Hajja is a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank, located eighteen kilometers west of Nablus in the Qalqilya Governorate. Hajja is an Aramaic word, meaning "market." The village is surrounded by five neighboring villages and is renowned for having an ancient Mamluk mosque that dates to AD 1323.
Historically, Hajja was known for producing saddles used for riding camels and other animals. Today, the village is home to approximately 13,119 acres, which residents use to farm grains, olives, and fruit. Local farmers sell their produce in Hajja’s market and to neighboring villages, including Qalqilya’s market. The population of the village of Hajja is approximately 3,218.
The historic center of Hajja occupies the northern half of the village, where thirty-seven middle to lower income families live. Most of its 178 residents farm the land for agricultural production or work in the construction industry.
Over time, residents in the historic center who could afford to move away relocated to concrete houses in the southern part of the village, resulting in the abandonment of 139 (64 %) of the village’s historic buildings. Many of the buildings in the historic center are in functional condition, but a portion of the buildings remain in such a deteriorated state that they are no longer suitable for use.
Through the Hajja project, RIWAQ aimed to bring life back to the historic center of the village, returning it to its full capacity and population. Beginning in March 2011, RIWAQ took its first steps towards achieving this goal through surveys, documentation, and preparing a rehabilitation plan. In three short years, the rehabilitation plan was implemented, and sixty-five buildings and a number of public spaces were protected and restored. RIWAQ concluded its work in Hajja in January 2014.
RIWAQ’s initial visit in 2011 set the tone for the duration of our engagement in Hajja, and shed light on the significance of improving the general living conditions for residents, repopulating the area, and restoring its abandoned houses. Hajja’s residents were spirited, enthusiastic, and invested in the historic center’s public spaces and alleys: elder women sat at their doorsteps conversing with neighbors and passers-by while preparing meals; others swept the streets and alleys in front of their homes. Children returning from school playfully ran through the streets with ice cream and chips. Embracing what is referred to in Arabic as al Oneh (reciprocity)— a long-lived code of cooperative social interaction—RIWAQ and community members in Hajja engaged in a participatory approach for the vision, design, and implementation of the project. This approach was particularly salient due to the substantial number of people still residing within the historic center. To this end, RIWAQ’s planners and architects observed many of the already existing communal practices of the historic center, and in turn, designed projects around the use of pergolas, seating, and planting okra beans, passion fruit, and vineyards. Today, it is evident that this collaborative process has elevated the pride and sentiment of residents on both a local and national level.
Due to limited funding, our goal in Hajja’s historic center was to create a comprehensive rehabilitation model by condensing our resources to an area where a concentrated set of buildings and public spaces could be redefined and reused for the greatest impact on the community. In turn, the project area included the historic center’s al Madafah (the Guesthouse) and Old Mosque.
This project took an inside-out approach; working with residents to enhance their houses and use them, and working on enhancing the outer skin of the building and surrounding alleys. Public spaces were not created, but rather rediscovered and redefined according to where people were accustomed to gathering, such as in zarobet al hawa (the wind alley), which is a narrow alley opened at one side to the space in front of al Madafah. People historically gathered in these alleys and socialized over coffee or tea, sitting on long low stones. Through the restoration process, the space was paved and leveraged into an accessible and safe communal space, and continues to foster strong social interaction between community members. It is this work that we, at RIWAQ, are privileged to serve, as it remains the guiding vision for the restoration of our collective space and heritage across the entire region.
By 2013, our goal was realized, with approximately twelve units renovated as dwellings, three buildings as cultural and community centers, and a net of public spaces and small gardens opened to the community. To enhance the living environment and overall living conditions, the project also included work on public roads and alleys, and the connections of private dwellings to the public infrastructure and sewage network.