West of the Old City of Nablus, Kittaneh Brothers are busy restoring two historic buildings dating back to the Mamluk and Ottoman eras.
The brothers Abdel-Rahman and Basel Kittaneh from Nablus in the occupied West Bank were arrested in 2003 over their participation in the Second Palestinian Intifada.
Basel was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Abdel-Rahman was jailed for four years. The two brothers were denied completing their study in the College of Engineering.
In 2007, Abdel-Rahman was released from prison and pursued his study of architecture until he obtained his Ph.D.
Basel, meanwhile, finished a bachelor’s degree in history during his detention and was released in July 2018.
“When I went out of prison, I had a passion to try everything and to think of life a lot,” Abdel-Rahman told Anadolu Agency.
“Now, I know that life is owned by those who make it, so we chose to make life in our project.”
In 2018, the two brothers, along with Alessandra Gola, an Italian architect, came up with the idea of The Yalla Project, a multi-layered initiative that aims to create a creative and friendly cultural community from different social environments to exchange knowledge, experiences, and social relationships.
The project also aims to preserve the original identity of the place and attract Palestinian youth to be in contact with their intellectual and architectural heritage.
On Jan. 15, 2019, their first production saw the light: a small social café.
“The building is divided into two parts, one dating back more than 800 years and we have restored it to be a social cafe,” said Abdel-Rahman, 39, a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture at Birzeit University.
“The other part dating back 200 years, which is a guest house that we have designed to be an old Palestinian house. We reflected the details of Palestinian heritage and identity.”
Abdel-Rahman said students from Europe and East Asia reside in the house when they carry out their research in the West Bank.
“The project is our social front and we were able to form an antique cafe community that shares ideas, volunteering, and assistance,” he said.
Alessandra, Abdel-Rahman’s wife, is responsible for the creation of details with a combination between the original Palestinian heritage and modern life without losing the identity of the place.
“Our choices of the colors and details are based on their impact on people’s social awareness,” said Alessandra, a lecturer at Kuleuven University in Belgium.
“We put our hearts in each detail of our house so that anyone who visits it can feel at home,” added Alessandra, who has a Master’s degree in architecture and social sciences.
For Basel, his period in prison has helped him to gain experience and skills.
“Now, it is the time to use all of these skills to make a better life,” said Basel, as he was painting pieces of wood to be added in the house.
“After 15 years in jail, I was out of prison full of passion, love, and dreams,” he said. “I sought through the cafe to be in contact with the new generations and give them a platform to apply their ideas.”
In a proud tone, Basel says many students do their own graduation research and master’s thesis about the Yalla project.
After a long day of work in the cafe, Basel and Abdel-Rahman start another shift of work at night on the rooftop to finish many handmade details for the project. Everything was made to the lowest budget, recycling poor materials and reinventing old or broken objects.
“I always look for new ideas through the internet and try to learn new skills that improve the quality of our job,” said Basel.