Rawabi, and the American mission to civilize the West Bank

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An artist’s rendering of Rawabi

The Palestinian Authority, in coordination with the American government, is building a new settlement in the West Bank. This one is intended to provide 40,000 “Palestinians with homes in an American-style development.” The Huffington Post carries the whole story.

When I first heard about the Rawabi plan I was repulsed. It took some time for me to distill exactly what made me so uncomfortable. It wasn’t the Pavlovian conditioning; direct exposure to the Jewish settler colonies in the West Bank and Gaza has created a psychological association between objectively neutral architectural features – red-tiled roofs, trimmed hedges, cul-de-sacs – and racism and apartheid for me. It wasn’t that though; Rawabi seemed more profoundly wrong.

Rawabi is a painful outgrowth of the continued obliteration of Palestine. Here is something so clearly alien, something so obviously conceived in an alien mind, masquerading as Palestinian. Some State Department bureaucrat was saying to me, “We are destroying you and your culture to recreate you in our image.” Palestinian cities and towns, which grow organically – really, an amalgamation of family homes and municipal buildings – are now qualitatively inferior. The Palestinian village is old, antiquated, disorganized, dysfunctional, anarchical, loud and dirty. By contrast, Rawabi is new, organized, efficient, beautiful, clean, ordered and ‘American.’ Rawabi is the tangible materialization of the American mission civilisatrice in the West Bank, not to mention the project to alienate Palestinians from one another.

But it’s not only that. All of the classical critiques of the colonial relationship apply. The occupier and its patron state have succeeded in creating a faux and unproductive Palestinian bourgeoisie, one whose primary focus is on the trappings of material living. It is taken for granted that ‘Western’ means ‘virtuous’ and Western modes of living, down to the pizza delivery service we wish we had, are culturally superior. The inferiority complex, the overwhelming desire to join the club of ‘civilized’ people, and the shame of always coming up short must drive men like Salaam Fayyad to anxious near-insanity. More importantly, their energies are almost completely dedicated to the impossible task of gaining acceptance through mimicry. I’ll wear my smart suits, comb my hair just so, snigger at the inferiority of the Islamist mind, sleep uneasily in Rawabi, and maybe Ehud Barak will invite me to his next dinner party where I’ll make witty and sardonic remarks to impress his wife. Mimicry takes so much effort that there isn’t much left over for the humanizing and uplifting task of agitating for equality; the key to national and individual self-esteem and worth.

‘Black Skin, White Masks’ by Frantz Fanon and ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison both do a good job of describing the psychological pressures on the oppressed – something I thought Palestinians were mostly immune to. But the quote by the Palestinian in the Huffington Post article, “It’s a dream to own a house here, in a new city where you work and live quietly with your kids…. It will be similar to life in the U.S.” forces me to reconsider. This man’s dream is to mimic American modes of living. He wants to live quietly and see the Mediterranean Sea on a clear day, just there, beyond Tel Aviv. Where is the compulsion to actually visit the sea, off-limits to him because of this race? Where is the denunciation of material and ‘quiet’ living when that ‘quiet’ living comes at the expense of your freedom? What corruption forces you into ‘quiet’ subordination in plain view of your own children? Where is your dignity?

That’s saying nothing about the probably predatory contractors and financiers attached to the project. They want us to take out 30-year mortgages for the privilege of living in Rawabi. By all means, export the entire credit market system to Palestine. I’d be overjoyed to buy Rawabi mortgage-backed-securities – with an inflated risk-premium, of course. But tell me, what was the price of access? How did these men manage to curry favor with the Americans and Israelis to build this project? Who do they know who knows whom? How is it that most Palestinians can barely secure permits to build on their own land, but the Jewish National Fund is donating trees to Rawabi? I’ll channel Hannah Arendt and say that the banality of profit-making knows no evil.

There’s nothing wrong with Rawabi if it existed in a vacuum. It’s not my aesthetic preference, but other people are free to live in any type of structure they like. The problem, of course, is that Rawabi does not exist in a vacuum. It is only one more horrifying manifestation of Zionist rot, both Jewish and Palestinian.

Ahmed Moor is a Gaza born Palestinian-American freelance journalist living in Beirut.

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