Birzeit Heritage Week is not merely a cultural or heritage activity that stands on its own. It is part of a holistic approach to bringing sustainable development and prosperity to the Palestinian countryside. The Rozana Association has been diligently trying to advance the underlying concepts that are inherent in this vision.Competitiveness is determined by the productivity with which a nation, region, or cluster uses its human, capital, and natural resources. (Professor Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business School) Hence the questions: what are the resources that form the basis for Palestinian rural development, and how does the Rozana Association plan to network these competencies in order to instil significant productivity and competitiveness? First of all, the Rozana is a Birzeit-based association, and its scope of work revolves around Birzeit as a centre for rural-development activities and as a leading example for others to follow in terms of understanding the competencies of their villages and the ways to incorporate them into efficient and effective productive efforts. Birzeit possesses many resources:
1. Architectural heritage is evident in the historic centre of the town and needs to be preserved and rehabilitated according to a researched strategic master plan. A great deal of the planning has already been accomplished by the working team, which includes the Rozana as well as the Birzeit Municipality, Birzeit University, and Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation.
2. Human resources are apparent through the presence of the university, several elementary and high schools, and numerous skilled artisans.
3. The various layers of history and the monuments that are abundant in and around Birzeit open the door for all kinds of tour initiatives such as the course of Khans and Sufism, the path of Ibrahim al-Khalil, the village path from Taybeh to Birzeit, and many other hiking events that explore the diverse landscape of the area and the various harvest seasons that take place throughout the year.
4. Cultural heritage and cultural-exchange activities have been adopted and advanced by Birzeit. In this respect, the Birzeit Heritage Week has played an important role in fostering such an invaluable resource. During the Heritage Week of last year, nine countries participated in presenting their identities and heritage to the local community. This was a great opportunity for a firsthand encounter between these countries and the typical person-in-the-street. The Rozana received much positive feedback connected to these events. It was the first time that nine international flags were raised on top of the municipal building.
The Rozana’s mission is to network among these resources and others in order to realise its vision of a bustling historic centre in Birzeit, a centre that is linked with its neighbouring villages and the countryside in order to occupy a unique competitive position on the future tourism map of Palestine.Hence, the Birzeit Heritage Week is not a stand-alone cultural event. All the music performances, the folklore presentations, the theatre plays, the children’s activities and games, the various galleries, the handcrafts and producer groups’ displays, and the many other activities are expected to increase income potential for the local rural community; encourage investment and diversity; promote the development of traditional artefacts; contribute to the sustainability of heritage and folklore activities; advance cultural exchange and networking; contribute to the expansion of tourism services in countryside; and encourage potential initiatives. This year’s Heritage Week will take place in the alleys, courtyards, streets, and attics of the historic centre of Birzeit between 13 and 19 July, from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight. Two or three music or dance performances as well as a theatre play and a movie show will take place every evening. Children will have a lot of activities to diffuse their energy and to instil their creativity. Artisans, producer groups, and international communities will exhibit their products and displays. There will also be plenty of food and drink. For more information about the event and the Association, visit our website at www.rozana.ps.
Birzeit Heritage Week- By Raed Saadeh
Is an event organized by the Rozana Association, in cooperation and partnership with a number of other Birzeit organizations, in order to promote the preservation and development of the old town’s fabric of houses, attics, courtyards, and alleys. As one of the programmer implemented by Rozana, Birzeit Heritage Week is an integral part of its promotional strategy.In the future, when the Rozana realizes its vision to develop the old town of Birzeit into a bustling centre of business and activity, this strategy will continue in order to guarantee the sustainability and success of all stakeholders. Connecting Birzeit with its neighboring villages, particularly those lying on the Jericho route through Taybeh Village, is another part of the jigsaw. This should ultimately put Birzeit on the heritage and rural tourism map of Palestine. In order to realize this vision, Rozana has identified several goals, in addition to that mentioned above. First, advocacy and lobbying efforts need to be exerted in order to legally protect the architectural heritage fabric that exists in Birzeit. Second, a preventive renovation programme will be implemented in order to preserve the exterior of old buildings. This is necessary if further investment is to take place. Finally public, private, or civic intervention may be initiated to instil life and activity in each building according to a pre-set urban master plan. The essence of this development is to maintain a wholesome approach throughout the various stages of the project to ensure its sustainability and the empowerment of its stakeholders. Based on the above, a group of people who represent families that own properties in the old town of Birzeit teamed together to establish the Rozana Association. Today, this original group makes up two-thirds of Rozana’s membership. In addition, the Birzeit Municipality is represented by the mayor and another council member. The reason behind this structure is to ensure transparency and networking during decision making and implementation.
Birzeit Heritage Week events will take place on July 26 and 27, 2007. This is expected to become an annual event and will include a variety of Palestinian and international exhibits and presentations such as traditional handcrafts, food, drink, and music. Guests will walk through the old town’s designated streets towards the backyard of the Catholic Church where folkloric dance and music performances will be held. Exhibits are expected to open from 5pm-10pm every night.
Partner organizations, many of which are Birzeit based, will provide services according to their core competencies. Local partner organizations include the Municipality, the Greek Orthodox Scouts, the Birzeit Club, the senior citizens’ club, the agricultural development youth, Roses Association, and Juhood Association.Heritage handcrafts and food production are an integral part of the heritage week and will include calligraphy, copper-designed products, wood carvings, embroidery, saj bread, hinnah, and more. Needless to say, the popular makers of falafel, bread, pastry, hariseh, etc., will take their rightful place among the other exhibitors. Local drinks, such as tamer hindi and almond juice, will be available. Local farmers will also be on hand to sell their wares. One of the more eye-catching participants will be the glass makers from Hebron. They will bring their ovens and sell or distribute their glass as they make it. International participation will be coordinated with the Representative Offices. A number of countries will display their handcrafts, promotional materials of their cities, and other items that are representative of their cultures and traditions. Art exhibitions will also be part of the festivities. The virtuoso Palestinian and the son of Birzeit artist, Suleiman Mansour, will be exhibiting some of his paintings during the event. Other art exhibitions, displaying the works or collections of promising Birzeit artists, will complement the continuity and growth of the artistic traditions of the town. Mr. Mousa Alloush and Dr. Munir Nasser are two of the most prominent historians of the town of Birzeit. Their participation will offer an added value to all those who would like to listen to the stories of the origins of Birzeit and the legacies of its ancestors. A backgammon competition is planned to allow local residents and others to experience the game that has become inherent to Palestinian culture.Maximum popular and organizational participation is crucial for the success of this event. It is intended to empower participants and stakeholders alike and is designed to lead the way for future development projects that will contribute to the survival and steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their economy. For more information about the event and the Association, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 054-569-6220.
Raed Saadeh is chairman of the forming board of Rozana Association and president of the Arab Hotel Association.
Photos by Christine Alloush. Maps prepared by Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation.