RAMALLAH: Chilean businesswoman Elizabeth Kassis has turned her ancestral home in Bethlehem’s Old City into a heritage hotel nearly 80 years after her father emigrated to Chile.
The Kassis Kassa Hotel is the Old City’s first heritage hotel, reflecting both the city’s traditional architecture and its long-standing association with the South American country.
The Palestinian community in Chile is reportedly the oldest outside the Arab world, with around half a million Palestinians moving there since the mid-19th century.
The hotel was officially opened on June 1, and the first group reservation was received on June 8.
“It was an exciting and challenging project that took years to implement,” Kassis, who was born in Chile, told Arab News. “It is rich in cultural history and has been carefully restored to preserve its original beauty and traditional Palestinian architecture.”
The project “will contribute to raising the level of tourism services in Palestine, as it is being implemented in cooperation with Bethlehem Municipality,” Kassis said.
We wanted the guests to get the full experience of what it means to live in a Palestinian house with real neighbors.
“I think the experience of being a guest in a Palestinian house is a unique one. We wanted the guests to get the full experience of what it means to live in a Palestinian house with real neighbors.”
Kassis’ father visited Palestine in 1999, looking for ways to boost Bethlehem’s economy. Along with a group of Palestinian businessmen, he implemented a number of small projects at the turn of the century. He returned in 2015 and purchased his old family home. The restoration project began in 2016, led by his daughter.
Kassis said that setting up the hotel has been one of the most rewarding projects she has ever been involved in. In Chile, she managed her family’s farm and bred Arabian and Chilean horses. She has also worked as a TV presenter and is a talented visual artist who has participated in numerous exhibitions, as well as the co-founder of a band called Three Diaspora, which, she explained, “reshapes old songs that arrived in Chile with the first Palestinian immigrants.” The band has released several albums recorded with musicians from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.
Kassis has traveled extensively, but “found herself” in Palestine. “I want everyone in the diaspora to work for Palestine. I want people to feel, smell, eat, and live Palestine. This is my duty toward Palestine,” she said.
Engineer Raed Othman, who worked with Kassis on the project, told Arab News that Kassis loves Bethlehem and Palestinian heritage in general, and has devoted herself to promoting it to the world.
Bethlehem’s mayor, Hanna Hanania, told Arab News that, through her hotel and other efforts, Kassis is “building bridges” between Palestinian expats and their national heritage, especially the tens of thousands of expatriates from Bethlehem in South America.
He added that, as part of its attempts to attract investors to the city, the municipality plans to develop Al-Najma Street, where the hotel is located.
“The fact that Kassis Hotel is on this street will contribute to enhancing our vision regarding activating the location,” Hanania said.
Fadi Qattan, co-founder of the Kassis project, said the hotel promotes Palestinian heritage and culture through its food and its “beautiful location,” adding that he hoped journalists would visit the hotel and write about Palestinian food to “promote an accurate picture of the life and heritage of Palestinians.”
He continued: “The hotel is the first project wholly owned by an expatriate Palestinian family, which will encourage expatriate Palestinian families to return and invest in Bethlehem.”