Press release: Danger of Collapse in the Old City – El-Qirami Street – Conservation and Political Ramifications
Approximately two weeks ago, a cluster of homes in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City were discovered to be in danger of collapse. Subsequently, it was decided to evacuate eight families from their homes. The affected area was identified as a residential neighborhood that dates back to the beginning of the Mamluk Period. In the absence of proper conservation projects for ancient homes in the Muslim Quarter, and given the Israeli authorities’ neglect of broad sections of the Old City, the cracks, holes and ruptures in the walls are not at all surprising. In order to protect Jerusalem’s Old City as a heritage site, it is imperative to carry out ongoing, joint work in all parts of the city and with all of the residents.
On Wednesday, September 11, a danger of collapse was reported in a cluster of homes on El-Qirami Street in the Muslim Quarter (photos and map below). The homes are located between Ha-Gai/Al-Wad Street and Khan al-Zayt Street, in a compound most of which was built during the Mamluk Period, with continued construction during the Ottoman Period. Among the homes damaged is a madrasah from the Ayyubid-Mamluk Period (12-14 c) that is today used for residential purposes. As a result of the damage to the houses, it was decided to evacuate eight families: seven Palestinian and one of Jewish settlers.
Upon discovery of the danger of collapse, the Jerusalem Municipality informed the residents that they would have to reinforce the walls of the buildings. Since the houses have been declared as ancient structures, and based on the scope of the damage, it will be necessary to invest hundreds of thousands of shekels to strengthen the buildings while preserving their ancient character.
Cases of holes that have opened up, cracks and danger of collapse have occurred many times in the Old City over recent years (in August a pit formed in a home on Ha-Shalshelet Street). Most of the cases did not require removal of families from their homes. But the El-Qirami Street incident, nevertheless, is not unique.
A majority of the buildings in the Old City are identified as ancient structures. Most were built during the Ottoman Period, and sometimes, in even earlier periods – during the Crusader period (12th c), the Ayyubid Period (13th c), or the Mamluk Period (13th-16th c). In order to protect such ancient buildings, it is necessary to carry out conservation works as well as ongoing and comprehensive steps for reinforcement. Such undertakings must include not only public structures such as the walls surrounding the Old City, or religious buildings, but hundreds of residences located in the Muslim and Christian Quarters.
As early as 1982, UNESCO declared the Old City of Jerusalem as an Endangered World Heritage Site. The declaration is based, among other things, on the need for comprehensive conservation works in order to preserve the ancient homes in the city. Despite this, and despite the Israeli authorities’ recognition of the dangers facing the structures in the Old City, an overarching project has never been carried out to protect and conserve the majority of the endangered buildings. The homes, which in most cases are inhabited by the more underprivileged Palestinians in the city, and as stated, represent various Muslim periods, were not the center of attention for the relevant Israeli government agencies.
Given the situation that has ensued on El-Qirami Street, it is likely that the Antiquities Authority will be called upon to conduct rescue excavations prior to the reconstruction or reinforcement of the buildings, since only proper excavation can create a strong basis for a sound and enduring construction. (To the best of our knowledge, there are no excavations of tunnels under the damaged buildings, despite some claims that the collapse originated in the excavation of spaces beneath the houses).
The reasonable request to carry out excavations and proper conservation works for the buildings will raise the cost of the construction. The assumption is that the Palestinian population, most of which is lacking in means, will not finance a high-cost renovation. In such a case, it is likely that the settlers’ organizations will attempt to acquire the structures for their needs, whether by financing the archaeological excavations, affording them a presence beneath the buildings, or through purchase and legal activity, enabling them to take possession of the houses of the evacuated residents.
In our estimation, the optimal solution for addressing the damages on El-Qirami Street incorporates involvement of international organizations. As far as the necessary conservation works are concerned, it appears that only an international staff of experts can properly assume the scope of work necessary. In addition, in order to protect the interests of the residents and prevent the situation to further strengthen the settlers, it appears that a minimum involvement of Israeli agencies will appease the residents and create conditions for collaboration between residents and professional organizations. Collaborating with residents is a fundamental condition for better conservation.
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