Rawabi, which means “hills” in Arabic, is the first Palestinian planned city situated 10 kilometers away from Ramallah, the effective Palestinian capital. It’s a 1.4 billion dollar green metropolis developed and built by Palestinian-American businessman Bashar Masri.
“Building a city is in a way fighting occupation,” Mr. Masri explains.
It is also a fight to prevent the last bits of prime West Bank real estate from turning into Israeli settlements. For Bashar, it is a dream come true. For Palestinians, it’s a community and a city that gives it’s residents a sense of sovereignty and identity in a safe and healthy environment. Since the grand opening in 2015, about 5,000 people have moved in. Public amenities range from a Roman-style amphitheater that can hold 15 thousand people (the biggest of its kind in the Middle East), to outdoor cafes, English school, indoor amusement center, playgrounds, extreme sports, cinemas, and a city center with upscale stores selling high-end brands.
Across the valley from Rawabi sits Ateret, the first settlement built in the West Bank after the six-day war in 1967 – considered illegal under international law. Residents in Ateret can see the monumental flagpole with its adjacent life-size sculpture of a Palestinian family holding hands with their backs to Ateret.
“Personally, it does not make me angry, though it makes me a little bothered that they take up the beautiful view,” a settler who declined to give his name out says.
For Fadi Salameh and his wife Suhair, residents of Rawabi, “it is a hilltop, and as long as we are living on the hilltops, we are resisting. The Israelis have taken most of the hilltops. For us, it is retrieving what little is left for us.”