Alقُuds, the holiest city of them all, the fairest of them all, needs our attention and care. Waqfiyyet alقُuds focuses on Jerusalem villages and towns that are being suffocated by settlements, bypass roads and high unemployment rates. More than any other locations in Palestine, Jerusalem and its hinterland have felt the effects of the construction of the Separation Wall, the confiscation of land, the uprooting of olive trees, and restrictions on work and mobility.
Riwaq has devoted special attention to the needs of these communities by working in 10 of the villages and towns located within Jerusalem Governorate. These villages include: Beit Ijza, Beit Iksa, Al Jib, Qalandiya, Kafr Aqab, Jaba, Hizma, Anata, Abu Deis and Shufat.
Work in these villages entailed the restoration of a number of historic buildings for use as community centers, providing training and jobs for the unemployed, upgrading infrastructure, and raising awareness about the needs of these towns and villages. In the coming years, Riwaq intends to expand its work into 10 more towns and villages.
Waqfiyyet alقُuds —The Jerusalem Life Jacket Fund—with a capital of USD one million dollars will generate an annual income of USD 50,000. This will enable Riwaq to focus on one village each year with a program to consolidate heritage, create community spaces, and generate more than 1,000 days of work annually, providing workers with skills and knowledge that will help them to find jobs in the emerging field of restoration.
In 2000 the Israeli government made three major decisions that had negative consequences on Palestinian lives and futures: one was the building of the Separation Wall; the second was to forbid Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to use al-Lydd airport (Tel Aviv airport); and the third was to forbid Palestinian laborers from working in Israel. Considering that close to 150,000 Palestinian laborers worked in Israel at the time, it meant that more than one quarter of the Palestinian population woke up one day to find they were unemployed with no income. As a result, unemployment shot up to unprecedented levels of almost 50 percent.
In response to these harsh colonial policies, a few months later, Riwaq initiated its program Tashgheel: “Job creation through conservation” in an attempt to contribute its modest share in giving meaningful job and training to young people in Palestinian towns and villages.
Waqfiyyet Tashgheel focuses on Palestinian laborers and their right to work, and to have a dignified life for themselves and their families.
Since 2001, Riwaq has restored more than 120 historic buildings in more than 80 villages in towns throughout Palestine; derelict buildings used as rubbish dumps have been converted into attractive and safe social spaces for marginalized sectors of the community in the most impoverished areas of Palestine. Riwaq’s work has enhanced living conditions, revived traditional skills and techniques, and created more than 500,000 direct days of work on-site for unemployed Palestinian laborers.
Riwaq is establishing a USD 500,000 Job Creation Endowment that will generate USD 25,000 worth of employment annually: around 700 days of work at $30-40 per day.
If there is someone that deserves our attention and unconditional support, it is women and girls in general, but more so in Occupied Palestine. And if there is someone that is being affected by the excessive use of violence by the Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers, it is women and girls in the impoverished villages of rural Palestine.
Lack of public safety and restrictions on mobility due to hundreds of checkpoints have had a negative impact on educational opportunities for schoolgirls and on women’s engagement in the labor force.
However, in spite the difficult circumstances in which they live and the exceptional hardships they face on daily basis, given the right opportunities, Palestinian women have, through hard work and creativity, demonstrated incredible ability to transform financial distress and destitution into unimagined opportunity. Riwaq’s experience has also demonstrated that given an opportunity, women use it imaginatively and wisely to engage and serve their entire community.
Waqfiyyet al Nisaء focuses on the empowerment of women and girls. It provides appropriate safe spaces in historic centers that allow women to implement their initiatives, whether it be a women’s cooperative for culinary services, a health centre, a nursery, or a crafts or cultural center.
Working closely with local women’s organizations in the 50 villages as well as with women leaders in their local communities, Riwaq has so far restored more than 60 historic buildings and courtyards for women’s associations and cooperatives at a reasonable cost of USD 70,000 each. Not only have these women’s centers become attractive workplaces, they are also spaces for social gatherings and social exchange. These women’s centers also enable women to contribute to the household income, thereby improving family living standards and education.
The Waqfiyyet al Nisaء (Heritage for Women Fund) with a capital of USD one million will generate an annual income of USD 50,000. This would enable Riwaq to restore one courtyard/building annually for the benefit of a local women’s initiative. Women’s associations and cooperatives in villages and towns will use these centers to strengthen their contribution to the local economy and socio-cultural life.
The scarcity of land in all Palestinian towns and villages and high levels of land speculation have resulted in astronomical price rises in real estate, making it out of reach for the majority of the population. Building your own home has become a dream few can afford.
Choices of accommodation are more limited than ever before: either a new concrete box in a crowded and badly serviced high-rise building or an older style house with a courtyard or small garden. As time passes and the situation worsens, the choice to live in the historic centers will become a trend, especially for students and newlyweds. This trend will spare the remaining Palestinian landscape from additional encroachment by costly new housing projects that do not respond to local needs.
Waqfiyyet il Iskan focuses on the provision of affordable housing in some of the historic centers that are part of Riwaq’s 50-village project. It makes use of the beautiful old buildings: a valuable resource that has long been abandoned and forgotten.
Crucially, Riwaq’s incremental rehabilitation of entire historic centers by upgrading the infrastructure of streets and alleys, rehabilitating community centers, children’s playgrounds and plazas, and restoring the facades of buildings, has made it possible to live in renovated housing units within the historic centers.
