In our email exchange, Masa Dawoud gave enthusiastic answers to all of my questions but one. The young Palestinian communications manager flexibly provided me with a range of dates and times for a day-long visit I had shown interest in and accommodated almost all of my curiosities about Rawabi. My guided tour of the newly built city, organised on impulse during a longer fieldwork trip to Israel/Palestine, was fast approaching, and Masa readily replied to my messages about the tour’s details. But the one burning query I postulated in as many different formulations as I could think of was avoided with astute public relations (PR) savoir-faire: What is the easiest way to get to Rawabi? The question remained unanswered, in a tactical move to avert my attention from the lack of public transport within a project as prestigious and high-tech as this new city. I took the bus from East Jerusalem to Ramallah, entering the West Bank through the Qalandiya checkpoint, as per usual when travelling to any part of Palestine north of Al-Quds, hoping to find a shared or private taxi willing to take me to a destination as yet frequented considerably less than Nablus, Jericho or Jenin.
Rawabi, the newest municipality in the West Bank, has been the steadfast goal of Palestinian-American entrepreneur Bashar Masri, and is known as the biggest private development project of the Palestinian Territories, and one of its most significant employers. Over the past years, Masri has had to tackle numerous challenges posed by the Israeli occupation and their administrative violence. While the grounds on which Rawabi stands are located in the Oslo Accords’ Area A, and are thus under the Palestinian Authorities’ control, it is but an island surrounded by zones fully administered by the Israeli military. This means that every resource that has to be brought to Rawabi is subject to a strenuous authorisation process with the Israeli government. As such, running water, cemented roads and working electricity were and still are Rawabi’s fragile trophies of a bureaucratic war. Its current reputation as a growing, exciting city has been the merit of a relentless PR and communications machinery, which helped Rawabi through its stretches of infrastructural stagnation and turned it into a darling of the international press. Narrative, in Rawabi, has been key: its builders and believers have been pivotal in creating a story, actively sculpting a script for a future that at times did not seem to realistically be on the cards for this urban utopia.