Is this privately financed city project in the heart of occupied West Bank a momentous trailblazer, or a colossal folly?

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The long road to Rawabi, Palestine's first planned city
© Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
The long road to Rawabi, Palestine's first planned city
© Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

In a hi-vis jacket and jeans, Shadia Jaradat pauses on a tour of Rawabi, a new city rising out of a West Bank hill, to point up at the top floor of an apartment block. “That one is mine,” she says with visible pride, before continuing her exposition of Rawabi’s considerable merits.

This privately financed city project in the heart of occupied West Bank symbolises both a possible future for the beleaguered Palestinian people and a microcosm of the obstacles they face.

That it has got this far in a place under military rule for almost half a century, and in the teeth of obstruction, controversy and criticism, is a testament to the vision of its founder and driving force, Basher al-Masri.

Civil engineer Jaradat is one of a team of young women professionals helping to build Rawabi. She has also made this $1.2bn (£825m) paean to contemporary urban planning her home, countering a long tradition which dictates that Palestinian women stay with their parents until they marry, after which they move in with their in-laws.

Jaradat: young, female, educated, professional, independent. Rawabi: new, modern, clean, high spec and hi-tech. Both represent a break with the past, but their potential is mired in the cyclical violence and political obduracy characteristic of this part of the world.

Our tour of Rawabi – Arabic for “hills” – takes us through the first two city neighbourhoods to be completed since construction began in 2012. Seven hundred apartments have been sold, with the first residents moving in last autumn. Eventually, Rawabi will have a population of 25,000 in the core high-rise city, which could rise to 40,000 with future expansion.

The city is an urban planner’s dream, and the antithesis of the noisy, rubbish-strewn chaos of most Palestinian towns. The apartments have spectacular views over the biblical landscape of the West Bank. Birds of prey soar through the golden evening light. From the highest spots, it is possible to see the Mediterranean glinting beyond the Tel Aviv skyline, 25 miles away. […]

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