The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) is a semi-governmental organisation dedicated to the revitalisation of the Old City of Hebron. The HRC offices are located within the Old City, in an area which is currently under Israeli military control. The main components of the project include the securing of decent housing, infrastructure and services, the stimulation of economic activity, and the provision of legal assistance to protect the residents’ rights. As a result of the programme, several thousand new residents have moved into the Old City. Economic conditions are improving and the social fabric of the area has been strengthened by social integration awareness and community participation.
Aims and Objectives
The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) was established as a semi-governmental organisation in 1996 by a presidential declaration from former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in order to rehabilitate the Old City of Hebron. The programme’s key objectives include the re-population of the deteriorated city centre, the preservation of cultural heritage, local economic development, the engagement of the population and the provision of affordable housing.
Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years. Its historic centre is characterised by the density of its architectural fabric, narrow, winding streets and stone masonry structures of significant heritage value. Following the Israeli occupation of the Old City in 1967, the area was progressively abandoned and over time the physical condition of the city’s old buildings had badly deteriorated. Curfews, closures, difficulties with Israeli settlers and tight restrictions on the movement of residents, together with increasing economic problems, caused most residents to leave the area, leaving only those who were socially marginalised and unable to afford to live elsewhere. By 1995, approximately 9,500 Palestinian residents had left, with less than 400 remaining. The economic life of the Old City was also severely affected, with the closure of 77 per cent of its shops and commercial activities.
The Hebron Old City Rehabilitation Programme involves the restoration and reuse of historic buildings in Hebron’s Old City for housing purposes, combined with improvements to public spaces, urban infrastructure and services, social and legal assistance and measures to stimulate job creation and develop the local economy. The programme comprises the following four key areas:
- Housing: Through a sensitive rehabilitation and restoration process using traditional techniques and materials, over 1,000 housing units have been renovated and are now inhabited by approximately 6,000 people (78 per cent of whom are tenants and 22 per cent of whom are owner occupiers). Large residential properties originally built to accommodate extended families of 20 or more people have been converted into smaller apartments to adapt to current cultural and household requirements. Local residents are employed and locally produced materials are used wherever possible.
- Infrastructure and services: Social assistance, education and health care is provided to low-income families free of charge and a community centre, children’s playgrounds and public gardens have been established. Infrastructure upgrading has included a new sewerage network, water and electricity supply, improvement of paved areas, sidewalks and stairs, planting of trees, handrail installation and street lighting. Public spaces, formerly used as dumping grounds, have been reclaimed.
- Social development: The programme has increasingly focussed on the social development and enhanced the role of residents in the revitalisation process through the implementation of several awareness programs and activities.
- Economic development: The programme has increasingly focussed its work on reviving local economic activity and creating jobs in and around the Old City in an effort to reduce poverty and unemployment. Shops have been restored and various activities have been organised to encourage tourism. A vocational training school was established in 2009 in partnership with the Spanish government.
- Human rights: With funding from the Norwegian government, HRC has established a comprehensive programme aiming at the protection of Old City residents from human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, physical abuse, damage to property, expropriation of houses and land, closing of streets and business to Palestinians and preventing rehabilitation of building in the Old City. By providing legal assistance, HRC hopes to create an environment of accountability that will contribute towards the safety of the community and prevent future depopulation.
- Funding for the programme has been obtained from a range of sources, including the Palestinian National Authority, other government sources and international multi- and bilateral donors including many European governments. Since the beginning of the programme in 1996, more than US$32 million has been received from over 20 donors in 16 countries to cover the costs of housing rehabilitation, urban infrastructure provision, training, economic development and social and legal assistance for the residents of the Old City. The average cost per unit for housing rehabilitation is US$26,000.
- On-going operating costs of the programme are met through a combination of grants from national and international donors, other revenues and in-kind donations, totalling approximately US$2.7 million per year.
- Funding in the amount of US$600,000 was provided by AECID for the establishment of a vocational training school in 2009.
- More than 6,000 people are now living in the Old City, ensuring the continuous use and maintenance of historical buildings and urban spaces that had previously been abandoned. The more than tenfold increase in the number of people living within the rehabilitation programme area has been the most important indicator of the success of the programme.
- Rehabilitation of infrastructure, services and public spaces has significantly improved the living conditions in the Old City.
- The legal unit of HRC has assisted shop owners and families in getting back properties that had been closed down or expropriated through a ruling in the Israeli Supreme Court. Rulings such as this have protected the rights of the Palestinians.
Over 160 shop owners have reopened their shops and 207 permanent jobs have been created to date.
Why is it innovative?
- Combining heritage preservation (carried out in accordance with international conservation standards) with job creation and the provision of high-quality affordable housing for low-income families in central areas, making use of existing infrastructure.
- Adaptation of residential buildings originally built to accommodate extended families into separate, independent single-family apartments, addressing changing household needs and the transition from extended to nuclear family structures.
- Broad partnership with a range of international organisations and donors as well as local and national government agencies.
- Providing an example of how to address a difficult situation of military occupation and urban conflict in a peaceful manner.
What is the environmental impact?
- Restoration and reuse of existing buildings with traditional, locally available materials with low embodied energy, such as stone masonry, handmade tiles and lime renders.
- The original elements of old houses were preserved, such as the thickness of the stone masonry walls, minimising the loss of energy and allowing for both protection from the heat of the day and retaining warmth on cold nights. The programme also involves the installation of improved water and sewerage networks and a water-cooling system on the parapet roofs.
