By Shahana Naqvi, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India Observer: “It is not the honor that you take with you, but the heritage you leave behind’’, Branch Rickey
Museum’s are windows to our past, to cherish, preserve and to learn, inculcate and carry forward the cultural heritage left behind by our ancestors. One such visit to Islamic Art’s Museum in Kwala Lampur (Malaysia) changed my perspective on our cultural legacies .
Upon entering the majestic building on the ground floor was a solemn photo exhibition of heritage lost forever in countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan etc., my eyes could not muster the courage to look at those shattering pieces of human destruction, my heart raced towards a brief conversation I had with my cousin sister Zeba over the phone after 9/11 (2001), Shahana, she said, her voice in deep panic, Papa says, “the world order will change after this.”
Yes, true the world changed around us in a subtle way after that, like so many countless unknown lives around the world especially in countries where America and it’s allies spread the aggression. Since then countless valuable lives, unique cultural heritage, way of life, food and clothing have been lost to senseless wars, invasion and aggressions.
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Coming back to the end of 2023, a small strip of land bordering Mediterranean sea on one side and sharing borders with Egypt and Israel has gripped our attention, the world’s attention past more than 90 days starting with Israel’s brutal attack on the small enclave of Gaza (Palestine ) on October 7th 2023.
Suddenly Gaza has become our Moral Compass, says Dr. Munther Issac (PhD, Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, Academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine and Pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bethlehem) “if we don’t feel pain something is wrong within us”.
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The cost of human life has been incomprehensible, Palestine has lost some of it’s best, vibrant minds in this brutal war with professor’s, teachers, aspiring students, artists, engineers, doctors, reporters and worst of all little children, toddlers, infant’s and babies have been lost forever in the rubble of a brutal genocide of Palestinian lives. In fact this war has been coined as the, War on Children.
Children are our future, they carry the torch of their forebears, when they die our future dies and I felt it was important to pen down and collect the lost heritage of Gaza (Palestine) since Palestine and it’s people have been oppressed for too long and I want to stand on the right side of history.
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Palestine in the past was a hub for commerce, culture under Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine rule. Gaza strip is so close to the birthplace of three largest religions of the world that it has heritage structures spanning centuries. It is a region rich in culture and traditions.
History of Gaza spans 4,000 years during which it was ruled, destroyed and repopulated by various dynasties, empire and people.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began in 1948 when Israeli army displaced more than 700,0000 Palestinians from their homeland. It is considered as one of world’s continuous conflicts.
In 1954 Hague Convention convention agreed by both Palestinian and Israeli authorities was supposed to safeguard landmarks from the ravages of war. Sadly the present Israeli aggression did not respect any treaty of the past and have displayed the most arrogant, egoistic display of strength to the world.
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UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation)
Palestinian territories have 4 four World Heritage Sites recognised by UNESCO, located in the Western Bank side of the besieged Palestinian territory. Four Gazan sites were in UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List.
Architectural site of Anthedon Harbour is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gaza .It is an ancient seaport harbour city, Gaza’s first known seaport operating from 800BC to 1100AD. However the site has been damaged.
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St. Hilarion Monastery, the only surviving structure in Tell Umm Amer is one of the oldest and largest known Christian monument located in Central Gaza. It was added to UNESCO’s tentative list in 2012. The ruins bear testimony to the emergence of Christianity in the region says UNESCO spokesperson.
Al Khader Monastery, one of the oldest historical buildings in the Gaza strip. UNESCO has worked closely with partners to restore the monastery in the past.
The future of the three Gazan sites recognised by UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List lies in jeopardy as the current aggression continues to devastate Gaza and it’s people thereby ruthlessly destroying the rich cultural tapestry of the city.
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UNESCO has been deeply concerned about the adverse impact of the ongoing conflict on cultural heritage in Palestine .
HERITAGE FOR PEACE
A recent survey by the group Heritage for Peace a Spain based NGO which has a dedicated team of international volunteers, have presented a detailed report about the damage inflicted on Gaza’s architectural heritage sites.
