Rawabi, the Utopia of the dream city
“Architecture and urban planning have become a tool of war”
Eyal Wisman,”Content” R.Koolhaas
This starting sentence for the writer Eyal Wisman in his article shows clearly how important and effective role that architecture & urban planning play in the different struggles around the world & in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle in particular. If we take a closer look on our everyday life against this occupation we would see its pure and clear reality and how the Israeli war machine practices the illegal confiscation of land, establishment and expansion settlement in the West Bank in a greedy way.
This would be useful for us as Palestinians and for our struggle with this occupation to study the expansion of the Palestinian territories and Rawabi city which is an attempt to start establishing the first planned city in Palestine; this attempt shows that Palestinians now are imposing a new reality that would help to create an internal economic mobility, and that it can go along with the Israeli war machine and be a witness & a strength when we sit at the negotiating table.
But it also should be noted that Wisman had considered that such practices of the Israeli expansionist settlements was a war crimes against the earth and man.
From here and by taking Rawabi City as a case study that which came on top of a hill, as its name indicates, with the area of 6,300,000 Sq meter and 9 km to the north of the city of Ramallah. This whole new city, and how it is marketed in the Palestinian streets with the huge, astonishing advertisements and the 3d images on billboards everywhere, it touched the heart of all of the hopeful Palestinians who suffer from scarcity of housing and the high prices charged in different cities in the West Bank, and in the city of Ramallah in particular.
The city of Rawabi plays on the strings of words such as, the city’s dream, Affordable housing, and Market Driven that will provide to this class of the graduates who are suffering from unemployment. But at the very first moment when this project has opened its doors for registration for ownership, people got struck by the lack of credibility in these advertisements. The showed that the prices of accommodation range between $ 50,000 and $ 100,000, as it is evident on the website of the City Project “Mounds”, http://rawabi.ps/register.php?Link=3&page=live
It all looks very clear and simple; this is the result of the behavior of the Palestinian government policies which classified and put this project in the category of neo-liberalism; where political and economic paradigm of our time is known. They relate to policies and processes, help and allow a handful of private companies to control as much space as possible of the social life to achieve maximum profits, not even taking the public benefit in consideration. This topic was the subject of “Noam Chomsky “, a thinker and a political activist, against the domination greedy corporate giants of its own people in his book “Profit over People”, Neo-liberalism and Global Order.
On other hand and under the title of “Palestinians looking to American-style housing developments, financing”, Howard Schneider published his article in the ‘Washington post’, where he talked about the mechanisms that occur in such projects. Since the project target those families with average incomes, that are definitely not able to afford such housing, they logically resort to bank loans and mortgage to be able to afford the cost of housing, which would help to increase the bank transactions and other banking benefits.
And in Palestine, with the absence of political stability and security in the region, it is always prone to cause such economic problems for these families in particular. Since Palestine have a very special status because the Palestinian state lacks resources and sources of income, and living on the crumbs which provide it with assistance from donor countries, used as an indirect pressure on the process of politics in the region.
Such cities or communities, even in the best scenario operate without the awareness about social segregation; this phenomenon that recently arose because of gated communities that segregated people from the same class, mostly the rich, in a small community, now with a whole segregated city like Rawabi, the consequences would be tragic on the Palestinian society.
It also should be noted that the Israeli government is trying in many different ways to erase our identity, and the saddest part is that we are actually helping them; all the housing projects would be an example of that, and Rawabi as well is the strongest one. It can be also noted, that this planned city has come to life as a part of Benjamin Netenyahu’s strategy about “economic peace”; convincing Palestinians to replace peace and getting their lands back with the economic facilities. And as a gesture of goodwill, a Jewish organization in the United States donated the trees that would be planted in the city; this would send a message to all of the Palestinians that Israelis still have power & the influence and that they still govern our land in a way or another.
And now if we try to analyze the physical aspects about the new city and what is behind that bright image deployed on roads in various parts of the West Bank, any person would not need more than five minutes to notice the huge resemblance between the general shape of Rawabi and the general shape of any other Israeli settlement. That is due to the design and site selection itself; the design looks like a pure Western model that came closer to those urban agglomerations that emerged in the United States, that completely look like the regime in Israel & the planning of settlements which was brought from the same background.
It is obvious, that the differences between the Rawabi city and the format Israeli settlements are very small, Rawabi deliberately did not to use the brick to cover the roofs, and used some of the Arab Islamic architectural styles, still it undoubtedly could not hide the amount of similarity between the two models .
The site selection of Rawabi being on top of a hill, was very odd to the observer; it was the complete opposite urban landscape that reflects the Palestinian identity through the image of the olive groves of glossy green and life during the ages. That scene seems very confusing since this city looks like a settlement –that we all fight against- rather than a Palestinian city.
Such wrong practices which are not only governed by greed would only make matters worse; those who got deceived by the bright image that is totally away from reality, it would create problems that undermine and weaken the communities in general and rural communities in particular, through the promotion of internal migration in search of employment, leaving behind communities that lack the human resources, which are the mainstay for the advancement of any society.
Finally, this project shows us the importance of the role of architecture, especially in Palestine; it is a tool like what Wisman said a tool to impose domination and show power. Architecture is also about trying to meet the needs of the people, not faking a Utopia to reach a certain desire. Each and every small thing that an architect does may benefit the whole community or negatively affect it; that is why architects are responsible of the whole community.