RAWABI, WEST BANK — A new Palestinian city is rising on a hill in the West Bank. The first tenants are due to move in to the billion-dollar project next year, but there are many challenges.
Rawabi means “hills” in Arabic, and the inspiration for the name is clear from this hilltop some 10 kilometers northwest of Ramallah and 25 kilometers north of Jerusalem.
Several thousand people are to move next year into the first 600 homes. Eventually a city will rise with a population of 25,000.
Rawabi will be the first modern planned Palestinian city - as seen in this promotional video - incorporating a grand vision for schools, sports and entertainment facilities, a business district and shopping malls. All will be linked by fiber optic cable and other advanced technologies.
It is the brain child of Bashar Masri, born in the West Bank 52 years ago. He worked 25 years in America before returning home with a vision.
“I wanted to do a large project that has an impact on the Palestinian economy, create thousands of jobs instead of hundreds of jobs and created by our own, Palestinian people," said Masri.
His project employs some 10,000 construction workers and dozens of Palestinian contractors. When completed, Rawabi will generate several thousand permanent jobs.
The project has attracted a doctor from Jerusalem, 38-year-old Hussam, and his wife Tanya. He does not want to use his last name.
“When I looked at the proposal, I liked it so much. It’s something different from the things that are in place here [in the territories], something different," said Hussam.
There are challenges. Although Rawabi lies in an area under Palestinian control, it is only accessible by a single road that is under Israeli control. Its water supply, also under Israeli control, is subject to cutoffs.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs here, has not provided funds for the schools, clinics or infrastructure.
Nearby Israeli settlers oppose the project. But Masri refuses to back down, saying Rawabi is sending a message.
“That yes, we can. We can build a nation, despite occupation. If we can do this under occupation, try us without the occupation and see what we can do," he said.
He says he wants Rawabi to show that the Palestinians can build a modern state and deserve one.