The Middle East is welcoming a new smart city - in Palestine
This article was written by OYW Ambassador Ruba Qadi.
Amid beautiful hills, blue skies and olive groves, the new and growing city of Rawabi offers a new pinnacle of hope to the people of Palestine.
When you speak of my homeland your thoughts might turn to the crowded towns and refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza. But my reality is different.
I look out from my apartment balcony at beautiful sunsets. I go to collect my groceries through an urban-planned and tree-lined walkway known as the ‘green spine’. Exercise machines are situated all around, a sign of my neighbourhood’s commitment to healthy living. For thrills I can ride a spectacular 700m zip wire or attend concerts at a great amphitheatre which recently hosted the Palestinian singer and winner of Arab Idol Mohammed Assaf and 20,000 adoring fans.
I shop on a mall that offers 100 international brands in 30 stores, designed in a style that recreates the kind of traditional souk you might expect to find in the historic quarters of Jaffa or Nablus. There are restaurants and cafés, high speed Internet and the best ice cream in all of Palestine.
This is Rawabi where I live and work. It is only five years old but it is already home to nearly 4,000 Palestinians, and the population will grow in time to 40,000. More than half a million Palestinians have visited Rawabi in the past seven months and the demand for homes here outstrips supply.
I am involved in the construction of the city as a civil engineer. We have so far built four neighbourhoods of the planned 22. But Rawabi is being created with the aim of providing Palestinians with an optimal environment to live, work and grow. It will foster Palestinian heritage and culture while celebrating and protecting the natural environment, providing jobs and promoting a healthy work-life balance.
So we are planting 15,000 trees in the community in a program dedicated to ‘Grow a Greener Palestine’. And we are the largest private sector employer in the country, with 5,000 jobs being created in a burgeoning economy that is focused on the IT sector.
What Rawabi does for me as a Palestinian is provide a peak of hope, a hope that as a Palestinian you can live in an urban planned Palestinian city, in a neighbourhood that is clean and with an amazing job.
The name Rawabi means “Between hills”, which perfectly captures its location in the West Bank, just 9km outside of Ramallah and 20km from Jerusalem. Standing on Rawabi’s highest ground on a clear summer’s day, you can look out 40km to the port of Tel Aviv.
Building this city hasn’t been simple. Our road is dependent on a permit from Israel that we must renew each year. And one mile of the pipeline which brings our water supply passes through Area C, a part of the West Bank that is administered by Israel.
Rawabi city was the vision of Bashar Al-Masri, a Palestinian-American business entrepreneur who had the initial idea in 2007. His company Massar Group, and its many subsidiaries including the Bayti Real Estate Investment Company and Asal Technologies, is the principal employer in the city. The Rawabi Foundation, a non-profit organisation, has been created to further the social, cultural and economic development of a community that will eventually occupy 1,500 acres.
Rawabi has had investment support from the Qatar Government, reflected in the ‘QCenter’ name of the pedestrian-friendly central business district. Here there is a tech hub called Connect, housing numerous start-ups. Stores include Mango, Swarovski and American Eagle, brands that you could previously only find outside of Palestine.
But it would be wrong to assume that Rawabi has been created for wealthy Palestinians. Apartments here are more than 20 per cent cheaper than in major Palestinian cities and are affordable to couples making minimum wage. There is a program to help newly-weds and single people so that the rent they pay in the first two years is treated as their downpayment for buying the apartment. Rawabi is not targeted towards the rich.
As a female civil engineer I value Rawabi’s championing of equality. I experienced gender-based prejudice during internships with international companies but I have had a different experience here. I was accepted at the construction site and wasn’t the only female. I was getting the same tasks as my male peers and was supervising work. That was a new concept that was introduced by Mr BM and Rawabi, having female engineers at the construction site.
I wanted equality and full opportunity in the engineering field and I found it here. The workforce in Rawabi is over 30 per cent female and it’s empowering to see strong women around me.
Here I feel like I am building a new hope for Palestine. This is how you create peace in the region, by making a place where you can live safely, creating jobs and having equality between males and females. It makes for a happy society.