Rawabi: The Eco-City That May Bring Peace to the Middle East


Forcing people to leave their homes is never simple. Gone is the time when we would find a swatch of terra nullis and carve it up arbitrarily. Countless international agreements and treaties outlaw the illegal seizure of land or occupation that takes advantage of indigenous populations. But one contentious property has been a part of all of these different eras of land seizure, and the rival claims to this land are fueled by religion, identity, and love of country. Regarding the modern era's fighting over Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, historians trace the conflict back to the 1920s and cite 1947 as the year when the conflict really began. But if you ask any of the people, Israeli or Palestinian, who are fighting tirelessly for their homeland, they will inevitably tell you the land has been theirs for centuries, as it is written. 

What remains to be written is an acceptable peace agreement between these two states. The most popular solution is the two-state solution, while there are still advocates for the one-state solution and presumably everybody's interpretation of each is wildly variable. However, every now and then, someone puts forth an idea that is radically different. And right in the middle of newly-appointed Secretary of State John Kerry's lamentations that the window is closing on a two-state solution, Bashar Masri's plan for an eco-city starting on the West Bank and expanding into Israeli territory seems like a breath of fresh air.

In fact, his green city is founded on fresh air, clean energy, and all around green living. According to Al Jazeera, The city will be called Rawabi, meaning hills, and it is the first planned city in Palestine. Slated to be opened by the end of 2013, it hopes to house 40,000 Palestinians. In this city that looks to the future, Masri still hopes to capture the past and mimic the majestic feel of old cities like Jerusalem and its prospective neighbor Nablus. Palestinians, Israelites, and third parties alike have all expressed a variety of concerns about this eco-city. For the Palestinian-born developer to secure the property in Israeli-controlled land was no small matter, and the criticism has not let up since. But this doesn't faze Masri, who recounts that "Ironically, I take on the radicals from both sides of the conflict over the same issues, which I am very happy about. That tells me I am doing something right."

The idea is so revolutionary and seemingly contentious that it attracted filmmaker Shuchen Ten back in December of 2011. He and his cameras have been chronicling the foundation of Rawabi and tracing the events that lead Masri to this incredible endeavor, the footage of which has been compiled into his documentary The Promised City. The two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict garners the most attraction and certainly has the most widespread appeal. But with negotiators dragging their feet and fears that the conflict is escalating too severely to ever hope for reconciliation, Rawabi merits some consideration, if only as a reminder that we have not yet exhausted all of our resource and peace is still within our reach.