Thursday, June 20, 2019

The future Palestinian Silicon Valley: "reinforcing our submission to Israeli power"


By Ary Gotlib - January 24, 2019
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [development]

Known as the biggest private investment in the Palestinian territories, Rawabi seems to exert a fascination on most of the Palestinian Authority decision-makers and journalists.

 
Started in 2008, Rawabi is a $1.4 billion project, a third of which is financed by US-Palestinian billionaire Bashar al-Masri whereas two thirds by a Qatari public real estate company. The city, located nine kilometres north of Ramallah, is stretched across 63 hectares (6,300 dunums).
 
When completed, predicted between 2025 and 2028, the city intends to home 40,000 people in 8,000 apartments distributed in 22 neighborhoods. Equipped with a Roman theater, a park for extreme sports including bungee jumping, around 25 stores and a startups incubator. Rawabi aims to be at the forefront of modernity.
 
 
Presented as a “Marshall plan for palestine’s economy”, and a “Silicon Rawabi”, which will be a “Catalyst for Economic Growth,” Rawabi would be nothing less than the new Palestinian dream. Only localized criticisms were raised about this project, saying that the city is favorizing normalization by working with Israeli companies and authorities.

It is further claimed to be that Rawabi is the new cornucopia that Palestine was waiting for. By using renewable energies, sustainable development, promising strong job creation (10,000 jobs per year) and creating public services such as schools, a university and hospital. Rawabi and its co-founder Bashar Al-Masri, aim to raise the Palestinian living standards and become a model for Palestinian people.
 
Nevertheless, some voices still protest against this project, not only to criticize how Rawabi is considered but to question the fundamental existence and necessity of such project.
 
“The Rawabi project stole our lands”
 
For Wael Bawatnah, mayor of the surrounding village of Ajul “the Rawabi project stole our lands without giving us the promised development, all for private interests.”
 
Hussam Abu Ahmed, 57, an inhabitant of Ajul was allegedly forced to sell seven dunums of his land for the Rawabi project. “Rawabi paid me around $12,000/dunum”, barely one-third of the value of the land estimated around $30,000 according to him.
 
Hussam Abu Ahmed, 57, sold seven dunams of his land to Rawabi for what he believes to be an unreasonable price.
 
Muntasir Naseem, an English teacher in Ajul’s school told Palestine Monitor there was a law of land registration by the government for Rawabi area issued in 2009 or 2010. “The law forced us to sell our lands,” Hussam Abu Ahmed further commented. Though this is a law that Palestine Monitor could not consult. “It’s evidence of robbing the lands,” Naseem said.
 
Jack Nassar, Director of Rawabi foundation, disclaims responsibility for any underestimation of land prices. “The government hired independent experts to evaluate the value of lands,” Nassar said. He added that Rawabi offered the possibility of an exchange with other lands in compensation of these ones which were not fertile because its rocky nature.
 
When the Rawabi project was presented to surrounding villagers “the aim was to build and develop the area,” said Bawatnah. Seven years after the beginning of the construction (in 2011), he is still searching for any sign of development. “The promised public services are not built and the consumers from Rawabi who were supposed to come into our stores we are still waiting for.”
 
Before Rawabi’s construction Ajul inhabitants were owners of about 6,500 dunums of land, though this amount is now reduced to nearly 2,500 dunums. “Rawabi, with the active work of Palestinian Authority, bought our lands for a low price, and made us false promises,” said annoyed, Abu Ghassan, a villager from Ajul, who sold 12 dunums of his own.
 
“It is the same situation for Atara and Abwein” the other two villages closest to Rawabi, said Wael Bawatnah. “What is going to develop, is just the interests of the owners of Rawabi.”
 
“It's not because they [the local villagers] say so, it’s true,” answered Jack Nassar from Rawabi foundation. He argued that the city contributed to bring into the area a better electrical network, and more public transportation.
 
Do Palestinians need one Rawabi?
 
Rawabi is showed as a sustainable city that responds to environmental issues like no other city in Palestine can boast of. Studies to reduce the environmental impact of buildings, solar panels on the roofs of buildings, apartments equipped with geothermal heating and LED lights, the plan to plant 10,000 trees in and around the city, maintenance of a compost site, wastewater recycling system and so on. Rawabi has everything of the perennial and sustainable city.
 
 
Bashar Al-Marsi hopes that Rawabi “serves as a model for future Palestinian cities and economic projects,” reported businessinsider last October. But for some environmental analysts, specialists and workers, the fundamental model of Rawabi is anything but not sustainable.
 
“From an environmental view, Rawabi is bad,” affirmed Ayman Shawahna, the General Director Of Environment Education and Awareness Directorate, an entity of the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority. He told Palestine Monitor the country needs small villages with agricultural production on the Israeli model of Moshav or Kibbutz but not a big project like Rawabi.
 
Sa’ad Dagher, considered by some as the father of agroecology - the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems - in Palestine described Rawabi as a false need. “There are tens of thousands of vacant homes in the West Bank, we don’t need one more city,” Dagher lamented.
 
An estimation with which Jack Nassar is totally is disagreement with. “There is a lack of housing units here in West Bank,” Nassar reacted.
 
In fact, according to the last report of 2017 (p. 165) from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there is more than 46,000 housing units vacant in the West Bank without taking in account the deserted (12,170)  and closed houses (55,500). A report that would confirm the absence of need for a new city.

Finding another economic model to fight Israeli colonization
For Bashar Al-Masri, Rawabi is a symbol of defiance to occupation, especially by standing proudly in front of Ateret settlement. 
Sa’ad Dagher at the opposite end thinks that the Palestinian economy and especially the imports are in a big part controlled by Israel. “An intensive production - as Rawabi is - reinforces our submission to the Israeli power,” he claimed. An assertion which can be supported by the latest reports of United Nations which especially mentioned that “Israel accounted for more than 70 per centof Palestinian imports (page 6, point 20).”
 
The construction of Rawabi is only motivated by an economical point of view argued Dagher. “It just exists because it’s boosting the Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” Dagher said. However, he regrets that GDP is incomplete and doesn’t consider the damage on the nature (lands, water, energy, gaz emission and so on) caused by this construction, which could nuanciate its real cost.
 
“If we don’t build here, one day, Israel will build on these lands,” retorted Jack Nassar, a fallacious argument for Sa’ad Dagher. According to him, the importance is not to produce more housing, but to make affordable those already built - a point of view sustained by the Office of the Quartet based in Jerusalem - and work on setting up an autonomous economical system less dependent from Israeli imports. A long-term goal.
 
He concluded that “Palestinians must put under question the accumulation and economic growth model, in a bid to fight more efficiently the occupation.” Without autonomy, there is no independence.

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