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Rawabi implicates PA in Zionist project - Uri Davis

Feb. 8, 2011 11:08 A.M. (Updated: May 8, 2011 6:41 P.M.)
As the Convener of the Fatah Revolutionary Council Committee on Resistance to the Settlements, the Apartheid Wall and the Ethnic Cleansing it is my responsibility to ensure that damage already done in the construction of Rawabi city is minimized.

My concern hinges on the acceptance of a donation of thousands of tree saplings from the Jewish National Fund by Rawabi city developers, planted on lands sequestered by the Palestinian Authority from neighboring villages, for a private and commercial venture.

Billed as a new Palestinian city, nine kilometers north of Ramallah with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean and only 70 kms from Amman, Rawabi has been adopted as a project of national importance and the symbol of the Palestinian right to build.

The 850 dunum hilltop development (seen in the map above, photo 2) was approved by the Palestinian Authority Higher Planning Council in October 2008 for construction in three stages. It includes the commercial center and a range of public facilities and has the potential to accommodate a population of up to 20,000.

The development of Rawabi will be phased in relation to infrastructure provision and market demand, under Developer Bashar Masri, chairman of the board of the Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, jointly owned by Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and Massar International.

Subsequent development phases will be planned in accordance with future master plans under the oversight of the Palestinian Authority, with the eventual municipal boundaries to extend some 6300 dunum, and accommodate a population of 40,000.

Cons outweigh the pros

While the project provides an outlet for Palestinians to claim their own lands and will undoubtedly provide significant employment and business opportunities, the drawbacks – in my view – far outweigh the positives.

The bulk of the Rawabi development site was private land purchased by developers from the Bayti Real Estate Investment Company. The remainder, however, was sequestered by Presidential Decree.

On 15 November 2009, Abbas signed the decree, taking approximately 1,537 dunum of lands from the neighboring village of Ajjul, 122 dunum from Attara and 118 dunum from Abwin.

It remains a matter of debate as to whether a project designed to fetch a possible windfall profit for a private corporation should qualify for support as a "national project."

But worse, it seems unless public measures are taken by Masri and Bayti, the continued construction of Rawabi places the PA in a position of complicity with one of World Zionist Organizations and Israel’s ugliest apartheid instruments, the Jewish National Fund, a body that "greenwashed" the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and 1967.

Zionism must not play a part

In 2009, Masri accepted a donation of some 3,000 tree saplings from the JNF, and allowed the organization arrange to plant the trees on Rawabi lands as a "green" contribution. A portion of the trees were planted on the lands sequestered from nearby villages.

The mission of the JNF is the "redemption" of lands in "Eretz Israel," including Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and beyond for Jewish settlement. In the wake of the 1948 Nakba, the JNF planted mainly pine trees and other conifers over some 500 ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages.

To add insult to injury, rather than plant indigenous arboreta, notably olive tree saplings, the tree saplings planted by the JNF in the area designated for the Rawabi projects are typically political-Zionist pinera (conifers), the most common tree planted by the JNF in the forests and recreational centers on the lands and over the ruins of Palestinian-Arab villages ethnically cleansed by the Israeli army.

In its support for the city of Rawabi, designated a Palestinian national project, the PNA has implicated itself in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine alongside the JNF and the Israeli army.

Sometime in January 2010 I met Masri in person at his Ramallah offices, where I expressed my concerns about the project.

Masri claimed that the JNF donation was made through the Rawabi website; that neither himself nor the moderator of the Rawabi website had any inkling as to ulterior motives; and that as standard measure of courtesy the moderator was advised to acknowledge with thanks all tree donations made to Rawabi through the website.

I cautioned Masri that the donation appeared to be a splendid opportunity for the JNF boost its public profile, particularly in the face of legal action in Canada and the UK, where Palestine solidarity groups are attempting to have its status as a charitable organization rescinded.

Assuming Masri adheres to the values of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, I said at the time, he and his business should make public a statement of regret for having carelessly accepted the JNF donation and make their own donation of the equivalent number of 3,000 olive tree saplings to the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Israel. Masri chose to ignore the suggestion.

Given that a year has since past, and that I have since become aware of the danger to the integrity of my Fatah Movement, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority – I now additionally ask that Masri and Rawabi as a corporate body uproot the JNF tree saplings and replace them with olive tree saplings, as well as make an additional generous donation of olive tree saplings (say, 3000 olive tree saplings) to the Araqib Defence Committee in the Negev.

Dr Uri Davis is Associate Professor at Al-Quds University at the Institute of Area Studies, Israel Studies Program, Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter and Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, University of Durham; Chairperson of Al-Beit: Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Israel; member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council; and Observer-Member of the Palestine National Council.

This article is an abridged version. The original work can be found here.
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