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The old city of Hebron is one of the historical centers in Palestine that maintains its authenticity and the presence of population to this day, despite the adverse conditions created since 1967 by the Israeli occupation. In Hebron, various methods have been employed to force the evacuation of the population from the old city. Residents’ daily movement between homes, workplaces, shops, and markets is restricted by a series of harsh measures that include the blocking and closing of old city entrances, streets, and roads and the positioning of military checkpoints throughout the old city. These policies and measures have caused an isolation of the old city, separating it from the other parts of Hebron. As a result, the area has been marginalized and its residents have been deprived of job opportunities, which in turn has led to higher unemployment rates, lower income levels, and rising poverty.
Since its establishment in 1996, Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) has pursued the inclusive and sustainable development of the old city in order to preserve its cultural heritage. It has been working hard to revitalize the old city through the renovation of buildings, the repurposing of abandoned buildings, and the rehabilitation of its infrastructure. It strives to improve the population’s living conditions by restoring residential homes and providing various services that contribute to the development of housing and employment conditions. It also endeavors to stimulate the economy and tourism.
Cultural heritage is considered a sustainable factor in the promotion of comprehensive development in various fields – social, economic, touristic, etc. – by offering significant opportunities to improve livelihoods. HRC, through its various projects, provides residents with job opportunities in two major ways.
The first is the creation of employment opportunities through maintenance and restoration projects. These projects open large doors of opportunity to many disciplines within various sectors, including structural and architectural reconstruction works to stabilize buildings and clean up sites or projects that involve plastering, sweeping, tiling, painting, carpentry work, and blacksmithing.
HRC prioritizes employment for the residents of the old city. Its restoration projects are a unique case of job creation in which at least one member of each of the old city’s families is offered a job opportunity. A large number of technicians and recent engineering graduates who are residents of the old city in particular, and of Hebron in general, have been accommodated in the areas of bid preparation, project implementation, and engineering supervision as well as design, documentation, and the subdivision of lands.
Maintenance and restoration projects have also created jobs for craftsmen and owners of construction material industries. HRC seeks to use materials that are provided in the local market by local craftsmen, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, and artisans working in glass and pottery crafts. Traditional crafts have thus been supported, and craftsmen have been empowered to contribute to the sustainability of their crafts and consequently to the old city’s cultural heritage preservation. Moreover, in 2009, HRC established the Spanish Academy of Vocational Training, enabling young people to become qualified in restoration and handicrafts, thereby increasing their employment opportunities.
HRC’s second way to create job opportunities is through economic and tourism development projects. As part of its plan to achieve the sustainable development of the old city, HRC has given special attention to economic development as it aims to revive the old city to its former glory as the economic center of Hebron. To this end, HRC worked on rehabilitating the infrastructure of the old city’s central market and carried out a comprehensive restoration of its shops. This intervention has not only helped strengthen the resilience of existing shop owners and encouraged others to reopen their shops but also stimulated trade and tourism.
These measures have contributed directly to job creation and supported many members and institutions of the local community. In addition, they have encouraged the private sector to invest in the old city, thus increasing employment opportunities for its residents. The emergence of several local community initiatives that seek to improve its members’ income level includes the establishment of guesthouses, cafés, public libraries, and traditional craft workshops such as glass, pottery, ceramics, soap, embroidery, leather, and traditional accessories. The active participation of women from the old city in various initiatives has contributed to the improvement of their families’ incomes and their living conditions.
Furthermore, HRC invests in the cultural elements of the old city through the rehabilitation of many monuments to promote tourism. Thus, it has supported a museum, a visitors’ center, a tourist information center, a traditional glass factory, sesame and olive presses, a Turkish bath, and other tourist attractions. The operation and management of all these have offered additional job opportunities for the residents of the old city. Moreover, HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, has created several courses designed to produce qualified tourist guides. The increase of tourism in the old city has undoubtedly promoted the opening of many shops and fostered multiple economic and tourist activities. Hebron’s registration on the UNESCO World Heritage List has also contributed to an increase of tourism from around the world.
With its two-and-a-half decades of experience in the area of restoration and comprehensive development of the old city, HRC is proud to have benefited the city’s local community and residents through efforts that have created job opportunities in development and restoration projects. Thereby, the organization has reduced unemployment among Hebron’s old city residents who faced limited employment opportunities and movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. HRC has combatted poverty and improved income levels for old city residents, the majority of which were living below the poverty level, with a large portion of them suffering from extreme poverty.
It has improved the residents’ living conditions and provided them with a decent life, thus directly enhancing their resilience and steadfastness, enabling them to remain in their homes and protecting the area from Judaization. HRC interventions have boosted the local economy by supporting traditional craftsmen and encouraging private investors to implement projects in the old city; they also have supported local market products, such as building and restoration materials. HRC has developed the local community’s capacities and skills in many areas, including construction, restoration, engineering, and crafts, by involving them in preservation processes; it has thus empowered them and exposed them to new job opportunities. It has promoted the local community’s participation in economic and tourism development. It has empowered women and promoted their participation in the preservation and management of their heritage by providing them with employment opportunities in engineering and in economic and tourism development. Finally, it has raised awareness among local community members of the significance of their heritage and its potential to raise their living standards.