Sat, Mar 23, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Palestinians buy land to protect future state

The son of Palestinian refugees has followed his father’s dream to establish a company that has allowed Palestinians to buy plots of land amid the Israeli-Palestinian battle for land ownership

By Phoebe Greenwood  /  The Guardian, FARKHA, West Bank

The Tabo Web site now invites prospective buyers in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the far-flung diaspora on a virtual tour of every plot of registered land with a 180-degree view from the site, its height from sea level and slope gradient. Plots are sold for between US$13,000 and US$80,000 and can be paid off over three years.

The new high-rise development at Rawabi is Tabo’s closest counterpart in the affordable Palestinian housing market. The urban project benefited from major international support — primarily from US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Qatar — and Israeli cooperation.

Bashar al-Masry, the Palestinian businessman behind the private venture, was allowed exceptional privileges. The bureaucratic challenges Sabawi and others Palestinians face were pushed aside and title deeds for Rawabi land were granted in one bundle. Locals who owned land in three villages on the proposed site and refused to sell were forced to accept the market rate by the Palestinian Authority. A row about preferential treatment to well-connected individuals has ensued.

In Farkha, where 90 plots of land have been sold through Tabo, the local council is cautiously supportive of the initiative.

“The newcomers will probably help our economy and it’s better that the land is not in the hands of settlers. But Sabawi is not buying our land because he likes our blue eyes. He’s got a good business going,” said Hassan Abdullah Hajaj, a council leader for 16 years.

Most villagers sold their land to Tabo for US$5,000 or less out of economic necessity, he added.

Unlike Hajaj or Sabawi, the Dabbaghs still cherish an optimistic ideal of Palestine. Ali is an eye surgeon specializing in diabetes and plans to open a clinic in Farkha. The couple has hired an architect to design their home, even though they are yet to receive permission from the Israeli authorities to live in the West Bank. Last time Ali flew in to Tel Aviv he was refused entry, despite his British passport.

“At least 10 of our friends and relatives have bought land through Tabo after we told them about it. Some don’t even plan to live there — they feel they are protecting the land just by owning it,” Sana said.

“For me it was just something I took for granted. I knew I was going to end up in Palestine. If God forbid I don’t get to, at least now I know my children can,” Ali added.

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