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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) 

Masri lives in Ramallah with his American-born wife — both daughters are at universities in the United States — and he said he has no plans to move to Rawabi. But his company has sold between one and nine apartments a day since opening up sales in mid-May, he said.

The initial budget for the project was $500 million. Today the project stands at a budget of more than $1 billion and will eventually include 23 neighborhoods with some 6,000 housing units for 30,000 residents.

The first 600 apartments are scheduled for completion early next year. Future stages of the project will include some higher-end single-family homes as well as one-bedroom apartments for young couples and students, Nasser said.

A mosque is being constructed, and in February a cornerstone-laying ceremony was held with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III for the future Greek Orthodox church to be built. A spot has been reserved for a Catholic church.

Father Humam Khzouz, general administrator of Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarchate, said the patriarchate is interested in building a church and school in the new city and is in the process of reviewing several options.

“Nothing has been concretized yet but we are interested,” he said in a phone interview. “We are interested in being there in order to serve the young couples who will be living there.”

In addition to conveying a message that Palestinians are capable of creating something bigger than what they have had, even with the Israeli occupation, Masri said he wants to convey the importance of creating the reflection of a tolerant Palestinian society in Rawabi.

Palestinians want a secular democratic state, he said, and he believes that a tolerant Rawabi will be another step in that direction.

“We are in the process of state-building, in this case city-building, and it must be a secular city,” he said. “There must be tolerance and respect of people’s religious beliefs. To emphasize this secular message we put in the cornerstone of the first Christian church. We made a big deal of it in order to emphasize [Rawabi] as a city of tolerance.”

The same was not done with the mosque, he noted. Christians make up less than 2 percent of the predominantly Muslim West Bank.

Rawabi prices are affordable compared to Ramallah, where property is at a premium, said Nasser.

“Instead of immigrating for a better quality of life, they can have it here. They can have a better quality of life and still be in Palestine,” said Nasser, who noted that when his sister came back from the United States with her family, the first thing she did was purchase an apartment in Rawabi.

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Tags: Palestine Palestinians West Bank Homes/housing Occupation