Celebrating the completion of the rehabilitation works on Dar Al Sabagh in Star Street, Bethlehem, and transforming it into a Diaspora studies and research center

On 17 October 2018, Bank of Palestine and several partners celebrated the completion of the rehabilitation works on Dar Al Sabagh building, located on Star Street in the historic center of Bethlehem, transforming it into a Diaspora studies and research center. The opening ceremony was held inside the rehabilitated building under the patronage of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and Bank of Palestine. The building was renovated by the Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation in Bethlehem, within the framework of the UNESCO project "Local Development through the Rehabilitation and Revitalization of Historic Built Environment in Palestine.

The event was implemented in the presence of Mr. Kamel Hmeid, the Governor of Bethlehem, Her Excellency Ms. Rula Ma’aya, the Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Mr. Hashim Shawa, the Chairman of Bank of Palestine Group, Dr. Lodovico Folin Calabi, UNESCO’s Representative to Palestine, Ms. Elizabeth Kassis, Mr. Hanna Hanania, the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem Municipality, Mr. Issam Juha, the Director of the Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation, a number of ambassadors and officials in the Palestinian Authority and civil society organizations, and several representatives from the media, the diaspora community, businessmen and Bethlehemites. 

Dar Sabagh is a 150 year old building located on historic Star Street, with an area of 500 squared meters. Its owners, the Sabagh family, left Palestine in 1938 and moved to Chile. Following the visit of Mr. Alberto Kassis, his wife and daughter Elizabeth to Palestine, Elizabeth insisted that her grandfather's house, which is distinguished by its beauty and authenticity, be renovated and transformed into a center for Diaspora studies and research.

Mr. Hashim Shawa referred to the authenticity of old buildings and the importance of preserving for them, considering part of Palestine's important history, pointing out that many of these buildings are owner by Palestinians living in the Diaspora. Al Shawa stressed that the opening of Dar Sabagh sends an important message to all Palestinians in the Diaspora telling them that they are partners in this land, and that they need to make efforts to communicate with their homeland. He also stressed the role of Bank of Palestine in establishing continuous channels of communication with the Palestinian Diaspora communities all over the world.

Al Shawa expressed his enthusiasm about the bank's success in implementing several projects that encourage Palestinians who are originally from Bethlehem, to return to Palestine and preserve their heritage and homes. He pointed out that there are seven million Palestinians living in the Diaspora communities all over the world, out of which have are in Chile, and the project was an opportunity to reach out to them and entice them to invest in their homeland and reconnect with their families.

The rehabilitation of Dar Sabagh falls within the framework of efforts conducted to preserve cultural heritage, develop local communities and improve the lives of citizens.

Her Excellency Ms. Rula Ma’aya, stressed the importance of preserving the history of Palestine and continuing to renovate and rehabilitate old buildings because they represent the Palestinian identity across the cities and governorates. She added that Dar Sabagh is one of the important buildings in Star Street, which is integrated on the UNESCO's list for World Cultural Heritage, and which leads to the Church of the Nativity. She stressed the importance of establishing partners between all organizations, stating that "we will not be able to accomplish anything alone. Achievements happen through continuous partnership and cooperation between our organizations."

Dr. Lodovico Folin Calabi, UNESCO’s Representative to Palestine, stated: "what we are trying to achieve through this project is to bring back to life the social fabric of Star Street, in the heart of Bethlehem."

Ms. Elizabeth Kassis expressed her enthusiasm and pride in this great achievement, pointing out that Dar Sabagh represents the history of her family who emigrated from Bethlehem in 1938. She thanked all the stakeholders who assisted in the rehabilitation works: the Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency, UNESCO, Bank of Palestine, represented by Mr. Hashim Shawa, and Researcher George Aama, who played a major role in the success of this endeavor.

Mr. Hanna Hanania, the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem, stressed the historic and religious importance of Star Street, considering a witness to the city's magnificent history. Hanania also stressed the importance of constructive works that aim to promote Bethlehem in all areas. "Today, we celebrate the opening of one of the city's historic monuments that was renovated through the diligent efforts of its citizens," said Hanania. He thanked all the stakeholders who contributed to this great achievement and spoke about the municipality's ongoing preparations to hold the Diaspora Convention, considering the leading role played by the Diaspora community in promoting the city.

Mr. Issam Juha, the Director of the Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation, described the completion of Dar Sabagh as a national achievement "attended by our families from the Diaspora." He pointed out the efforts conducted by Mr. Alberto Kassis and his initiative to rehabilitate this building and transform it into an important center for Diaspora studies and research. Juha stressed that the CCHP will continue its journey to protect and preserve cultural heritage in Palestine. He expressed gratitude towards the late Nada Al Atrash and Mr. Khalil Shokeh, who worked very hard to write about the history of Bethlehem and revive its civilization and authenticity.

It is important to mention that Dar Sabagh is considered as one of the most important historic buildings in Palestine, and it is located on Star Street, Which was placed on the UNESCO's List of World Heritage in 2012 alongside the Church of the Nativity.  

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