New campaign to save historic Palestinian building

Khan al-Umdan, Akka

The splendid but currently dilapidated Khan al-Umdan in Akka.

Sarah Irving

A campaign has been launched within Palestine and Israel to save the Khan al-Umdan (Caravanserai of the Pillars), a spectacular and historic building in the heart of the Old City of Akka (Acre).

Under plans released recently by the Israeli authorities, bids have been invited for investors to turn the eighteenth-century khan into a luxury hotel.

This, campaigners fear, will strip the building of its historic character, as well as denying an important open space to the largely Palestinian residents of the old city.

The plans come in the context of the wider gentrification of Akka, a process which has led to Israeli luxury tourism businesses squeezing the Palestinian community out of their neighborhoods.

Demonstrations have already taken place in Akka against the proposals, and legal action is being prepared by Palestinian legal organizations in Israel. International supporters of Palestinian attempts to conserve their heritage have been asked to sign an Avaaz petition.

Unique heritage

The Khan al-Umdan is the best-preserved of Akka’s famous khans. These are huge courtyard buildings constructed for trains of merchants and their animals to stay in and sell their wares – some of them traded along the Silk Road – often destined for Italy and further west.

Although Akka is now perceived as a sleepy, old-fashioned tourist destination in Israel, it was once one of the greatest ports on the eastern Mediterranean, and is one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in the world.

Despite the Old City’s designation as a UNESCO heritage site, the Khan al-Umdan has not been well conserved by the current municipality, and is usually closed to visitors on safety grounds.

Abir Kopty has kindly translated the Israel Lands Authority tender document:

Reference: 2013-­‐0005-­‐311

J. Cheshvan Tsha”d

October 7, 2013

Tender for construction of a hotel complex in Acre, Khan al Umdan -­‐ World Heritage Site of UNESCO

Israel Lands Authority and the Tourism Ministry Acre Development Company issued a new tender for construction of a hotel complex Khan al Umdan

Israel Lands Authority and the Tourism Office Old Acre Development Company (subsidiary), issued a tender for leasing and development area Khan Al Umdan Old Acre. The complex is designed to build a hotel about 200 rooms, while developing and maintaining the historic site.

Auction is only for candidates who will receive a recommendation from the Ministry of Tourism, when the office will examine the suitability of the project plans. Khan al Umdan is one of the oldest buildings, most beautiful and impressive Israel. Ottoman building, which was built at the end of the century - 18 in the heart of Old Acre. Khan’s name is derived from the granite columns at ground floor. Khan previously served international trade because of its proximity to the port of Acre and in 2001 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage.

In the last decade, the Tourism Ministry has invested over 185 million NIS in the city’s tourism development. Today there are 340 hotel rooms and 180 rooms in the process of planning and marketing (not including Khan al Umdan). According to estimation of the professional bodies in the city, another 1,300 rooms are needed.

The deadline for submission of bids for the tender: 06.01.2014.


Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.