Rawabi, dubbed the ‘City of Dreams’, is one Palestinian’s answer to Paradise. That Palestinian is Bashar Masri, American-Palestinian multi-millionaire who has invested millions into this developing project. I went to meet Mr Masri and see Rawabi for myself.
Built by Palestinians and for Palestinians, the impressive structural project has used stone from local Palestinian areas, and in Masri’s words is designed ‘in the style of Palestine’. However, I cannot help seeing western influences walking down the main shopping street, the Q centre, with shops such as Mango and Ferrari and free Wifi throughout.
“Masri assured me that these developments were for the ‘working class'”
Twenty-two neighbourhoods are planned for the city and some neighbourhoods are already completed and have residents. Masri assured me that these developments were for the “working class” and that two people on minimum wage together could afford a Rawabi apartment. The apartments are sought after, with many already sold. He told me the smallest apartments in the city are around ninety-two square metres and cost around seventy thousand dollars.
The city itself has already attracted tourists. It has the largest open-air amphitheatre in the Middle East, which is littered with images of local and international stars. A spokesperson for Rawabi revealed to me that they had had many celebrities interested in performing in the space, including Coldplay. Rawabi also has a visitor centre, many parks and the most popular attraction, an adrenaline-fuelled adventure park. Masri told me they had built the extreme sports centre due to requests from local Palestinian people. The park, named Rawabi Extreme, includes activities such as a power fan jump and the longest zip line in the Middle East.
“It is a beautifully polished city even though it is not yet finished and contrasts dramatically with nearby Ramallah”
Mr Masri has plans to develop Rawabi further, now successfully supplying clean water to his city. He is determined to build a water park in defiance of the Palestinians’ ongoing drought. This water park could potentially be seen as bad taste from the surrounding areas in which people have a very limited water supply.
It is a beautifully polished city even though it is not yet finished and contrasts dramatically with nearby Ramallah in terms of advanced development and organisation. However, this utopian image has had some critique from some Palestinians who see the city as built for the rich rather than the poor. I spoke to an individual in Ramallah who argued that they should target improving Ramallah first before creating a brand new city. It has also met criticism for ‘normalising’ the conflict in the area.
“Could it be a future tourist hotspot? For now Rawabi provides a peaceful place for young and old Palestinians to visit”
This being said the project is a private sector development and therefore has been done for profit. Masri and his team have faced problems around certain aspects of their development due to lack of government cooperation. Mr Masri criticised the Palestinian Authority as they had failed to, as yet, act on their promise to build a public school in Rawabi, as Rawabi at the moment only has a private school for children living in the city which comes at a hefty cost. He also mentioned resistance from the Israeli government in helping his team organise and build a sufficient road into Rawabi as the number of tourists wanting to visit Rawabi has become too much for the small road into the city.
Mr Masri assured me that people on both sides of the conflict are becoming more interested in Rawabi now it has a physical presence. He mentioned how twenty-two Israeli companies have signed to help the project, his only condition being that they do not deal with businesses from Israeli settlements. Masri told us that he had to install CCTV to stop Israelis from nearby settlements coming to Rawabi and stealing their flags.
Walking around, it is eerily quiet, a city without people but so modern looking that I feel as if I have fallen out of the Palestinian territories and into Qatar or Dubai. Rawabi already has amenities, attractions and even a temporary municipality, with a hotel in the planning. Could it be a future tourist hotspot? For now, Rawabi provides a peaceful place for young and old Palestinians to visit.