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February 15, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA J EWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 15, 2013 Women struggle to find their role in Syrian revolution By Michel Stors The Media Line IDLIB, Syria--Nine-year- old Salima Hamid jerked her hips to the musical hants as the older male youths clapped their hands, Behind them in the crowd, Amal Nuran and her head-scarf-covered friends exchanged cell phone pictures snapped at the day's anti-regime rally. "We all have a role to play in this revolution," the 19-year-old law student tells The Media Line. "Even we girls can help by coming to the protests." Later, however, outside of earshot of suspicious men, Nuran expressed her real feel- ings. "There is little for us to do beyond making placards," she laments. "The men do the fighting, they raise money.We can't travel alone. How can we help?" By Felice Friedson The Media Line The American business- men and women appeared transfixed as they listened to the man behind the first Pal- estinian planned city depict his journey from vision to reality. Bashar AI-Masri was describing the day in 2008 when in, Qatar on the "first stop on a planned investment tour of the Gulf States to raise money for the project, he had asked for "between one and ten million dollars," but "came away with a com- mitment for hundreds of millions of dollars"--enough to cover both the equity and finaficing. Rawabi--"hills" in Arabic--would soon be more than a lream. "It was the best day of my professional life," Masri, a chemical engineer-turned- real-estate-developer, proudly explained to those he sat with inside the striking state-of- the-art visitors and sales cen- ter overlooking the massive construction-underway and breathtaking West Bankvista. Although Rawabi remains months away from welcoming its first inhabitants, "We're already the largest project employer in the Palestinian territories," with more than 3,000 people working on-site. From its hill-top perch some six miles north of Ramallah, the city where world leaders come to visit the seat of the Palestinian government, the clear day offers a spectacular view of the coastline, including Is- rael's metropolitan city of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean beyond. Rawabi is being devel- oped in three phases: the first presently under construction featuring 1,400 apartment units, one-third of the com- mercial center, several public schools, all infrastructure, a park and amphitheatre that will seat 20,000. On any given day, a visitor to the building site is bound to encounter a constant parade of would-be home-buyers ex- periencing the sales center's ultra-modern 3-D overview, multi-media tunnels that of- fer a peak into finished units through video technology, and life-like renderings of what liv- ing in the Palestinian utopia will look like; in addition to the visiting dignitaries, mul- .tinational groups, study and PAGE 13A Syrian women have had cross neighborhoods without What would the regime do zations sponsor conferences to feel their way through the a problem." to them and what would they where activists learn skills revolution. Though Syria is Other women took ad- reveal? I can't condone such such as public speaking and one of the most liberal Arab vantage of their pedigree to activity." how to cater to journalists countries, society still places help the cause. Some Alawi One role Hajj Suleiman ondeadlines.Arabstatessuch restrictions on women which defectors have transported and other skeptics approve as Qatar bring in the best have only increased as the wanted rebels in cities such of is that of activist. In the and brightest for week-long revolution has.degenerated as the capital of Damascus countries surroundingSyria, seminarswhereleadingpublic into a civil war. To keep their withouttheslightestfearthey young female college gradu- relations specialists bombard relevance, women have been wouldbecaught."Theshabiha ates with idiomatic English the women with information forced to find creative ways would not dare stop someone helpjournalistsandaidwork- about topics such as social to help the cause while still like me," says a 21-year-old- ers navigate the confusing media. "We are learning so preservingtheauraofchastity girl who uses the pseudonym worldoftheSyrianopposition, much," says Maryam Jundi, that is so cherished in their Zeinobia. "I giv e them my "It's a way to do something 22, in a Skype conversation society, papers, theyseeIamfrom(the for our country," explains from Doha. "I can't wait to One way they have done so Alawi stronghold of) Latakia NouraSayegh,23,inAntakya, return and put it to use." is exploit the deference men andtheymotiohrethrough." Turkey. "The foreigners know Women like Jundi and Ze- show them. Samar, 38, says Though circumnavigating so little about Syria. We fill in inobiaare the rare iconoclasts she smuggled