Riwaq’s Registry of Historic Buildings

No national plan can be implemented before cultural assets are registered and placed in a database that can provide primary information on the sites. To perform the task, it was necessary to define the geographical space of the project. For reasons that are primarily logistical related to linking the registry to the developmental plans in Palestine, we decided to restrict our work to the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. We are well aware that from a civilizational and historic perspective, the registry ought to include all Palestine within its British Mandate borders because the registry material includes the architectural assets which were constructed before the 1948 nakba (catastrophe). The picture will never be complete without including Palestinian structures that predate 1948, and we hope that we will be able to complete the project at some point in the future.

In 10 years of industrious work, we were able to finish the major part of the process of registering almost every historic building that predates 1945. We consider this a huge achievement. We now know the condition, characteristics, and exact locations of historic buildings. Among the indirect benefits of this effort during these ten years, hundreds of students of architecture, history, and archeology at various Palestinian universities have been trained on how to deal with historic buildings, which enhanced their level of awareness and understanding of this cultural heritage. In addition, nearly all the owners or users of the historic buildings were consulted, and partnerships were also established with municipal and village councils and with many public institutions and NGOs. We believe that working on the registry has contributed immeasurably to developing a general awareness of cultural heritage and to initiating societal discussion on its importance. While this has not completely put a stop to the deterioration, it did contribute to protecting some historic buildings and centers.

Compiling Riwaq’s Registry has not been at all easy. When we began, we were not aware what it would entail, and we had to rely heavily on the experiences of others in the surrounding region or beyond. Despite all our work and best efforts, we made a few mistakes and had to correct them. In the 10 years since we started to work on this Registry, the political situation in Palestine has undergone changes. Technological developments and new software facilitated our work on the one hand but also forced us to modify what we had already listed. In the end, we developed a format that makes it easy for us to quickly extract information on any registered building.

Ten years have already passed since we started work on the Registry, and it has not been updated. As a result, we do not know for sure how many of the buildings that have been registered are still standing. In some locales, the construction boom and Israeli bulldozers have changed the landscape drastically, making Riwaq's Registry a historical record of what once existed.