A Comprehensive National Plan for the Protection and Development of the Cultural Heritage

We need to develop a comprehensive plan to protect and develop the rich and varied cultural heritage in Palestine. This is essential, not just for its cultural and civilizational dimension, its compatibility with the history of the Palestinians, and the fact that it epitomizes the historic experiences of the Palestinians and the depth of their existence in this country, but also because it forms a great economic resource. Hence, it is important to link cultural heritage and the natural environment. Investment in the infrastructure or in any kind of development should not occur at the expense of preserving the natural environment, which has been neglected and abused if not destroyed in recent years.

           It will not be possible to protect the cultural heritage in Palestine unless the following conditions are met:

1.      The state of Palestine, as an official institution, must put the protection of cultural heritage on the list of national priorities for development. There should also be a national policy regarding the protection of cultural heritage that unifies efforts and reduces conflict between the various parties who are involved with cultural heritage. It is necessary to move beyond documentation to setting a comprehensive national plan, as part and parcel of the social and economic development plan in Palestine.

2.      Constitutional terms of reference for the protection and development of cultural heritage are required, in addition to the need for the Palestinian Legislative Council to endorse the newly proposed law of cultural natural heritage protection. The proposed law is a comprehensive approach for dealing with the cultural heritage, through which it is possible to expand the circle of protection and administration.

3.      Plans to protect and develop the historic sites and heritage areas must be drawn in coordination with the Ministries and concerned parties. When planning the towns we must take into consideration the protection of cultural and natural heritage located within the area. 

4.      Popular participation in preserving the cultural heritage must be encouraged, because the state, no matter how strong or aware it may be needs popular support to protect a rich cultural heritage that is spread out across the country. Citizens must become aware that their private and national interests lie in preserving this heritage and developing it as a source of revenue and as part of their national identity. Civil society institutions and the private sector can also be effective partners in this field. Developing society’s attachment to its heritage is not an easy task, especially under the current circumstances, but it is one thing that may make any process of developing the cultural heritage a success or failure.

5.      Official institutional participation must be developed on the national and local levels. There are several Ministries and bodies that can (indeed should) contribute to this taxing process, each according to its capability. Among these are the Ministry of Culture the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (until such time when the new body which will be entrusted with the task of protecting the cultural heritage as a whole, not just antiquities alone, is formed), the Ministry of Local Government, in its capacity as the ministry entitled to follow up the acts of municipalities, village councils and the master plans, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Environmental Quality Agency; and so on. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, or the new proposed body for the cultural heritage, should be responsible for running this sector and should design the various standards necessary for protection and development. It is their duty to coordinate and to create a network of relations and joint work among all the concerned and interested people and possible partners. Because most sites of concern are located within the municipal and village council limits, the Ministry of Local Government is an indispensable partner in developing the master plans in a way that serves the cultural heritage, which becomes an incentive for constructive planning and invested for the benefit of the site resources. Municipalities and village councils are partners in planning, protection, and investment. It is necessary to establish departments in every relatively large municipality to carry on the task of protecting the cultural heritage and supervising the works in and around the heritage site, in coordination with the responsible body.

6.      Partnerships must be developed with civil society organizations related to the protection of the heritage. Partnership with society is essential; there is no benefit from a heritage that is not appreciated by its own people. The Palestinian society has a number of NGOs that focus on the cultural heritage and that have much experience in this field. These include the Old City of Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, which was able to renovate and protect an important part of the old town, and the Center for the Preservation of Heritage in Bethlehem, which was created as a byproduct of the Bethlehem 2000 project and which carries out works of renovation and maintenance for an important part of the architectural heritage, in addition to its ongoing activities in developing awareness on the cultural heritage. In the old city of Jerusalem, the Welfare Association and the Committee for the Social Welfare and the Islamic Waqf (endowment) as well as some churches are engaged in similar activities. The unit of the old city of Nablus, in the Municipality of Nablus, has already exerted laborious work to protect the old city, which is being subjected to repeated Israeli incursions by bulldozers and tanks. All the above institutions contributed no doubt to protecting the architectural heritage from almost certain destruction. The scope of Riwaq's activity spreads across the entire country and is not restricted to a certain region. It acts to protect and renovate historic buildings in Palestinian in towns as well as in rural areas. The rural areas are at a higher risk of losing their identity than other areas. Some geographical areas still lack NGOs or any civil initiative specialized in the protection of heritage. It is therefore necessary to encourage the establishment of more of these NGOs, taking into consideration the geographical distribution within the framework of specialization.

      Universities, academic institutes, and training centers have a vital role to play. Specializations in the fields of cultural heritage are still limited, few in number, and incompatible with the task and the challenge. Developing a network among various institutes related to the cultural heritage may help create complementarily among education, training, and meeting the needs of this sector.

7.      A plan must be developed to direct the private sector, and those in charge of development, to invest in the cultural heritage in accordance with certain standards and in ways that do not harm that heritage. Ministries, official institutions, and the NGOs cannot meet this challenge alone. It is necessary to integrate the private sector in this process by providing incentives and loans. A specialized Cultural Heritage Fund could also be established, if we are not able to establish a bank specialized in cultural heritage and tourism.

In the Palestinian context, any developmental process must depend on investing in the cultural heritage. We should not continue thinking that the cultural heritage is a money consumer, and start instead to consider it as an important source of investment and national revenue, profit generator, provider of job opportunities, and creator of a thorough industry that opens prospects for development.

8.      Palestinian-international partnership can be achieved by developing cooperation and partnership with international institutions and agencies concerned with the cultural heritage, such as UNESCO, ICCROM, ICOMOS, and so on, in addition to the scientific institutions and museums that are interested in the Palestinian heritage and its development.

Because we suffer a horrible shortage in training and in the number of qualified individuals, we must develop human resources so that we can have a professional cadre specialized in the protection, renovation, and management of cultural heritage, and we can thus be better able to meet the challenge. Hence the importance of international partnership in this field.