'Atara, Qalandiya, Wed 24.11.10, Afternoon

Observers: Yael I., Ruth O., Orit Y. and Ilana D. (reporting)

From 1:30 till 5:00 PM
Rawabi – an exciting excursion
Usually when all four of us are available we split up and go into two different directions. However, after having approached the direction of the Rawabi project we were invited for a “Grand Tour” of the site, so all four of us participated.
We met on the bridge off the former Atara CP where a soldier was working a tractor to ‘beautify’ the abandoned checkpoint without much success. He asked us politely whether he could be of assistance but when we spotted someone waiting for us we quickly crossed over the bridge.
George, the marketing manager, who had studied in Houston, TX apologized for being a little late, he had wanted to postpone the appointment, but had been unable to reach us. In the morning he had hosted a group of the orthodox weekly “Mishpacha” and it had taken longer than expected. He told us that he has lots of visitors, mainly from the media, but also the Israeli Ecology Minister Erdan who had arrived ‘protected’ by soldiers and had been extremely negative stating that Rawabi was an ecological disaster, ignoring the fact that the settlements let their sewerage flow into the valleys around them and confiscate the springs on the lands of the local population. He drove in front of us through Atara towards Adjul to the top of the site where trees have already been planted along the road with a real plant nursery erected and a picnic area  (for the workers) overlooking the amazing landscape. Ten thousand trees have already been planted. We were treated to exquisite falafel sandwiches from Saba, the best (‘and very clean too’) falafel place in Ramalla and received a folder with brochures and a CD and other promotional material.  Next to where we had lunch a model showing the various kinds of material, which will be used in the construction, the stones on walls and floors and aluminum frames for windows and doors from various firms both in Israel and abroad. A mountain with excellent rocks (Bir Zeit marble) was found nearby (picture attached)  and the stone factory is already working, as is the quarry for cement, both in the industrial area set up solely for the purpose of the construction of the city, which eventually will be larger than Ramalla. Over six thousand units have already been sold. Some of the factory equipment was still all wrapped up; it had been shipped from Italy. The top of the mountain overlooks the surrounding area which is the vastest area totally Palestinian, (picture attached)  except of course for the Ateret settlement. Its settlers are opposed to the 2.5 km of road planned to reach Ramalla within ten minutes unlike now via Atara and Bir Zeit. The picturesque villages all around initially were opposed to the project, but one by one the local councils were convinced that it would be in their interest. Since it provides work for the population and raises the price of their land and of course improves the infrastructure. They will all benefit from the services the city has to offer. Everything has been very carefully taken into account and meticulously planned. The rainwater from all the roofs will be collected into a central reservoir to be used for irrigation. The waste from the quarry will be pulverized and used instead of sand so that no sand will have to be bought and transported (via the checkpoints) all the way from the coast. The rubble is used as a landfill in the wadi underneath to accommodate a huge amphitheatre, the only one in the West Bank for big events and concerts at a place where it will not interfere with traffic nor disturb the residents. A fleet of brand new cement mixers with the Rawabi logo was parked ready to get to work. We could not fit into one car, so we split up into two 4X4 vehicles one with George Rafidi as a guide and the other with our old friend Jacob who is actually called Abu Sadam guiding and we were shown all that has already been accomplished. As we were chauffeured around we stopped here and there to take photographs. The most impressive was of an enormous rock in the process of being disconnected from a slope which will later be transported to the stone cutters. The entire layout is similar to what we are used seeing whenever extensions to Jewish settlements are being constructed, and it reminded us of the beginning of Mevasseret Adumin in Area E1 where so much earth had been moved.  George, who had returned from the States with his wife to find out whether he could find a job here, is thrilled with the progress and excited to be working on such a challenging and interesting project with a team of international experts. He is often in Israel and can travel freely when his permit is renewed which sometimes takes too long. He knows all the big companies in Israel and has even been to Stef Wertheimer with Yossi Beilin to discuss plans for a future industrial park along the lines of Tefen. The floor of the first building (which will rise six stories high) has already been laid (picture attached)  but the time is not yet ripe to have a grandiose inauguration in the presence of the President and the Prime Minister. All the services, clinics, schools, two mosques and one church will be in the center and wheelchair accessible. There will be no black water containers on the roofs, only one central water reservoir and instead of satellite dishes there will be cable TV under the ground. Whoever is interested can borrow the DVD from us to find out more about this exciting venture.