Israel Trip – Day 5
Our last day in Israel began with a trip to the city of Rawabi, the first planned city built for and by Palestinians.
Rawabi, meaning hill in Arabic, is in the West Bank, built on a series of breathtaking hilltops north of Jerusalem and Ramallah, the city overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the landscape of Palestine to the north and east. It is hailed as a “flagship Palestinian enterprise”. The city was born of a strategic partnership forged between Massar International and the State of Qatar, led by Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar Masri. The first master planned city in Palestine, Rawabi envisages a high tech city with 6,000 housing units, housing a population of between 25,000 and 40,000 people, across six neighborhoods. The city is a modern, innovative approach to urban development, integrating best practices in planning, sustainability and resource conservation in all its aspects. Construction on the city began in 2010, but it was not until August of 2015 that buyers could actually start moving in due to disagreements with supplying the city water. The master plan for the city was developed by a multidisciplinary team which includes local experts. One third of the engineers and architects are women, which is unprecedented in the Arab world. Homebuyers must get permission from the Palestinian authority, which can take several months, in part to ensure the right people are given access to the community. Many of the buyers are middle-class couples earning 20 times more than the average Palestinian income.
As we drove from Israel to the West Bank / Palestine / Judea Samaria Desert, we crossed into parts A, B and C – indicating different levels of Israeli occupation. Israel is heavily re forested – to make up for when the forests were cut to build the rail tracks. However, the forests have been replanted with pines which are not native to Israel and occasionally burn in forest fires.
The West Bank has olive trees – some several hundred years old. We also see Bedouin camps on the side of the roads, a population generally impoverished. There are approximately 200,000 Bedouins in Israel. Some do enter the Israeli Army and receive an education, thereby having an easier time assimilating and leaving the nomadic lifestyle.
This incredible city of Rawabi is based on Reston outside of Washington, DC with the amphitheater – the largest Roman style in the Middle East – based on concept of Wolftrapp. This was built with the involvement of AECOM. The architecture of Rawabi embraces elements of the Palestinian cultural heritage and blends them into sleek, modern design aesthetic.
All utilities are underground, and all 22 possible neighborhoods are ready to build with roads, lights etc. So far, four neighborhoods are completed. There is a medical center, with a full very good hospital not far away. Each of the neighborhoods has a grocery store and dry cleaner. There are also schools, a Greek Orthodox Church and Mosque planned. A bustling downtown core anchors surrounding neighborhoods. THe city center’s pedestrian promenade bursts with shopping and entertainment options; in the high-rise towers above, business incubators and the forward positioned enterprises of a new knowledge economy will help fuel the economic life of the city.
The Q Center, named after the centers Qatari backers, is the retail portion of the development. There has been great effort to bring western brand names to the Center. This has not been an easy endeavor due to political considerations, and each of the contracts has been unique. Some of the brands include Vans, Nine West, and Michael Kors. There are also movie theaters and entertainment areas, as well as parks, and playgrounds. The units range in price from US$ 80,000 to $200,000. In addition, there is an adventure area with volleyball, climbing, bicycling, horseback riding, barbeques, bungee jumping, camping and a zip line – and an area for all terrain vehicles.
The Palestinian entrepreneur with whom we met, indicated that 60 percent of the Palestinian population is below the age of 30. There are 11 accredited universities in Palestine with 3,000 graduates each year in the sciences. In addition, these students speak English which is mandatory in school. So it is important for these young people to have a place to live and work. Fifty percent of these graduates are women, however, far fewer women have the opportunity to go into the science areas.
Masri’s dream is for Palestinians to lead normal, happy and productive lives. When and if there is a Palestinian state, he wants his people to be ready economically – or he fears his country will crumble. He is an incredibly dynamic person. The biggest effort now is to find jobs associated for people living at the City of Rawabi. There is an effort to make it a tech center linking Israel and other nations together in business, however, it is a slow process. Bashar Masri owns an ICT – information communication technology company called Asal Technologies (asal meaning honey) devoted to bringing more jobs to Rawabi.
In addition, the road to Rawabi is lovely, but very narrow and not fitting a city. The Palestinians hope the Israelis will grant the widening of the road.
Masri’s commented that he wished the Palestinian Authority were more engaged in his project. He is building the only public city – with private money – in the world. The idea is to turn the city over and have the roads and utilities maintained by the government – then it will be a true private public partnership or PPP. The Palestinian flag flys at the top of the hill. This symbol alone is a major step in more recent years.
Barkan Industrial Park
Then went to the Barkan Industrial Park, which is located in the West Bank, about 25 miles east of Tel Aviv. The industrial park is next to the Israeli settlement of Barkan and the city of Ariel. In 2016, a Human Rights Watch called for companies to pull out from the West Bank since the study indicates that these companies, including the Barkan Industrial Park, violate international law by harming the rights of Palestinians. However, others contend that the industrial zone is a major source of employment for Palestinian workers. The park was founded in 1981 and now is home to 120 businesses with a workforce of 20,000, half of whom are Palestinians. Many Palestinians are employed by Israeli companies where they are often treated better and companies held to higher safety standards than in Palestine.
To close the trip the group heard again from Myron Brilliant, EVP and Head of International Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Josh Kram, Senior Director of Middle East Affairs at U.S. Chamber; and Oded Rose, CEO of AmCham Israel. All shared our experiences of the past week and ideas of how we can increase U.S.-Israeli commerce in our communities back home. Myron spoke how he had recently met with Chemi Peres, the son of former President of Israel Shimon Peres. Myron Brilliant asked Chemi Peres what he thought of his father’s legacy, and Peres replied saying his father was one of the fathers of the State of Israel and that he was most proud of his father’s vision of hope and optimism. His father, Shimon Peres, wanted everyone, not just Israelis, to live big and dream even bigger.
Our trip to Israel was exemplary of this. The trip opened our eyes to not only the beauty of Israel, but how the idea of peace, innovation and hope are all themes that run together in the underlying dream of the Founding Fathers of the State of Israel. In Israel, the journey for peace is not yet complete, but the country has grown to be a thriving democracy, which in part is why the United States’ relationship with it is so strong.
My appreciation to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for extending an invitation to me. I am very grateful to the U.S. Chamber for coordinating the trip, along with the Israeli-American Chamber of Commerce in Israel, and the many hosts we had during our time in the country. Our hosts in Israel were most informative and gracious, allowing our group to see many different sides of Israel. I will take back with me to California all of my experiences from the past week in Israel and look forward to developing networks that will advance our community’s connection to the bilateral relationship with Israel.
A special thanks to my assistant, Nikki Ellis, who provided the research for the blog, and our Communications Department at the California Chamber of Commerce who always are willing to assist in promoting international trade and investment.
- About Israel
- Arriving in Israel:October 26, 2017
- Day 0:October 27, 2017
- Day 1:October 28, 2017
- Day 2:October 29, 2017
- Day 3:October 30, 2017
- Day 4:October 31, 2017
- Day 5:November 1, 2017
(Mrs.) Susanne Stirling
Vice President, International Affairs