Kalashnikov- checkpoints provides rebels the gaps." Other hip young though. Most Syrian women rifles in regime-controlled with crucial aid in areas they women have become journal- spend their time out of sight, areas. "The shabiha (regime otherwise could not operate ists themselves, working for taking care of their children paramilitary fighters) would in, notallrebelleadersapprove largeArabandWesternoutlets and making meals. Some are never check me because I am ofit."It'stoodangerousforthe as photographers andwriters, so invisible that foreigners awoman," she tells The Media girlsto do that," explains Hillal It is a two-way street be- who have spent time in Syrian Line inahotelin Killis, Turkey Hajj Suleiman, a 34-year-old tween the activists and the villages often do not even see just across the border. "I hid officer in the Tawhid Brigade. international community, them.IncitiessuchasAleppo, them in my cloak and could "What if the get caught? Non-governmental organi- however, they are often sent Vision of Rawabi nears fruition interfaith missions--avirtual "Who's Who" of curiosities and interests coming to see what the fuss is all about. Notables also include newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Sec- retary General Ban Ki-moon. United States Consul Gen- eral in Jerusalem Michael Ratney, also a recent visitor, told The Media Line. that he found Rawabi to be "truly remarkable private-sector-led Palestinian development." He opined that,"Rawabi can help answer a genuine need for quality housing in the West Bank, create employment opportunities--potentially for thousands--and serve as a major generator of private sector-led growth in the Pal- estinian economy." Rawabi's master plan, which takes into consideration the ancillary housing opportuni- ties that the main project will attract, demonstrates how, it is destined to be a city of more than 40,000 inhabit- ants within about seven years according to Masri, who says the first residents will take up occupancy at the end of the summer of 2013. Masri is CEO of Massar International which, he says, with backing from the Qatari government has "thousands of people working on the site" to make it all happen as planned. Masri told The Media Line that, "The first two neighborhoods are al- most completed and you can see the construction of the city center, the town center, the theaters, the cafes and the offices. That's where the permanent jobs will be, where the Rawabians will go to work every day." " In addition to offering a number of housing options to perspective buyers, Rawabi also offers a number of "firsts." "A complete home where you just move-in and live does not exist in Palestine," Masri explains. "Also a first for Pal- estinians [whose average family-size is five members[ is the availability of middle income families to afford a home and a mortgage" in the planned city whose motto is "live, work and play." The city's planners promise "green and healthy living"--also a new experience for Palestinians. One of the tweaks in deference to local culture is to stress walking over jogging, which is considered "Western." The six thousand housing units that will sit upon 25- per cent of the land forms the core of the community that will eventually be larger than Ramallah or AI-Bireh. Prices range from $75,000 to $150,000 for the majority of units between 130 and 230 square meters, 2-per cent of which are high-end apart- ments. Sixteen penthouses will cost up to $600,000 apiece. In a historic note, the Pal- estinian cabinet will soon vote on aresolution to create a new municipality for the master- planned city. A 14-member Rawabi Municipal Council will be appointed from among the private sector, civil society and public sector bodies to govern until general elections are held once the city crosses the legal threshold of 5,000 resi- dents necessary for holding municipal elections, at which time a mayor will be elected. Rawabi's brief history is already peppered with stories of unexpected bonuses that flowed from the pxoject. "Rawabi stone," hewed from the vast yellow slabs dug out of Rawabi's hills and used in all of the nascent city's building facades; and "grey stone," which is used for steps and indoors have emerged as valuable commodities. Feeling both local and" global economic stresses, Masri says that due to the po- litical situation, job creation is the biggest challenge for this year. But, he says, "Ev- ery time we make progress, some political setback scares the international companies. The latest one was the Gaza attack which scared many of the investors." IT technology companies, an outsourcing company, a telecommunications compa- ny, a call center, and a number of banks constitute the busi- nesses already on board. It is estimated that Rawabi needs 1,500 jobs secured as the city becomes inhabited and 5,000 additional jobs will be needed over the next three years according to Amir Dijani, deputy managing director