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TIKA brings life back to homes in Hebron

Anadolu Agency MIDDLE EAST
Published April 30,2021

Turkey's state-run aid agency has helped bring life back to historic Palestinian homes in the old city of Hebron.

Palestinian Abdullah al-Suweiti, who lives next to the Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied city, was relieved after his house was restored by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).

The house was part of the first phase of a four-stage restoration process funded by TIKA for historic homes in Hebron dating back to the Ottoman era (1516-1917).

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, al-Suweiti said he has lived in the house for 30 years and estimates that it was built around 150 years ago. He said the Hebron Reconstruction Committee did some restoration work on it last year.

The Israeli occupation authorities prevent Palestinians in the city from building as well as restoring their old homes.

However, they allow the reconstruction committee to carry out limited restoration work according to strict restrictions.

"I left the house for a month [until the restoration work was completed]. I thank the Turkish people and the Turkish government for their support for this project," he said.

TIKA, which was established in 1992, is a sponsor and main coordinator of many charitable projects that it implements in various regions of the world, including Palestine.

Imad Hamdan, head of the Hebron Reconstruction Committee, said TIKA funds the restoration of homes located east of the Ibrahimi Mosque, and "so far, more than 30 apartments and housing units have been restored."

Hamdan thanked TIKA and the Turkish people "for this support to the Palestinian people and the old city of Hebron in particular."

He pointed to the continuation of the projects which started about a year ago despite some obstacles due to the coronavirus, adding there are other upcoming projects.

He said the area targeted for restoration by the Turkish government is one of the most important areas of the old city and "contributed to protecting these buildings and preserving the cultural heritage, as most of them date back to the Ottoman era."

In July 2017, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to include the Ibrahimi Mosque and the old city of Hebron on the World Heritage List.

Hamdan also pointed out that the restoration of the houses contributes to the return of residents to reside in them and thus protects them from Israeli ambitions.

He noted that most of the restored homes were deserted because their owners had left them due to the harassment of the occupation and settlers, but they return to them after the restoration.

"We are targeting this area adjacent to the Ibrahimi Mosque to strengthen the steadfastness of the people in these homes...and to preserve the architectural heritage in these homes while improving them, such as windows and doors, and maintaining them periodically," the Palestinian official said.

In some cases where homeowners are unable to return, the reconstruction committee brings families for free housing, and in this way, since its establishment in 1996, the committee has returned about 10,000 Palestinians to about 2,000 housing units that have been repaired.

He touched on the daily challenges from the Israeli occupation authorities during work, most notably preventing work, arresting workers and preventing the entry of restoration materials.

Montaser Maraka, an engineer supervising the restoration projects, said the projects are approved according to priorities and after studying the architectural status of the homes and the needs of their inhabitants.

He mentioned that most of Hebron's old houses date back to the Ottoman, Ayyubid and Mamluk eras, which requires preserving their architectural character.

He said the first phase of the project funded by TIKA targeted 10 houses in 2019, and 10 more in 2020, and soon the third phase will be completed, and the fourth phase of 10 houses adjacent to the Ibrahimi Mosque will begin.

According to the Youth Against Settlements NGO, the occupation and settlement measures in the heart of Hebron have caused the closure of all the old city's approximately 1,800 shops, 530 of which were closed by orders of the Israeli army.

It said there are about 800 settlers in the heart of Hebron who live in five settlement outposts that they established on Palestinian property.

Under the Hebron Agreement signed in 1997 between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, the city was divided into two areas -- H1 subject to Palestinian control and H2 under Israeli control -- which is estimated at 20% of the city's area, in which the old city and the Ibrahimi Mosque are located.