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In Rawabi

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Even through the rose tint of my 3D glasses, the architects’ rendering of Rawabi is a dizzying sight. Their animated introductory film swoops down on the central square, where men sit with shisha pipes in one hand and iPads in the other, glamorous women go shopping, young couples stroll by, businesspeople talk on the phone, and boys and girls (with and without the hijab) play football together. At a cost of $1.2 billion, Rawabi will be Palestine’s largest ever private sector project, and its first planned city. It’s the brainchild of the US-Palestinian multimillionaire Bashar Masri, who is funding it with backing from Qatar.

In a few years, its 23 neighbourhoods will house 40,000 people, many of them attracted by the promise of new jobs in IT, education and healthcare. Apartment prices range from $80,000 to $220,000; everyone from wealthy professionals to the labourers building them have shown an interest. Six neighbourhoods are now finished, and the owners of apartments in the first two – sold at a knockdown price to get things started – have moved in.

The first phase of construction was finished in mid-2014, but the houses were empty for more than a year because Israel had refused to connect the city to the water network. It’s built on Area A of the West Bank, over which the Palestinian Authority has full control, but Rawabi’s pipes and roads go through Area C, where Israel oversees planning and security. The Israeli army may not be able to enter the city, but it can turn off the taps and block the access road at will.

Rawabi has been sold as a new Palestinian dream. The architects’ film calls it a ‘modern city’, a ‘free city’, the ‘perfect life experience’. On the ground, that translates into five-star hotels, a shopping centre ‘built in the Palestinian style’, seven cinema complexes and the largest amphitheatre in the Middle East. There’s a shortage of both housing and jobs across the West Bank, but Rawabi seems to cater for a very particular elite demographic. And its modernity looks curiously like isolation. There are separate roads for residents and visitors, and as the saleswoman who showed me round put it, ‘we provide everything you need, so you won’t have to leave.’

Ramallah is less than ten kilometres to the south, but it feels a world away. ‘Ramallah is a bubble and it’s about to explode,’ Maha, who lives in the de facto capital, told me. ‘Whatever happens here, they’ll be safe there. You won’t see chaos, you won’t see politics. It’s just a neighbourhood. Can you imagine children growing up there? They’ll think we live in peace.’ Palestinians are already isolated from the world by the occupation; Rawabi will isolate them from each other, under the glossy banner of a ‘free city’.

Residents will even be shielded from their neighbours, behind sound-insulating paint and bulletproof doors with seven locks. There is a range of wood effects to choose from. All pipes, cables and rubbish are hidden out of sight, either underground or behind closed doors; Arab towns and villages elsewere in the West Bank have water tanks on the roofs of the houses, unlike Israeli settlements, which are serviced by the Israeli state. The neighbouring communities – both Israeli and Arab – have been cropped or omitted from Rawabi’s many maps and aerial animations, which instead place the city in empty land, echoing the Zionist myth of Palestine as a ‘country without a people’. None of the 6000 houses will have a view of the Ateret settlement on the next hill.

Rawabi has been criticised for resembling an Israeli settlement with its high-rise buildings and radial boulevards. The name means ‘the hills’: throughout the West Bank, hilltops have become the reserve of settlements that claim dominion over the Arab villages below. Whether to emulate or to challenge them, Palestine’s most ambitious entrepreneurs have adopted the logic of their occupiers.

Comments

  1. YMedad says:

    This – “Rawabi has been criticised for resembling an Israeli settlement” – I presume is the ultimate compliment.

    In any case, every society deserves its upper middle class. Even the Pals.

  2. YMedad says:

    I made inquiries and pass this on:

    Regarding the claim of ‘Arab towns and villages elsewere in the West Bank(/Judea and Samaria) have water tanks on the roofs of the houses, unlike Israeli settlements, which are serviced by the Israeli state’, those water tanks can be seen on the top (or under the roofs) of all Israeli homes, owned by Arabs and Jews, Christians, Muslims and Jews, all over Israel and even in the administered terrritories. They do not collect rain water. Rather they are storage tanks that contain water pumped up from pipes connected to Israeli or other infrastructure ands are also connected to solar heating elements to save electricity and use the sunshine with which Israel (both Jewish and Arab areas) is blessed.

