For Elizabeth Kassis, a Chilean woman of Palestinian descent, Palestine is much more than a land of her ancestors, it is a place of belonging, identity and history. She is passionate about Palestine and hopes to desire to do many things and with the courage to do anything for her people.
Located on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Star Street, Kassis inaugurated the boutique Kassa Hotel in the occupied Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Situated within the historic Sabagh family home, which underwent a thoughtful restoration in 2016, almost 80 years after Elizabeth’s father immigrated to Chile. The hotel is the first of its kind in the old city and reflects the traditional architecture of the Palestinian city as well as its connection to the South American country.
Kassis believes that this project will help raise the level of tourist services in Palestine as it is carried out in cooperation with the municipality of Bethlehem. It is rich in cultural history and has been thoughtfully restored to preserve its original beauty and traditional Palestinian architecture.
“It was super exciting to have opened the hotel. It was a project that took us years to carry out from start to finish, being a challenging project because we did it despite the coronavirus pandemic, with its restrictions, lockdowns and depressing news,” Kassis tells MEMO.
Kassis highlights that this project has been one of the ones that she has liked the most since she did things with her own hands. “I think the experience of being a guest is unique, the idea is that guests get the full experience of what it is like to live in a Palestinian home. With real neighbours, where the decoration and setting is like a house,” she adds.
Each piece of art was selected to complement the building’s traditional Palestinian architecture, such as glass windows, decorative utensils and art pieces. They were made by Chilean artisans using ancient techniques to reflect the deep connection and similarity between Chile and Palestine.
“Everything was sent from Chile, from the plans of the house to the furniture with technical specifications. As for the objects and the decoration, I chose and bought each one of the pieces and the objects carefully,” she says.
“I installed everything with my own hands, I painted walls, I fixed what had to be fixed, I drilled and the truth is that the result is beautiful. There are six en-suite rooms, which are decorated in a very special way that does not exist in Palestine.”
Born in Chile, Kassis studied business administration and visual arts. For more than 12 years she concentrated on managing the family farm breeding Arabian and Chilean horses. “I wanted to study art, but my family wanted me to study business engineering. I ended up working during the day in the family business and studying management at night. Working in the family business, I had to go through all the areas of the company. At the age of 19, my first job was the reception of meat products, where I had to learn how to trim. I was the first woman to do this in the production plant,” she explains.
Kassis is also an audio-visual producer, television host, and a talented visual artist with several exhibitions to her credit. She founded the Diaspora Trio with Victor Mahana. The group remasters the old songs that arrived in Chile with the first Palestinian immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century. They later performed them with the musicians of the Edward Said Conservatory.
She also produced and hosted ‘Palestinian Land’, which highlights the Palestinian case, culture, history and the beauty of Palestinian cities.
“I’ve worked, travelled to many places and searched a lot but I found myself in Palestine! I want everyone in the diaspora to work for Palestine! I want people to feel, smell, eat and live inside Palestine. This is my duty toward Palestine,” she concludes.