Friday, August 07, 2020

Palestinians en route to UNESCO in defence of Akka’s old city

By Julie C. - November 06, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Palestinian citizens of Israel] [Akka] [Israeli Ministry of Tourism] [khan al-Umdan ]

Photo by Julie C.
“The khan al-Umdan is not for sale,” chanted the demonstrators, last 18th of October, while marching through the old streets of Akka (also called Akko, in Hebrew, or Acre in English - located in the north of present-day Israel). The demonstration marked the opening of a campaign against what the participants see as a threat to the Palestinian identity of the city. 
The khan al-Umdan, an Ottoman caravanserai, a trading centre and hostel for the merchants, was built in 1781 in the bastioned port and is one of the main symbols and present-day attractions of the Akka.
In 2001, it was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, along with the entire old city. 
However, pro-Palestinian activists in the area are up in arms over the recent move by a subsidary arm of Israel's Ministry of Tourism to sell the site to private investors, a move clearly designed to further gentrify and de-palestinianize the city.
Transforming the city into a touristic attraction 
The Old Acre Development Company Ltd., “a government company subordinate to the Ministry of Tourism (...)” as introduced on their official website, aims at transforming the site, along with the adjacent Khan al-Shuna into “a large 170-room hotel whose ground floors will be reserved for commercial and public use.” 
According to its presentation, the objective of the Old Acre Development Company is to develop Akka into a major touristic attraction in Israel. 
"The Company is funded by all government ministries according to its realms of activity. Its revenues are invested in developing the Old City and marketing it in line with a regional concept featuring accommodation (hotels), tours and visits to the sites and attractions of Acre and the surrounding area." Regarding the khans, "the call for tenders was dated 7 October, 2013 and the deadline for submission of all commercial bids is 6 January 2014," according to the online petition calling for international support against the project.
“They are planning to sell, it’s a tourist attraction and there are planning to sell it to make a hotel (…) We are against it because it’s such a touristic attraction and it’s part of our city,” says Iba Shafi, one of the organizers of Palestiniat, Arabic for Palestinian women. 
“We are not only women, men and women together. Most of our work was done outside, in Khalil [Hebron], in Jenin camp... This is the first time in Akka (…) It’s time to do something for this city because they have tried to evacuate people from the city for too long (…) They have built two hotels here. They are trying to make it a Jewish city.”
For the Palestinian residents of the city, the project is indeed another step in the process of emptying the city of its Arab inhabitants. According to Badil, a Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the "strong Palestinian presence in Akka is an uncomfortable fact for Zionist and Israeli authorities, who have expanded and escalated their Judaization efforts in the city over recent years.” This process also seems to include the neighbourhood of the city where an increasing amount of housing construction is apparently reserved for Jewish residents
"More and more extreme people from settlements are targeting the Arab community [in Israel]. The settlers want to prove that the conflict is not just about the [West Bank] but all of Israel. They are targeting mixed cities in an attempt to prove there is no future for coexistence," Ja'far Farah, Director of Mossawa, a Haifa based Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, was quoted to have said in a 2012 article published by the Guardian.

Photo by Julie C.
Calling on the UNESCO for support
As a part of the Palestinian mobilization aimed at combatting the judiazation of the old city, activists from Palistiniat plan to present a call against the project this week, during the 37th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris, France.
According to UNESCO, the Khan al-Umdan “is managed jointly by Acre's Municipality, the Old Acre Development Company, a Government Agency, and the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Advising local residents in all matters of development, building permits and conservation measures, the Israeli Antiquities Authority also operates a field office in the city. This office also supervises public and private work undertaken in the property.”
However, as of yet, there is no mention of a project concerning the Khan al-Umdan on the Israeli Antiquities Authority’s website
UNESCO, the sole body responsible for the naming of Word Heritage Sites, holds that the protection of the old city is also supposed to extend to the population living in the protected area. As declared in their mission statement, the purpose of their protection program is to: “Improve the social and economic conditions of local residents, and [to] enhance their sense of pride in the city's rich heritage.” 
When the Palestine Monitor contacted the Secretary General of the Israeli Commission for UNESCO, Dalit Atrakchi, she stated that even though “we still don’t know what the plan is going to be, it has to go along with UNESCO’s values.” Dalit affirmed having no information about the Khan project or the plan by Palestiniat to encourage the international organization to oppose the project at the Unesco’s conference: “we will have one say when we know what the plan is. If anything is harming the outstanding values of the old city (...) we will protest.”
For Rasha Helweh, member of Palestiniat, the preservation of Akka “is not just important for the people of Akka, it is important for every Palestinian in the national struggle. It is our duty.” 

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