  3. David Gordon says:

    Well, the article may clarify the issue, but the author is Professor Haim Gvirtzman “professor of hydrology at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University and a member of the Israel Water Authority Council”. Professor Gvirtzman may be a distinguished water engineer, but his academic and professional affiliations, as stated, seem one-sided. The centre that has published his study has “a realist, conservative, and Zionist agenda in the search for security and peace for Israel”, so my trust is less than complete: just as it would be for an author with mirror-image Palestinian affiliations, publishing in some organ devoted to a “realist, progressive, and Arab Nationalist agenda in the search for security and peace for Palestine”.

    • Fred Skolnik says:

      You will always be getting your information from one side or the other, or from outsiders like journalists who are unequiped to understand what is going on in the Middle East, if only because they don’t speak any on its languages, so the wisest course for someone like yourself, assuming you are also an outsider, and are telling us you can’t believe anything an Israeli or an Arab says, would be not to take sides at all. On the other hand, if you have fist-hand knowledge of the Middle East, then you might be in a position to evaluate which of the documents, reports or statements you come across are more credible that others, which is what historians do when faced with contradictory evidence.

      • David Gordon says:

        I travel a great deal in the Middle East, but I have never been to Israel (simply because my work has never taken me there). Yes, I understand the processes of historical study, and have read quite widely about the history of the region. Yes, I do not place articles that are explicitly from an Israeli or a Palestinian perspective in the same category as those by an independent author. I think the idea that someone who “don’t speak any on its languages” might be unable to understand what is going on in the Middle East is unacceptable.

        I like the concept of “fist-hand knowledge of the Middle East” which nicely epitomises much of the discourse about Israel and Palestine.

        • Fred Skolnik says:

          Well David, who are the independent authors you have read and how do you go about evaluating or verifying what they write?

          Here is a link to something you may also find edifying with regard to choosing sides in the conflict:

          http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/15005

          And by the way, whether it is “unacceptable” to you or not, any historian who didn’t understand the language of the country he was writing about would be laughed off the stage.

          • David Gordon says:

            Well there we go, a rather fist-handed response, as to be expected.

            First, let me make it clear that (as should be obvious from my earlier posts) I am not writing about choosing sides.

            Second, your comment about every historian having to understand the language of every country he or she writes about is indeed laughable. They must understand as much as possible, but work with reliable translations when need be.

            For example, I refer you to two excellent articles about Dmitri Furman in recent issues of the LRB – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n15/perry-anderson/one-exceptional-figure-stood-out is the reference to the first. To quote from Anderson’s first article, Furman wrote about “China, India and ancient Israel”. Are you suggesting he understood all the languages of those countries? Furman concentrated in his last few years on the history of the former Soviet republics – but the idea that he had to have every language from Armenian through Latvian and Kyrgyz to Turkmen and Ukrainian to be able to do so is indeed laughable.

            What I think you are actually trying to say is that any historian or other writer who does not understand Hebrew and Arabic is disqualified from writing about the Palestine – Israel problem. That won’t get us far.

  4. Pessoptimist says:

    Sykes himself seems a bit unclear about whether the occupation is in fact over in Palestine. Re: “The Israeli army may not be able to enter the city, but it can turn off the taps and block the access road at will.” The Israeli army can and does frequently enter any Palestinian city in the West Bank at will. The Palestinian Authority does not have “full control” over Area A. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, standing Israeli military orders, as well as de facto practice, Israel reserves the right to kill, arrest and do pretty much what it else it wants to Palestinians in Area A. The understanding is that the PA will do these things on Israel’s behalf most of the time. But contingent subcontracting of policing responsibilities is not the same thing as sovereignty.

  5. Fred Skolnik says:

    I am saying that no historian writes an historical study about a country whose language he doesn’t understand, unless he is writing popular history or engaging in polemics, and then he is not writing as an historian. But of course it isn’t precisely historians who are writing about the Middle East, it is most often pundits, journalists and polemicists, who are pretty much in the position of a Chinese writer or “scholar” without a word of English who “explains” America and Americans to his Chinese readers.

