Empty roofs bring sweet employment to East Jerusalem

When architect and urban planner Tareq Nassar looks out over East Jerusalem, he doesn’t just see the dense sprawl.

His focus is on the thousands of unused roofs and how they can be transformed into green spaces that provide a perfect environment for bee breeding.

This vision led him to found the Sinsila Center for Urban Sustainability with Jewish-Israeli co-founder Liel Maghen, a social educator who works at the think tank The Forum for Regional Thinking (FORTH).

Nassar and Maghen met five years ago when Maghen was working in Jerusalem looking for projects that could bring Jewish and Arab communities together in lasting partnerships. They started with small tutorials and formed work groups throughout the city.

The first step towards setting up the project came four years ago when they looked for a location that would attract the community and showcase what could be accomplished on rooftops and courtyards in their own homes.

The empty terraces of the East Jerusalem Public Central Library seemed like the perfect option and were soon transformed into a community garden with apiaries. Classrooms were then set up in the building to teach biodynamic beekeeping.

A lesson at the Sinsila Center in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Sinsila Center

Named for the natural stone walls that prevent soil erosion on mountains growing olive, grape, almond and seasonal plants, Sinsila has trained 115 women who now operate at least two beehives each.

The Jerusalem Woman’s Beekeeping Cooperative reimburses them for their supply of honey. In return, the cooperative harvests, produces, markets and sells pure honey and honey-based cosmetics and candles.

Next year, 200 more women will start the course. The target for 2024 is 544 beekeepers with 1,000 hives.

Update neglected corners

Nassar and Maghen were the recipients of this year’s IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East, which is presented annually to “recognize outstanding work done jointly by two individuals, an Arab and an Israeli, who work together to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.”

“We believe it’s more important than ever to share stories of success at the grassroots so they can encourage and inspire others,” Goldberg said. “While there is no magic solution, a positive force is to encourage people to live and work together toward common goals, learn to live and work together toward mutual goals, learn to trust and rely on each other for the public good.”

Nassar, 38, a graduate of architecture from Bir Zeit University in Ramallah and an MA in urban planning from Stuttgart University, says he prefers to talk about action than ideals.

“When you look at the East Jerusalem master plan, the challenges seem insurmountable. Here, every 10,000 residents have access to a patch of green within a kilometer of their home. In West Jerusalem that is 500 people per green space. My goal is to take small steps at a time through place making – which means finding and updating neglected corners.”

While living in Germany, Nassar first became aware of the growing popularity of rooftop beekeeping in cities.

On his return to Jerusalem, where he spent his childhood in the Ras al Amud neighborhood and the Muslim quarter of the Old City in a family of 10 children, Nassar was convinced that the idea could be used as a tool for economic development and to build communities. together.

He came in contact with biodynamic beekeeping specialist Yossi Aud, who has spent years teaching courses through Muslala, the non-profit organization founded by artists, residents and community activists of the Musara neighborhood on the fringes of West and East Jerusalem.

Nassar and Maghen, an intercultural strategist, then teamed up with Aud and Matan Israeli from Muslala to found Sinsila.

Screenshot of Tareq Nassar from Sinsila Center

Improving family life

Beekeeping is not a traditional occupation in Palestinian homes. But, Nassar says, “roofs were once an important part of family life, especially as a cool place to rest on warm summer nights.”

And with women’s unemployment in East Jerusalem at about 80 percent, he was confident that the idea of ​​getting an income that wouldn’t require them to leave their homes would be a big boost.

“The women were desperate for a source of income and bees are easy to sell. They don’t require much maintenance, about an hour a week. And from a small wooden beehive it is possible to get 40-50 kilograms [88-110 lbs.] honey per year. Bees work almost all year round – except in winter – and during the day.”

A beekeeper in the Sinsila project. Photo courtesy of Sinsila Center

At the start of the program in 2018, Nassar created a colorful flyer and distributed it throughout East Jerusalem. Although many women later admitted that their husbands were unsupportive at first, mainly because they were wary of bee stings, more than 100 women signed up for the pilot project, 15 of which were chosen.

“For two months, we brought beehives to homes all over East Jerusalem every night. We could only fit three cabinets in our car at a time,” says Nassar.

The beehives are small enough to fit on the terraces of apartments. Photo courtesy of Sinsila Center

“We’ve seen a lot of roofs that didn’t even have a chair or a plant on it. Now we are receiving photos of families enjoying being on the roof together and of men helping their wives. Not only are we changing roofs, but we are also giving women economic empowerment and improving family life.”

Hope follows action

Sinsila has since grown into a real community center with a coffee shop, language exchange program, guitar lessons and even a permaculture course.

“Working with Tareq has been a great inspiration,” says Maghen. “He is committed to his work and puts all his energy into this greater cause of supporting the community. Working with him, I learned to put the needs of the local community and the voice of my Palestinian partner at the heart of the work.

A similar initiative is now taking off in the Abu Tor neighborhood of East Jerusalem, with the addition of a carpentry workshop to make the wooden beehives.

Having studied and worked in Europe, North Africa, the United States and the Middle East (including busy, polluted and densely populated Cairo), Nassar says that while parallels and inspiration can be found all over the world, it is important to look at each community individually and not just apply ‘copy, paste’.

Nassar, who lives with his wife and children, ages two and six, in Jerusalem’s northeastern Beit Hanina neighborhood, is more convinced than ever that what his city needs is “more action than hope.” Hope will follow action.”

Sinsila is proof of his philosophy.

For more information and to book a tour of Sinsila Center, click here.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: