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As a child in Jordan, RIWAQ co-founder Suad Amiry listened intently to her father’s stories about his own childhood house in Jaffa, before it became part of greater Tel Aviv and the 420 Palestinian villages that were destroyed by the Israelis. Even though she had yet to travel to Palestine, the idea of these places was indelible in her imagination and she became obsessed with the idea of restoring and protecting the remaining villages.

In 1991, concerned about how quickly Palestinian historical sites were either being destroyed outright in the conflict or falling into neglect, Amiry and a group of fellow architects and artists founded RIWAQ. The founding project was compiling a detailed registry of historic buildings in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a three-volume collection of photos, maps, and architectural data that took 13 years to complete.

RIWAQ’s work is pioneering in a region greatly affected and fragmented by conflict. They complete complicated, multi-stakeholder projects in the face of logistical and sociopolitical challenges. RIWAQ sees architectural restoration as a social and economic incubator. Their work is not just about preserving buildings, it is a way to revitalize Palestinian identity under occupation.

RIWAQ’s intent is never to gentrify or create “museums”. For example, its fifty villagse project is focused on restoring and protecting entire historic centers so that they can be used and enjoyed; providing places to gather, start small businesses and build community spirit. The restorations are completed by local citizens who are taught new professional skills through educational programs and workshops. This project is ongoing and will continue for at least a decade under the organization’s current directors, Fida Touma and Khaldun Bshara.

RIWAQ’s holistic approach is exemplified in the restoration of the village of Hajjah, where they worked from 2010 to mid-2012. The town, dependent on the local production of okra, has a flagging economy and a housing shortage. Plans included creating public spaces, refurbishing homes and gardens, and starting school and community programs to help better promote the town’s agricultural heritage. Specifically, one central building was rehabbed to be a Red Crescent Center, providing healthcare services, a fitness center for women, and a daycare facility. RIWAQ also refurbished the Madafah plaza and implemented preventive conservation projects that improved alleys, facades, small gardens, and interiors of houses. In addition to restoration works, RIWAQ organized an oral history recording day, a volunteer cleanup and planting day, and a stone carving and cutting workshop. RIWAQ worked with the local farmers to organize the Okra Festival—the first festival of its kind in the town.

For RIWAQ, conservation and historic restoration are tools for social and economic advancement, creating spaces where contemporary communities can thrive.