It’s time to construct Palestine brick by brick

It’s time to construct Palestine brick by brick

I was in Rawabi last week, located in the ancient Palestinian hills between Ramallah and Nablus. Five years ago, there was nothing but rocks there. Now, the scene is changing for the first time since Jesus walked in those parts. Rawabi is the first large-scale Palestinian land development project in Palestine. Palestinians had large construction companies operating in other countries, but this is the first time the cranes have come to their own country. That should be good for peace. 

Rawabi is the first Palestinian settlement project in the West Bank. It looks very much like Modiin, on their cousins’ side. The project involves around 16,000 housing units, schools, theatres, and shopping centers, together with a mosque and a church. It is expected to cost around one billion dollars. The construction companies and workers are all Palestinian, while the funding is Qatari. The result of a year and a half of activity on the ground looks stunning. The project involves not only Areas A and B but also C directly, which I find rather telling. For the Palestinians to be constructive, Israelis need to be constructive first. That is the way of peace. 

Let me explain. The U.N. first defined Israel’s boundaries as being about 57 percent of the British Mandate of Palestine, set up after the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Arab armies then declared war on Israel and lost. By the time a ceasefire was achieved, Israel had increased its control over 78 percent of the former British Mandate. “The Gaza district in the south and the eastern hilltops in the center, including Jerusalem’s old city” were left under Egyptian and Jordanian control. Only after the next war in 1967 did Israel annex these two remaining portions of Mandate Palestine. The Oslo agreement of 1993 drew the current framework of Israeli governance over the West Bank, the larger part of the remaining 22 percent. Some 72 percent of the West Bank is still considered “Area C,” which is under Israeli civilian and military control. Israeli settlement activity is in this area. Another 25 percent was allotted as Area B, where the civil authority is Palestinian but the military is Israeli. A meager 3 percent of the West Bank went under Palestinian civil and security control. This alphabet soup of districts is important. I know learned that suffering through endless meetings with the Israeli security establishment. 

You have a land development project to realize? You want to build something in the West Bank, in the occupied territories? You need to get a security clearance first. Then you need to collect permits from civil authorities. Currently, water treatment and sewage is the hardest one to get. If your project is in an area where you need to build a road first, as is the case in Rawabi, things get even messier. If the area where you want to build the road in is accidentally in Area C, the bureaucratic process is massive. In the West Bank, Palestinians cannot construct anything without the approval of Israeli authorities. You know why Rawabi was planned five years ago but only started going forward rapidly in the last year and a half? The Israeli Occupation Administration, that is, the “Civil Administration,” in the Orwellian language of the Israeli government, had to allow a road to be built on Area C land to bring supplies to the project area from Israel. Only when that supply line was established did Rawabi start to take shape. It takes two to tango. Without Israel, Palestinians cannot build anything. That is the tragic reality.

I see a new phase of Palestinian resistance in Rawabi. It will still be hard, but it has promise.