Saturday, October 31, 2020

Historic center of Qalandia to be restored with international cooperation

By Ary Gotlib - December 28, 2018
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
Tags: [Qalandiya checkpoint] [culture]

In Qalandia, south of Ramallah, the Riwaq center for architectural conservation has begun major restoration work. In a village sadly known for the largest checkpoint along the segregation wall, this renovation has a very special symbolic significance.

For Aya Tahhan, architect and manager at Riwaq, "this is a particular restoration, because it is the first time that we will renovate the whole historic center of a village." Sixty houses will be renovated by the end of the project. “It is possible thanks to an agreement with the municipality,” she added.

This is a house of a rich family built in the early 1880s and expanded twice, around 1920 and 1940. It is the object of a complete restoration commenced in April 2018 and will last a year and a half.
This restoration is conducted in cooperation with foreign craftsmen.

For Victor Laurent*, Belgian cabinetmaker sent by an agency of his country (which wished to remain anonymous) who is working with Riwaq, "it is a very interesting opportunity to explain ancient woodworking techniques to Palestinian artisans who have lost this knowledge today."
"The technical development in Palestine went too fast, the craftsmen had to get used to working with very sophisticated machines whereas some time ago, they worked with planes for wood," analyzed Victor Laurent, affirming that master craftsmen did not have time to train with these new technologies.
“Today we must put a certain slowness in the work and say that producing to produce does not make much sense,” he asserted.

The Belgian cabinetmaker's mission is the renovation of several doors and windows of the villa. "I do not want to modernize them, but restore them while retaining the techniques of yesteryear.”
In a context of occupation and deprivation, saving the Palestinian memory and heritage is part of the resistance. Aya Tahhan emphasized: “Israel not only trying to grab our identity but they say it’s theirs.”
Riwaq plans for the villa to become a center for cultural NGOs and associations, “in a bid to decentralize offices and institutions based in Ramallah, which is becoming more and more congested,” according to the architect.

The house restored is next to an Israeli road’s wall protection.
“When I came here for the first time, I saw the near wall built by the Israeli state in order to protect one of their roads. That made me understand better the importance for Palestinians to maintain their heritage,” Laurent said with tremolos in his voice.

During 10 days, the Belgian cabinet maker and Palestinian carpenters are working together, sharing their different way of working.
“It is a chance for me to work with Victor Laurent, although he is sometimes annoying with his precautionary measures,” Nasser Odeh - partner and owner of the carpenter workshop in Taybeh village, said with a smile.
But for the Belgium, “it is important to insist on safety, we are also here to discuss the way we conceive our job. It’s a complete sharing.”
For Riwaq co-director Khaldoun Bshara, this international cooperation must aim to the transfer of know-how. “Today, we don’t know in Palestine how to restore wood, so we throw it in the trash, therefore we import metal equipment. We are triply losers because it is more expansive, we aren’t autonomous and because we lose our history.”

One part of the historical center started to be restored by Riwaq in January 2018.
Qalandia village is known for being the location of the largest checkpoint in the West Bank that regulates the routes between the West Bank and Jerusalem. “The name of Qalandia is not linked with the historic center – pointed out Aya Tahhan - we hope to make it change.” 

The two woodworkers wish to preserve the techniques used to work the wood at these different times.
From the left to the right : Door built in 1880 – Window from around 1920 – Window from around 1930 – Window from around 1940
Border-less craft projects and the re-appropriation of heritage management by the citizens themselves are two central creeds for Victor Laurent.
"The knowledge and history of one city must go beyond the law, for me it’s the citizens who must gather and decide what should or should not be preserved, not a political hierarchy."
In Palestine, Aya Tahhan highlighted that “the budgetary priority of the authorities is too much on defense and security. They do not see enough importance in keeping alive our heritage, we want to bring awareness on this point.”
* name changed for privacy

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