- A drainage and rainwater collection system has been designed which separates rainwater from waste water and helps to prevent flooding. The improved sanitation system has had a positive effect on health as well as the environment.
Is it financially sustainable?
- Whilst the programme relies on national and international grant funding for its operations, partnerships and funding arrangements with a wide range of organisations helps to reduce the reliance on a single funding stream.
- The programme has been running successfully for 17 years and funding is in place for on-going activities in the coming years.
- The programme promotes the use of labour-intensive methods as a means to create sustainable employment opportunities, provide specialised training on traditional methods of conservation and increase the level of income of the community. More than 1.7 million working days have been created from the beginning of the project. Graduates from the vocational training school for restoration established by HRC represent 20 per cent of the contracted workforce.
- A job creation programme has been implemented to provide Palestinian refugees with short-term job opportunities in order to financially assist them with a monthly salary of up to US$420. Workers were placed in different positions according to their health capabilities and their specialisations.
- HRC is implementing measures to revitalise the economy and encourage tourism. Forty-one shops have been restored in the old market to date.
- Residents have access to extremely favourable rents (avg. US$200/month), including an initial five year rent-free period. Those on lowest incomes also have access to multiple free services (including electricity, water, health insurance) and tax reductions. These benefits are provided as an incentive to stimulate the repopulation of the Old City and have made housing of acceptable quality affordable for those on very low incomes.
What is the social impact?
- A range of social development initiatives have been established to facilitate greater community cooperation, including setting up a community centre, outreach activities, school trips to the Old City and special activities for young people.
- An overall achievement of the programme has been the reintegration of the Old City into the social fabric of Hebron as previously decayed areas separating the two parts of the city have been restored, fostering movement between them.
- The improvements to basic infrastructure and services, particularly in terms of the availability of safe drinking water and sanitation, in the area have a positive effect on residents’ health. Sixty per cent of residents receive free health insurance.
- The legal assistance provided by HRC helps to protect residents against human rights violations and seeks to create an environment of greater accountability by the military forces and settler groups within the Old City.
- HRC works to address the urgent housing needs of the most marginalised in Hebron, seeking to reduce existing social inequalities. The rehabilitation programme has a number of initiatives that target specific groups including, for example, vocational training activities for women, activities with disabled persons and income-generating activities for refugees.
- Residents are involved in the planning stages of the programme and in wider decisions affecting the community.
- Awareness-raising activities and the work of the human rights unit encourage residents to take a more active role in society.
- A key barrier is the presence of Israeli settlements in the Old City, where it is difficult to get permission to work and where Israeli military forces on many occasions have prevented tasks from being carried out. The closure of access roads to the Old City has made it difficult to bring in building materials. Despite the extended curfews, closures and restrictions on movement, HRC has managed to achieve a great deal under difficult circumstances. In order to bypass a ban on motorised vehicles in the Old City, HRC uses horse-drawn carts.
- There was a lack of comprehensive maps of the Old City, its historic areas and buildings and its relationship to the city of Hebron as a whole. HRC engaged in gathering of information and mapping of the area.
- The integration of the community with the rest of the city has been a key challenge. The vast majority of residents are poor since those that had the means to live elsewhere left. HRC has undertaken a comprehensive approach, from restoration and service provision to addressing broader issues of fragmentation, social erosion and unemployment.
- A key barrier encountered was the restoration of the extended family homes of multiple occupancy and ownership. A house may have a large number of different owners, most of who live outside the Old City or even outside the country. The solution has been a double-lease system: HRC negotiates a contract with the owners according to which the organisation leases a building for free for a period of five years. Once renovation is complete, the owners can either return to the home or HRC lets the apartments for free for another five years. When those five years are up, the tenant is entitled to keep the apartment by signing a new rent-controlled contract with the owners.
- In addition to housing, it was essential to provide public facilities, services and parks within the Old City. This has led to positive effects in terms of raising cultural and environmental awareness and providing much needed recreational facilities. A focus on wider social and economic issues is key to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the approach.
- Lessons were derived from the adaptation of the extended family houses into smaller, more modern housing units that better fit the current needs of residents. HRC has documented these adapted buildings and trained a team to ensure the accessibility of this information to future researchers and renovators for their future work.
- Citizens are the ones playing the most important role in the preservation and revitalisation process, the involvement of local community is essential to guarantee its sustainability.
Regular monitoring and evaluation of the programme is carried out by HRC. Donor agencies also commission and/or carry out periodic studies to assess the impact of the programme and inform the allocation of funds. This has led, for example, to an expansion of activities and an increased focus on measures to address issues of social cohesion and economic development.
From the initial restorations in 1996, the work of HRC has since grown, reaching two-thirds of the historic buildings in the Old City by 2013, and plans are in place to rehabilitate the remaining buildings and public spaces.
HRC has also expanded the scope of its activities to address wider social and environmental issues.
HRC has been invited by a number of government agencies and private institutions to advise them on service provision and how to build positive relationships with residents.
Solutions have been developed along with the Hebron Municipality for the rehabilitation of streets and infrastructure across the rest of the city.
Nationally, the renovation standards set by the HRC have been used as a technical basis for other similar projects, including the Bethlehem 2000 project.
HRC regularly organises workshops, training sessions and study trips to share its experience in heritage preservation and housing provision to students, institutions and international visitors.