Palestine’s new city – with amphitheatre and giant Elvis Presley picture

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Rawabi – Arabic for “The Hills – is the name of the first planned city to be constructed in Palestine which will also be home to a 15,000 seat amphitheatre set to be a venue for international music acts.

The project initially planned by Aecom is set to cost around $1bn. It also includes residential, retail and leisure facilities including two mosques, a hospital, cinema and a church.

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Birzeit and An-Najah National universities and the technical team of developers Bayti also worked on the initial planning. The project has been approved by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Higher Planning Council.

Mutaz Khdeir of Bayti said: “I feel it is important as I believe 100% that if we cannot overcome the political issues surrounding developing Palestine in this project, then we will never develop anything.”

The amphitheatre is based on a traditional classical Roman design and is also set to include cafes and restaurants at its apex. But at the moment huge pictures of stars such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Bob Marley fill the spaces where windows will be placed.

Rawabi is the largest private sector project in Palestinian history and was initiated at the Palestinian Investment Conference, which took place in Bethlehem in 2008. The city is located on the West Bank, nine kilometers to the north of Ramallah.

The slogan calls the city: “A place to live, work and grow”.

The development is funded by the Qatari company LDR and Palestinian multimillionaire Bashar al-Masri, who has been working on similar projects in Morocco, Egypt and Jordan.

Khdeir said: “He felt it was time he did something for the people of his home country. The developers have been involved in projects across the world and thought it was time to develop Palestine.

“The city will include 6,000 residential units and eventually be home to 40,000 people. It is being built in phases, the first and second neighbourhoods are completed along with around one quarter of the commercial centre.”

The project has not been without difficulties – access via road was finally achieved through the efforts of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair while it was only on Thursday (May 7) that the city was connected to water supplies.

The Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing off-site infrastructure, while Bayti is tasked with the design and development of the city. The Rawabi economic growth strategy has the aim of creating 3,000 to 5,000 new jobs in what it calls a “knowledge economy” including IT, healthcare and education.

“We want to turn this into Palestine’s equivalent to Silicon Valley,” said Khdeir. “We want companies such as Google and Microsoft to outsource to us.”

Engineer Shadia Jaradat finished her degree in civil engineering at Birzeit University and is one of a handful of its students trained in the software.

She said:  “I wanted to work on projects in Palestine, but they didn’t use BIM here. The whole time I was always wondering, will I have to go to the Gulf countries? Will I have to go the States? Where am I going to find projects working with this technology?”

Sustainability is also a major factor in the project with thousands of trees being planted, including an olive sapling put into the earth by Blair.

One of the first visitors to the construction site was US senator John Kerry, the current Secretary of State, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also viewed the project.

Rawabi is being developed by Bayti Real Estate Investment Company – jointly owned by Qatari Government-owned Qatari Diar and Ramallah-based Massar International.

The new city will provide more than 5,000 affordable housing units with 10 different floor plans for residents to choose from, spread across 23 neighborhoods. Initially, Rawabi will be home to 25,000 residents, with additional residential units ultimately creating a city with a population of 40,000.

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