    But you haven’t told us which independent authors you get your information from and how you evaluate or verify it.

    • David Gordon says:

      So Dmitri Furman was not a historian then? Or just a “popular historian” (nice patronising phrase there). Incidentally, he produced interestng arguments about the direction of development of the state of Israel.

      What I object to is the idea that in some way Israel – Palestine history cannot be understood by anyone who is not directly involved, it is in some way special and different from all other history.

      No, I do not intend to give you my reading list.

      • Fred Skolnik says:

        I can see that you don’t really understand how historians work or what historical method or standards are. Historians use primary sources. In order to use primary sources they have to understand the language they’re written in. But I have no desire to go around in circles arguing with you about how history is written. I noticed that you used the word “hasbara” in the usual derogatory sense and therefore assumed that you have a bias. You would like us to believe that you read “independent authors” and reach your own objective conclusions. Somehow I doubt it, and that is why I asked you precisely which authors you have read and how you go about evaluating and verifying the information you get from them, as I also assume that you are unequipped to read the source material upon which these independent authors presumably rely. That you are avoiding the question doesn’t surprise me at all.

  6. David Gordon says:

    Sorry, I know very well how historians work, and I do not require patronising comments from you to tell me about the discipline. Let us try another example: many distinguished historians have written about the immediate causes of the First World War. Did they all speak and read Serbian? I doubt it. And yet they would need Serbian to read some of the primary sources related to Gavrilo Princip. But then, you seem to regard Israel – Palestine history as different.

    Yes, “hasbara” is often used in a derogatory sense, hardly surprising for a government-funded propaganda machine that does not exactly look at primary sources or offer a balanced view.

    No, I am not going to give you my reading list, I do not want yet more information about me stored in the Hasbara data banks.

    This dialogue is now closed, as I am travelling to the Middle East tomorrow and will have limited access to the internet.

  7. Fred Skolnik says:

    Well, David, I will not ask you what distinguished World War I historians you have in mind, because I suspect that you have not read them, just as you have apparently not read Furman either, getting your information about him at second hand, just as you get your information about the Middle East at second hand. To evaluate Furman as a historian you would have to read his books and see how they are put together. I am not competent to make judgments about histories of the Soviet republics or World War I but I certainly know my way around the history of Ancient Israel, which you also mention with reference to Furman, and can tell you that there is no such thing as a Bible scholar or historian of Ancient Israel who does not understand Hebrew. Scholars and historians of the biblical period do not read the King James Version of the Bible and discuss the meaning and significance of the English words and phrases used by the translators. They read the Hebrew Bible and discuss the meaning of the Hebrew words and phrases and in this way, by noting differences in style, among other things, are able to date the various books, determine their sources and fix sequences of events. That is how historians work.

    You seem to have considerable animus toward Israel. I always wonder how people like you zero in on Israel in the world of Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Serbia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Somalia, Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Armenia, Morocco and Azerbaizhan. Maybe when you get back from the Middle East you’ll tell us how you came to pick Israel. I tried to help you understand Israel hatred a little better by giving you a link but apparently you ran away from that too.

  8. judgefloyd says:

    Whatabout, whatabout, whatabout….? Is Fred fighting for human rights in Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Serbia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Somalia, Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Armenia, Morocco and Azerbaizhan? Or are they just a lame rejoinder to any criticism of Israel?
    If that’s a successful comeback, do the North Koreans get a pass by saying ‘Why are you picking on us and not on Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Serbia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Somalia, Russia, China, Israel, Cuba, Armenia, Morocco and Azerbaizhan?’

    • Fred Skolnik says:

      No, Fred is not fighting for human rights but Fred is also not singling out a single country as the world’s great transgressor and spending endless hours on the Internet looking for incriminating evidence the way the Israel haters do. Criticize Israel in the language of criticism and not the language of hatred and I will reply substantively; otherwise I will expose you for what you are.


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