RAWABI – It’s a dry Friday night and the third day of the post-Ramadan festival, Id al-Fitr, in Rawabi, 17 km. north of Ramallah. Israeli and Palestinian license-plated cars wait patiently in a traffic jam to get to the Muhammad Assaf concert in the first planned Palestinian city’s newly finished amphitheater.
In the residential section of Rawabi, many buildings are complete while others remain under construction.
Families are hosting relatives and friends for festive holiday meals. Young men sit on porches smoking water pipes and playing cards. Just down the street, people file in and out of the supermarket that recently opened.
Thus far, the first residents, approximately 350 families that moved into their homes in the first half of 2016, are largely satisfied with their experience in the new city. Raed Abu Zaina says Rawabi is an idyllic place for him and his family. “It is very comfortable to live here.
There are no disturbances and the other residents take care of the neighborhood,” he says.
Many other locals express similar sentiments. Wajda Atamna and her family recently moved to Rawabi from the Israeli town of Baka al-Gharbiya, east of Hadera and just inside the Green Line. Rawabi offers a special opportunity for her to raise her kids in the West Bank with a high standard of living, she says.
“Rawabi is a different type of city compared to other cities in Palestine. There is no doubt that Rawabi stands out in terms of its natural beauty, diversity of people, and state of the art infrastructure. That’s why we chose to move here,” she says.
Down at the amphitheater, which has room for 15,000 people, music lovers are carefully walking down the large limestone steps and finding their seats. Visiting families are impressed by the city and the amphitheater.
Fida al-Sheikh, a doctor from Jerusalem, visiting Rawabi with his family for the first time, likes what he sees. “We were very surprised in terms of orderliness and modern elements of the city. I actually just told my wife that I want to buy a house here,” he says.
After a short delay to allow everyone to park and be seated, the MC takes the stage and invites the young Palestinian star Muhammad Assaf to join her and begin his performance.
He sings some of his most popular songs including “Oh Flying Bird,” “Raise Your Keffiyeh” and “My Blood Is Palestinian.”
The audience stands for most of his set, clapping and ululating.
Young children incessantly try to run past security to take selfies with Assaf. Some make it through with the intervention of the singer and others are returned to their parents. Assaf closes his performance, singing a cover of the great Egyptian artist Abdel Halim Hafez’s “Zay al-Hawa.” The show ends and Assaf escapes to his Range Rover with the help of dozens of policemen and security guards, which then bolts off into the distance.
Bashar al-Masri, the entrepreneur who made Rawabi happen, is all smiles. Speaking about Rawabi, he tells The Jerusalem Post that he and his team have recently made some significant process. Many outstanding issues have been resolved and an additional 200 families are expected to move into their new homes in the coming weeks and months, he says.
He makes clear, however, that the project is far from finished.
“Right now we need to work hard to create jobs for the Rawabians living in Rawabi.
This will make Rawabi a full-fledged city rather than a bedroom community,” he says. Masri dreams of Rawabians shopping, eating, studying and working in the city.
Masri says that political obstacles still exist, but he is optimistic that they can be overcome. “We’re still waiting on confirmation for an [access] road... The [current] road was made for a mansion or a village, not for a whole city. We [also] need quite a bit more water and to improve the industrial area. So there are still a few things, but we are confident we will get them.”
Just 16 months ago, Masri told The Washington Post that the project was on the verge of bankruptcy because the Palestinian Authority and the IDF had not reached an agreement to supply Rawabi with water.
Months later, Israel agreed to supply Rawabi with 300 cubic meters of water per day.
Masri then reflects on what hosting 10,000 people in Rawabi means for his project.
“This is one of the moments I have been waiting for, to see not only the Rawabians, but the rest of the Palestinian people, enjoying Rawabi.
“This what Rawabi is about,” he says.
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