Inspired by the traditional concept of exchange-in-kind rather than in money, Riwaq has reactivated the old concept ilعOneh: communal help or collective effort to help a family construct its house, help a farmer pick his olive trees or give a hand during a harvest season. Since 2012, use of the revived modality of ilعOneh - utilizing the available labor within the same household, relatives or neighbors - Riwaq has restored more than 50 small houses in the very heart of historic centers throughout rural Palestine. Riwaq has also restored tens of small historic houses or small business spaces with a modest budget of USD 10,000. This affordable budget enabled Riwaq to provide a shelter for an old person or needy family in addition to refurbishing workspaces. As important, the restoration works created short and long-term jobs for the unemployed in these villages.
Riwaq is establishing a Historic Housing Fund with a capital of one million USD that will generate an annual income of USD 50,000 worth of restoration works. In other words, the restoration of five small historic houses or businesses annually for needy families and newlywed couples.
Whether it’s the ancient Greek agora, the forum in an ancient Roman city or the piazza of an Italian city today, al Midan in Arab cities or es Saحha in Palestinian villages represents a public garden, park or playground as an open public space accessible to all. These are communal spaces where people meet or gather for a common cause: a revolution in Midan al Tahreer in Cairo, a relaxed cup of coffee with friends, to listen to a musical concert or to attend a friend’s wedding.
Waqfiyyet es Saحhat focuses on encouraging families to use, gather and enjoy their open public spaces within historic centers. By cleaning and creating pavements, street furniture and children’s playgrounds in the unbuilt spaces of historic centers, a supportive and safe environment is created for children to play or ride their bikes, and for women to gather. It attracts new users alongside the men who often gather in the village or the mosque plaza.
Building on Riwaq’s long experience in restoring and refurbishing children’s playgrounds and communal plazas in villages and towns throughout Palestine, Riwaq has restored plazas and playgrounds in the heart of historic centers at a modest cost of USD 20,000 each. Once restored, these spaces become safe and attractive for many groups and activities, spaces that are full of life and social interaction. As important, these locations enhance the overall appearance of the historic centers, which encourages community pride and appreciation of their heritage.
Riwaq is establishing a USD 500,000 Spaces for Social Change Fund that will generate restoration work of more than USD 25,000, the cost of restoring one communal plaza or a children’s playground annually in a historic center.
The Cultural Program Fund
RIWAQ designs and facilitates cultural, educational, and community-based activities that foster participation and engagement of local communities in the rehabilitation projects taking place in their town, and are committed to raising awareness of the power of cultural heritage and its ability to bring people closer together.
Our activities are diverse and target different groups. We work with school children on writing and illustration; we facilitate concerts; we organize hikes and environmental exploration activities; we organize voluntary clean up and tree-planting days; we host trainings and capacity building activities for women and local residents; and participate in a broad range of social and cultural festivals and events. Riwaq started the Riwaq Biennale and co-founded Qalandiya International, both multidisciplinary platforms that question the life and practices of Palestinian communities and beyond.
The cultural program fund with a capital of USD 250,000 will generate an annual income of USD 25,000. This will enable Riwaq to implement its cultural program and take part in the cultural activities carried by Riwaq’s partnering institutions.
If there is one act that exemplifies the trauma and tragedy of the 1948 Nakba, it is Israel’s colonial act of bulldozing, to the ground, some 420 Palestinian villages. Such a vindictive act was executed not only to prevent Palestinians from going back home, but also to erase any traces of Palestinian existence on their historic homeland.
Such a mammoth and irreversible loss has been deeply engraved in the collective memory of every Palestinian living in the diaspora or in Occupied Palestine. And this was perhaps the unconscious reason behind the establishment of Riwaq in 1991.
We build... In spite of all the odds against us
420 villages were waiting to be saved.
And that was how Riwaq’s Mission was outlined.
It’s about people and the quality of their lives, and not about stones
With all modesty, Riwaq can proudly say that it has succeeded in shifting the focus of cultural heritage preservation from the physicality and materiality of historic buildings to focusing on the quality of people’s lives and the quality of the private and the public spaces in which they live.
Over time Riwaq has also shifted its work from the restoration of single buildings to the revitalization of entire historic centers. Together with municipal councils and local communities, Riwaq has so far rehabilitated 20 of the 50 historic centers. The 50-Village Project entailed setting in motion different Programs. Some were meant to respond to threats and challenges in locations such as Jerusalem and its hinterland; others aimed to create jobs for the high numbers of young unemployed in those villages; provide training and specific skills for local architects and laborers; empower women, especially in deprived rural areas; alleviate the shortage of decent housing in historic centers; and create children’s playgrounds and community public plazas: Saحhat or what we like to think of as “arenas for social change.”
Today, I have yet a big dream: To achieve a sustainable Riwaq and by extension, sustainable cultural heritage in Palestine. Considering Riwaq’s long history of financial security and stability, this dream is attainable. Thanks to the hard work of a dedicated team, financial transparency, and the establishment of solid, long-term relationships with partners, Riwaq has earned credibility within the local community and with funders. Despite scarce financial resources, political challenges, and instability in Occupied Palestine, Riwaq has always maintained its financial stability and sustainability.
We are proud to say that there has not been a single moment in Riwaq’s long history since 1991 that there has been a threat due to lack of funding, even when key donors altered their funding policies in Palestine. Riwaq has always succeeded in adopting the measures necessary to minimize the effects of any disruptions. This financial stability and transparency not only give Riwaq’s employees a strong sense of belonging but has also cemented the confidence of Riwaq’s funders and individual contributors.
Riwaq’s strong financial record since its establishment in 1991 encouraged me to make Riwaq a beneficiary in my will. In reciprocity, Riwaq established the Riwaq Founder’s Endowment: a clever strategy that puts me on the frontline of building the Founder’s Endowment to a total of $3.5 million. I am seeking your personal contribution to make this dream a reality.