of Bayti Real Estate Company, a subsidiary of Massar, who oversees the project. Access is the other major challenge. In 2012, Masri received approval from the Israeli government to build a temporary access road for construction vehicles. But despite what they describe as gargantuan efforts to receive that permission, the road is already insufficient t handle the flow of construction vehicles so they are seeking approval to build a longer, per- manent road to Ramallaha project the Rawabi brain trust fears will be very difficult to achieve. Part of the land touched by the project is on what the 1994 Oslo Accords designate as "Area C," where Israel maintains both security and administrative control and such permissions are hard tocome by. Another political hurdle has been water, for which Israel's cooperation is also required. Masri complained that the quantity Israel has allocated is barely enough to accom- modate the construction needs and the initial part of the first phase through 2013. Masri said they are urging the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to allocate a sufficient initial water quota for Rawabi along with a' new water line. The issues of access roads and the allocation of water has "drastically increased pricing for the project," according to Masri. "The alternative [sys- tem] for [bringing in] water, using tanks, is very expen- sive," he told The Media Line. Typical of construction costs pushed higher by politi- cally-driven shortages and the ensuing ingenuity necessary to solve the dilemma is the use of huge on-site storage facilities containing between $60 and $70 million worth of raw materials, costs that will eventually be paid for by the consumers. When asked who comprises Rawabi's target market, Masri says it's the local population first; followed by current residents of the Gulf States, North America and Latin America once the first 10,000 Rawabians have taken-up resi- dence. Sensitive to the nega- tive impact the "ghost-town" phenomenon--where foreign residents buy units but fail to live in them--could have on the briskly-selling project, the second-tier target group is not expected to make up more than 5 percent of the population during the next five years. In addition, foreigners are not allowed t0 buy in Rawabi without first obtaining per- mission from the Palestinian Authority--even if you are a Palestinian living in Dubai-- or even Jerusalem. A young couple, both pediatricians, who currently reside in east Je- rusalem and are excited about moving to Rawabi, told The Media Line that they put down a $500 reservation fee and later encountered a different problem. They both work for the Israeli health care organi- zations and their incomes are tied up in Israeli banks. The CairoAmman Bank told them that their payments had to be directed to Palestinian banks only. Bashar Masri told The out to wait in six-hour bread lines while their husbands drink tea with friends. "The revolution is no place for a woman," says Na'ama Wisam, 45, as a herd of men push her around outside a bakery window. "Treating women like this is forbidden," she says, referring to Arab mores that prohibit men from touchingwomen outside their family. One of the older men in the crowd seconds Wisam's assertion. "Women should not be out here. They should be in their homes." As Syrians reflect on what they want to achieve from their revolution, many are pondering the role of women in their new society. But pa- rochial views are holding the women back from achieving their aspirations, leaving their dreams for the revolution unfulfilled. Media Line they were aware of such specific situations, but that the banks would resolve them. Masri says a number of "Israelis have "just walked in here and said they wanted to see what they've been hearing about." Pleased by the atten- tion from Israelis, he says, "We want to show we're not about destroying Israel. We are about building Palestine. We are about having a better life for ourselves and our people." Jewish leaders who have seen Rawabi seem to share Masri's hope and have become a source of encouragement for the project. Rabbi Ken- neth Chasen, of The Leo Beck Temple in Los Angeles, told The Media Line that, "a funding coalition doesn't come together unless there is a great confidence that there are tens of thousands of Palestiniaris who will make the venture profitable--Pal- estinians who long to live in such a community peacefully alongside an Israeli state just a few kilometers away." Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, of New York's Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, asserted that, "This isthe best way to make peace: a peace of common eco- nomic and cultural interests, where people engage in con- struction, not destruction." As for Bashar Masri, he plans on living in a penthouse apartment in Rawabi's town center. "I want to be with my people where the hustle and bustle is, and enjoy it."