Courtesy of PalVision
Rand and Yazid, two Jerusalemite youth, recount their cultural tourism experiences in Palestine. They reflect on the significance of revitalizing abandoned sites to better convey the history of the land.
“We often hear the phrase, ‘Roam a land, and it will be yours.’ Imagine that this land is full of stories and tales, and that every step you take leads you to a different epoch! In Palestine, you find archaeological sites in harmony with contemporary architecture, built with Palestinian stones, where every effort is made to preserve and restore the site, allowing all local and foreign history or architecture enthusiasts to access the place and roam its streets.
Take Al-Sibat neighborhood in the old city of Jenin, for example, where markets and alleys intertwine with archaeological buildings and one wanders amidst the shouts of vendors and the smells of spices and various types of foods. Once saturated by the streets of Al-Sibat, all enthusiasts need a break. Yet, to stay in touch with the civilization and the stories told by the walls, they might find themselves in front of a building such as Beit Jala’s Al-Maskobia that will soon be turned into a hotel to receive guests returning after a tiring tour of archaeological sites.* Or they might end up at the British Mandate fort that now serves as a police station in Deir Qaddis village in the Ramallah and Al-Bireh Governorate; or Tursallah, the British Mandate prison in Jaba’, near Jenin; or the British Mandate fort just outside Jiftlik village, near Jericho; or the Ottoman building that sits in the center of Tulkarem.
Visiting all the historical places in Palestine is an exhausting but enjoyable journey, accompanied by rich, memory-filled stories. As children, didn’t we used to refuse to go to sleep until our parents got to the happy ending of our bedtime story? We felt proud of heroes who fought against invaders, defended the land, roamed it, and preserved it. We tell the stories from our past only to add new, more interactive endings, as we prolong the experience of these magical places from the past. The future holds many promises for these archaeological sites, and the silence that engulfs them today will be, and in some cases has been, overcome. Take Deir Qaddis Fort, now a sports center where the voices of children and youth ring out as they exercise, breathing civilization.
I dream of the day when all our archaeological sites will be filled with the voices of community members who utilize them for new purposes or of tour guides speaking foreign languages to introduce the place and time to tourists.”
“As a Palestinian young man from Jerusalem, I enjoy freedom of movement to a certain degree because I hold a Jerusalem ID. I know that I am among the lucky few who are able to roam Palestine in almost all its entirety, and I appreciate being able to take a tour to document and photograph a few of our archaeological and historical sites to assess their current status and potential for restoration. I admit that I was surprised simply to know that these places exist.
These sites and buildings have been long neglected; some are almost in ruins. Nevertheless, most of them are large in size, built on expansive areas, and could be restored and rehabilitated to serve communities, tourism, and institutions. We have the important opportunity to invest in these sites, both economically and culturally, and to raise awareness of the Palestinian collective national identity by developing paths that enable us to tour and visit these sites. This will enhance communication among young Palestinians who live in different locations and bridge the gap in our knowledge about life in the Palestinian communities in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the 1948 areas, and refugee camps.”
*The building is part of a compound built in Beit Jala in the 1870s by Russian missionaries to serve as a girls’ school, teaching Arabic and Russian languages. Later on, it served as the first headquarters of the Beit Jala city council. Owned by the Arab Orthodox Charitable Society, it is currently vacant.