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Building the Good Life on the Hills of the West Bank

Palestinian women look at a model in the showroom for Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, on 23 April. Rawabi will provide some 6,000 contemporary housing units with different floor plans, spread across 23 neighborhoods. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill) 

31 May 2013 – By Judith Sudilovsky

RAWABI, West Bank (CNS) — About 20 minutes from the Palestinian economic hub of Ramallah, the new city of Rawabi is sprouting on a rocky hillside.

Visitors sense pride as young professionals work on the first Palestinian city built with a master plan and the first new Palestinian city to rise up among the scattered Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“When people come here they are astonished,” said Ghadeer Khoury, 28, a young Catholic civil engineer from Ramallah who has been working as part of the Rawabi team since its inception in 2008. “It is something [different]. They are not used to seeing something like this … for us. We know there is a good life, but we don’t know that it can be for us also, with everything organized and in the right place. But we can still have something good like this, despite the occupation.”

Many of her young Christian contemporaries are coming to buy apartments here, said Khoury, who is in the process of choosing an apartment for herself.

Co-worker Jack Nasser, 28, a Catholic who lives in Ramallah and works as office manager on the project, has already bought an apartment here and convinced his brother and one sister to buy here as well.

What was envisioned as a neighborhood has transformed into an entire planned city.

Rawabi will have an upscale city center with shops, offices, restaurants and apartments surrounding a central plaza. Developers hope to attract internationally known brands as well as high-tech companies to provide employment for residents.

The West Bank cities of Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin are all overcrowded and Rawabi, which means “hills” in Arabic, can provide an answer to companies looking for space or to expand, said Khoury.

The city’s 20,000-seat outdoor amphitheater is nearing completion. It will have an 800-seat indoor theater, a convention center, three cinemas, a soccer pitch, three schools — one for boys, one for girls and a co-ed school — in the initial phases, with five more schools planned for the future.

Rawabi was the brainchild of Palestinian businessman Bashar Masri, who was educated in the United States and Egypt.

“I never had a doubt in my mind from day one that this was right and that one day it would be a great success. Today, the project is much bigger than I ever imagined, and it is getting bigger,” Masri said.

The Rawabi showroom includes a museumquality mock “walkthrough” model of the city at its entrance and a 3-D introductory movie of the project scripted by an international company. It also has computerized models of the various buildings and apartment styles so prospective buyers can check out the availability of different options using iPads programmed with special software by a Palestinian company in Nablus.

Masri said he tries to use as much Palestinian labor as he can.

“I came up with the idea, but there are hundreds of Palestinians working on this, and they are proud of themselves,” he said. “And they are doing it at a level of sophistication, perhaps not at the level of London or New York, but it is a sophisticated level adjusted to the local tastes.”

Qatar is footing almost two-thirds of the budget through the Bayti Real Estate Investment Co.

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Tags: Palestine Palestinians West Bank Homes/housing Occupation