Ruins, Destruction, and Cultural Heritage in Interwar Gaza

Over the last 16 years, the Gaza Strip has experienced recurring cycles of destruction in its wars with Israel, the most extensive of which is happening these very days, an unprecedented catastrophe that destroyed most of the Strip’s built landscape and took the lives of 30,000 and counting. “Interwar,” a term commonly applied by historians to the period between the First and the Second World Wars, has thus reemerged in Gaza as a category of lived reality, by which ruins and destruction are accumulated much faster than reconstruction and even rubble clearing cannot catch up. These conditions of ongoing wars alongside Israel’s ongoing blockade made phenomena like ruin-dwelling, second and third-time displacement, makeshift house-repair, onsite cement crushing for re-use, or constant preparedness to exhume victims from under the rubble critical components of everyday life.
Under such a reality of living among the ruins, what kind of meaning do historical “ruins” hold? What role does heritage play, if at all, in Gaza’s politics, culture, and memory? And how does destruction dictate our ability to engage with Gaza’s history? The lecture seeks to answer these questions by traveling between three interrelated moments in Gaza’s relations with destruction. The first would go back to the historical “interwar” era and Gaza’s first experience with heritage conservation under British mandatory rule. The second engages with the destruction of Gaza’s built landscape in the 2000s and the ways the Strip’s inhabitants had been coping with it. The last would be an analysis of the destruction of historical sites and cultural monuments during the current war and its devastating effects on local identity, sense of place,and future knowledge production.