Ancient Gaza monastery restored by unemployed younger Palestinians

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — On a college journey in 2010, Naama al-Sawarka visited the St. Hilarion Monastery, which dates again to 329 and is positioned within the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.

The web site was deserted and the opposite college students didn’t just like the place, however Sawarka stated she liked it immensely. “I left part of my heart there,” she informed Al-Monitor.  

As quickly as she completed highschool Sawarka looked for a significant that may enable her to work in archaeology. She opted for historical past and archaeology on the Islamic University of Gaza — a selection that earned her criticism from her group as a result of this main is seen as extra appropriate for males.

“I am a Bedouin girl, and my society believes it is unacceptable to work in a mixed place and handling hammers and stones is just for men,” she stated.

After she graduated from college, Sawarka landed a job as a vacationer information at St. Hilarion Monastery, often known as Tell Umm al-Amr. She additionally labored in restoration and helped restore the monastery’s mosaic flooring and reinforce its partitions, as a part of a challenge run by Premiere Urgence Internationale, a French nonprofit group overseeing the restoration of the location with the assist of the British Council.

Sawarka stated she had an exquisite time in the course of the archaeological excavations. “We used to work with great enthusiasm. At one point we came across a wall, but we kept on digging and we found a crucifix that dates back 1,800 years. It was an amazing year,” she added.

Since 2018, a Palestinian staff underneath French supervision has been engaged on the restoration works within the monastery. The staff features a group of college graduates in structure, archaeology, historical past and different majors, who’ve been given momentary job alternatives inside a challenge dubbed, “Economic recovery through decent work in the Gaza Strip — money for work.”

Jamal Abu Rida, director of the General Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage within the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, informed Al-Monitor the archaeological excavations have revealed that the monastery is without doubt one of the largest in Palestine by way of space and design, and that it was talked about in historic texts.

He stated that since 2018, the monastery has been present process restoration, upkeep and excavation works as a part of a challenge by the International Relief Organization, to protect the cultural and civilizational heritage of the Palestinian individuals, each Christian and Muslim.

“Work has been ongoing at the site for three years. We are using local experts and crews, and we are doing everything we can to restore the monastery to its original condition,” he stated.

In 2020, Iman al-Amsi, a graduate from the Department of History and Archaeology on the Islamic University of Gaza, additionally joined the restoration work on the monastery.

“I was part of the team working on the archaeological discovery in the chapel. I had so many questions. I waited impatiently for Ronnie Ultra, a French archaeologist, to ask him about all the information to unravel the secrets of these civilizations,” Amsi informed Al-Monitor.

She defined that she gained nice expertise in methods to distinguish between several types of pottery, methods to strengthen and assist the monastery partitions, and protect the mosaic flooring.

“I now have experience in archaeological excavation and how deep we should dig to find out how old a civilization is,” she added.

Saja Abu Mashaikh was as keen as Amsi for the French archaeologist’s response when she and her colleagues wished to indicate him the traditional pen they found as they have been digging on the web site.

“His eyes were shining when we showed him the pen we unearthed,” Abu Mashaikh informed Al-Monitor.

She is a graduate of structure from the Gaza Training Community College and was thrilled to land a job in archaeology on the monastery the place she realized methods to apply the theories she had realized, primarily in restoring pottery items, bricks and bones.

“Whenever I unearthed old coins, I couldn’t wait to show them to the foreign experts so they could give me more information on the discovery,” Abu Mashaikh stated.

Mohammed Abdel Jawad, the monastery supervisor, stated so much has been achieved after three years of joint work between Premiere Urgence Internationale and the Gaza Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

He stated that a big a part of the church has been restored, with 80% of the oldest mosaic flooring being reconstructed, and collapsing partitions fortified.

“An outer wall was built to protect the entire site, as well as an administrative building to preserve the discovered relics, in addition to a wooden walkway for visitors to walk safely through the site,” Abdel Jawad stated.

“The technical staff has made great progress in restoring stones and mosaics. After training graduates from different majors, the most skilled are chosen to participate in the restoration works,” he stated.

Abdel Jawad added, “We have recently found bodies that we have not been able to date. We placed them on the ground in an insulating material to preserve them until we get more information.”

He defined that the staff encountered numerous obstacles within the work course of, as Israel banned a number of specialists from coming into the Gaza Strip for a 12 months, which affected the work. In addition to many supplies and gear not being accessible within the Gaza Strip. “We were able to secure some materials through the crossings and built alternative ones by hand in Gaza,” he concluded.


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