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Isber Sabire (President Heritage for Peace ) said about Gaza that , “it is a small area but with a lot of heritage”.
According to the report so far more than 104 sites in the Gaza Strip out of the 195 architectural heritage sites in Gaza city has been damaged beyond repair .
The report has classified Gazan Architectural Sites into different categories.
1. Omari Mosque (one of the historical mosques of Palestine)
2. Syed Hashim Mosque, which includes the shrine of Prophet Mohammad’s grandfather Hashim bin Abd Manaf.
SHRINES and ZAWIYAS (Schools)
3. Shrine of Al -Khadir in Deir al Balah city.
4. The Ahmadia Zawaiya, in old Gaza city.
5. Al Kamiliyah School constructed in 1237 AD
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MONASTERIES and CHURCHES
6.Church of Saint Porphyrius -believed to be the 3rd oldest Church still working in the world founded in 425 C.E
7. Great Byzantine Church in Jabaliya
8. The Church of Saint Pervierios (Greek Orthodox )
9. Qasr Al -Basha, (13th century Mamluk Fort) old fortress converted into architectural museum in Gaza city.
10. In 2,000 year old Roman Cemetary and Necropolis containing upto 80 tombs was discovered in Northern Gaza . It is within the vicinity of the Blakhiyah site (Anthedon of Palestine).
11. Cemetary -Deir al -Balah dating back to the late Bronze age (1150-1200 BCE)
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MARKETS, KHANS (Inns)) and STABLES
12. The Qaysariyah Market located in Daraj neighbourhood is Mamluk era souk (market)
13. Khan Al -Amir Younus 789 AH ,(1387 CE ) located in the centre of Khan Yunis city .
14. Al-Alami and Kasab Asbala(stables)
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15. Sabil Al-Rifaiyah
HAMMAM (Bath House)
16. Hammam Al-Samra (1320 AD) located in Al-Zaytoun neighbourhood (old town Gaza city)
17. Historic houses account for over half of it’s heritage with 186 houses which includes Al Saqqa House constructed 1661
Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities have been unable to carry full scale assessment of the destruction because of relentless bombardment, day and night.
Around 29,000 bombs have been dropped on Gaza city destroying the civilian infrastructure beyond repair.
ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites)
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ARCHIVES and MUSEUM
Palestinian branch of the ICOMOS ( International Council on Monuments and Sites), reports the complete destruction of the Central Archives of Gaza City, where thousands of historic documents were kept.
Rafah Museum Director Suhaila Shaheen reported that priceless items from coins, precious stones, copper plates and clothes have been damaged and lost.
Apart from priceless structures destroyed, the oldest hospital building in Gaza city the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital (1661) was bombed and targeted by Israeli snipers where innocent civilians were being treated and had sought shelter .
Geneva based human rights group Euro-Med Monitor, said that ,”Israel deliberately destroyed architecture and monuments in Gaza Strip,” and has accused it of ,”explicitly targeting Palestinian Cultural Heritage”.
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With all the death and destruction we have witnessed in past three months and dwindling of hope with each passing day, I still have hope in my heart for Palestine because in the end …..Truth Has A Voice.
I have always decorated my articles with colourful and vibrant pictures to give my readers a taste of what they read, because, “picture says a thousand words”, but I have refrained from sharing this time of the destruction in Gaza because I want Gaza to be remembered as a joyful, vibrant city with loving and cultured citizens rather than a ghost town or a graveyard which it has been turned out to be by the Israeli offensive.
“We will return you to a homeland despite our miseries as free people chanting united ,We won’t be Silent we won’t Surrender No!no no no ………we’d sacrifice for you so you may live O’ Palestine ”, lyrics from a popular song Falastine Biladi, sung by Kuwaiti singer Humood.
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These words are hopes and aspirations of countless free and peace loving citizens of the world who wish to seek justice, peace, love and respect among People and Nations.
Hope 2024 can bring the shattered pieces together and repair their aspirations with Peace.
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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai
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