Culture is a bridge for everyone (Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos)
Published on 15 September 2011
One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and one of Lebanon’s most important tourist destinations, Jbeil, is set to become a War Free World Heritage Listed City, a status that would outlaw the use and targeting of the site in times of conflict.
In a wide-ranging meeting in Jbeil Wednesday, civil and military representatives discussed the establishment of a national focus group to adopt risk mitigation measures and prepare the city to become compliant with the Second Protocol of The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in times of armed conflicts.
The Second Protocol, which was adopted in 1999, holds that any intentional attack against a War Free World Heritage Listed City would be identified as criminal offense.
To be awarded the special status, a two-year project is being carried out by the Union of Jbeil Municipalities in partnership with Italy’s World Association for the Protection of Tangible Cultural Heritage (WATCH) and the European Union, which will establish modern urban practices for site management in the Phoenician city of Jbeil.
Upon the completion of the project, a formal application will be submitted to UNESCO to award Jbeil enhanced protection status.
“This is the first project of its kind [in Lebanon] and Byblos [Jbeil] was, as a registered World Heritage Site, eligible to be a candidate,” the project’s local coordinator, Rachid Chamoun, a professor of Urban Planning at the Lebanese American University, told The Daily Star.
Byblos, which is the Greek name for Jbeil, was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1984 but armed conflict in the country and the region has endangered the almost 7,000-year-old city.
Speaking at the meeting, project coordinator Claudio Cimino called on the Lebanese Army and the government to take formal decisions to abolish all military operations in Jbeil.
“This is a strategic issue … This heritage site should be protected on both civil and military levels,” said Cimino, adding that the Culture Ministry has a direct responsibility to see to the success of the project.
“To do this, there has to be a buffer zone around Byblos that would protect it from irregular urban development and armed conflicts,” Cimino added.
Bombs were dropped in the vicinity of Byblos by Israel during its war with on Lebanon in July 2006, and several other World Heritage Sites, including Baalbek, were heavily damaged.
Georgia’s northern city of Mtskheta, which was threatened by armed conflict during the 2008 South Ossetia war with Russia, is also participating to become a War Free World Heritage Listed City, a project which is co-funded by the European Union through Cooperation in Urban Development and Dialogue.
Although officials from the Culture Ministry did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, the project was discussed enthusiastically by Jbeil’s Mayor Ziad Hawat, several army officials and members of the Lebanese Red Cross.
According to Hawat, the city should ready itself to face natural disasters and armed conflict, which could take place anytime. “However, the ‘invasion’ of construction activities is also a great danger to Jbeil,” he said.
The mayor also said that Jbeil’s heritage and historical significance make it more attractive to investment.
If they are successful, Jbeil and Mtskheta will join the four current War Free World Heritage Cities, three of which are located in Cyprus and the fourth in Italy.
Chamoun said the success of this project would help other municipalities, in Baalbek, Tyre and Wadi Qannoubin follow suit.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 15, 2011, on page 3.
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