopeful of all the sessions: It featured two young women architects and planners from RIWAQ—Centre for Architectural Conservation, Arch. Aya Tahan and Arch. Dana Abbas, who showcased the rehabilitation and development in the Jerusalem area: Lifta, Qalandiya, and Kufr ‘Aqab. Among the images Tahan and Abbas shared were their design work on Lifta, which were used in the Arabic book Lifta: Register of a People, History, Cultural Heritage, and Struggle by Palestinian historian Nazmi Jubeh (Institute for Palestine Studies, 2020).

At the end of the sessions, participants agreed that this topic is crucial and relevant for Jerusalem, and that it therefore could have used more discussion.

The organizers noted that the conference could have been scheduled over two days instead of compressed into one, considering the scope of the subject. Also mentioned was the need for local organizations to join forces and work together toward preserving and protecting their ancient heritage.

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Protecting Islamic and Christian Heritage in Jerusalem,” Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA).

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