RAWABI — Qatari flags, Italian kitchens, WiFi in the streets, green public transport, and apartments for 40,000 inhabitants: Welcome to Rawabi, the first Palestinian city built from scratch.
Anwar Hussein, a 48-year-old professor at the University of Bir Zeit, is among the first "pioneer" families who, now that Israeli authorities have finally agreed to connect Rawabi to the "Mekorot" national water network, are just beginning to arrive.
He paid $140,000 for a four-room apartment overlooking the valleys of the West Bank. Hussein lived for a long time in the U.S. state of Arizona and in Canada. Now he's back in Palestine, and getting ready to move into a home that, in his words, "will guarantee a high-quality of life."
The development, which already has 623 residential properties, caters specifically to upper-middle class Palestinians. Another future resident, Isa Rishmaui, a 40-year-old entrepreneur from Bethlehem, decided to invest the proceeds of his tourist company here "because Rawabi is the only Palestinian city in the 21st century."
The city is a 30-minute drive from the center of Ramallah, up in the hills, which, in Arabic, are called "Rawabi." The project dates back to 2007, when Qatar's Diar Real Estate Financial Investment Company decided to invest $1 billion to create a hi-tech city out of nothing. Developers designed it to look like the suburb of a North American metropolis. Their aim is to attract Palestinians from abroad, professionals with medium to high incomes, and young families ready to invest.
"We found ourselves facing many obstacles but the results are right before our eyes," says Bashar Masri, CEO of Massar International, one of the project's partner companies. Masri points to a half-finished shopping mall that will boast more than 200 shops and 1,000 parking spaces. The mall is located right in the heart of the city, which is organized around circular streets with elegant buildings and modern-furnished homes.
The developers have already built approximately 1 million square meters worth of real estate. They plan to add another 5 million before they're done. Still on the to-do list are an amphitheater for night shows, six restaurants, five banks, schools, a soccer field, several parks, and more than 2,000 trees that will line the roads where, aside from the residents, only "green" local transport will circulate.
Rawabi defies the perceptions of existing Palestinian cities: there isn't a bazaar like in Hebron, a fruit market like in Jericho, or a governmental center like in Ramallah. Nor is there the primordial link of a village territory or hamula (big family) that has lived there for centuries. Instead, there is a show room displaying 3-D models of for-sale apartments and to-be-built shops.
Amir Dajani, manager of the Bayt Real Estate Investment Company, says the developers have managed to avoid the kind of "political taboos" that one might expect in this area. "We bought the land from 2,000 Palestinian families, employ 10,000 Arab workers, and every year we purchase $100 million worth of building materials from Israeli companies," he says.
But it's also true that the capital for this massive venture all comes form a single private lender in Qatar, the emirate accused of supporting Hamas in Gaza. Perhaps for that reason Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has so far refrained from expressing any kind of public support for Rawabi.
Relations with Israel, in the meantime, are erratic. Benjamin Netanyahu's government waited until March, on the eve of his visit to Washington, D.C., to finally agree to connect the city to the Israeli water network. Road construction is another sticky issue. "Once we have reached 2,000 families, we will need larger roads through territories administered by Israel," says Masri.
The Massar International CEO is careful, nevertheless, to downplay any potential conflicts that the project might generate. He prefers instead to focus on Rawabi's attributes, specifically on the fact that it will be "the first upper-middle class Palestinian city." Buyers will mostly be young couples. Masri expects that most of the women in those couples will work, and that about 10% will be Christian.
"Investing here means betting on the future," says saleswoman Shadia Jarafar, a 27-year-old from Hebron who wears a purple shirt and tight pants.
Masri's vision is grander still. "If we succeed," he says, "there will be other Rawabis in Palestine and they will become the backbone of this independent state."
Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.
• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.
• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.
• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.
• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.
• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction
Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.
🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.
😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.
🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.
— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.
🇮🇷🎓 IN OTHER NEWS
Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement
Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.
Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.
The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.
Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.
Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."
Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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