calendar March 12, 2014 in Bishop, Bishop messages

In Palestine, A City of Hope

Bishop Burkat

In February Bishop Burkat joined an interfaith delegation to Israel and Palestine to learn about the various narratives complicating peace efforts and thwarting a two-state solution. In this letter she reports on an exciting sign of peace: the construction of Rawabi, a city that would restore economic, educational and secure living opportunities in this new suburb of Ramallah.


A City of Hope Built on a Hill: Forging Prosperity and Peace in Palestine

by Bishop Claire Burkat

In February I joined 16 religious leaders – Jews, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists and Presbyterians – on a ten-day interfaith trip to Israel and Palestine to learn about the various narratives complicating peace efforts and thwarting a two-state solution.

On this journey, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia (JCRC), we had plenty of opportunity to hear from both peace builders and naysayers on the ground. We met with 28 different speakers representing incredibly diverse and complicated intentions.

The last time I was in Israel and Palestine I traveled to some heartbreaking and dangerous places with the Conference of Bishops during the Gaza war in 2008. I found that that trip enormously discouraging as we traveled through threatening checkpoints, listened to story after story of economic and political disparities, saw first-hand lives of discouragement and hopelessness in an occupied territory, and witnessed economic devastation as business, commerce, transportation, and education were sabotaged by violence and hate.

This time, six years later, I saw signs of hope for the people of Palestine, as we listened to peacemakers from both sides of the border. Let me share with you the most hopeful prospect for peace we witnessed. It was so powerful I cried.

Today, on a mountaintop outside Ramallah, the largest planned city in Palestinian history is under construction. Called Rawabi, the name means “hills” in Arabic. In its first phase this small city will house 30,000 people, and will have three schools, two mosques, a church (Russian Orthodox), an amphitheater, shopping, dining and commercial areas. All of the stone used is quarried in Rawabi itself, carving out the amphitheater.

Rawabi is the vision of Palestinian developer and architect Bashir Al-Masri, who studied planned communities all over the world (including Virginia) to realize his dream of a city that would restore economic, educational and secure living opportunities in this new suburb of Ramallah.

RawabiOverview1  RawadiConstruction1 RawadiModel RawadiModel2

Rawadi rises on a mountaintop near Ramallah. Architect’s models show how the city will look when completed. Click images for full view.


The motto of Rawabi is Live-Work-Grow. People will be able to buy apartments with a down payment of 10%, bank-financed 25-year mortgages. Issuing mortgages for new construction has been extremely rare in Palestine — until now.  The homes range in size and price from $65,000 -$180,000.  About 600 families and singles will be moving in before the end of this year.

This enterprise is completely privately funded. About $300 million for Phase 1 comes from a bank in Qatar in partnership with a Palestinian developer. If this goes well, more Palestinian cities will be built soon after, with an anticipated investment of $3 billion over the next 5 to 10 years.

Can you understand why I was so thrilled to see such a project? Not just because that kind of money invested by an oil-rich emirate is a sign that Palestine’s future is worth investing in. When I asked Mr. Masri when the schools would open and whether the Palestinian Authority would run them, he said, “No, private.” “Like Charter Schools” I asked?  “Yes, exactly.”

“Who will oversee them?” I asked. His answer: “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), because they have a good reputation with elementary and secondary schools in the West Bank.”  The first school could open as early as next fall!

Mr. Masri has invited Israeli companies to participate in prosperity and peace building through constructive business relationships, despite the obstacles of recalcitrant political interests. This huge dream is not without enormous challenges.  As I am learning, nothing is easy in the Middle East. The phrase we heard over and over, from almost all the speakers, Palestinian and Israeli: “It’s complicated”. Yes, it certainly is. But this joint venture, with many companies agreeing to participate, is a first attempt at private enterprise not relying on government money from either Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

The immediate snags seem to be the Israeli permits for widening access roads, and approvals for water and underground sewers.  All fiber optics will be buried underground.  Because the project is going so well, and includes Israeli businesses (but not those who invest in settlements), the Israeli red tape seems to be loosening.

The following evening Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, invited me to attend a lecture he was moderating at the Von Leef Center, a Jewish think tank in Jerusalem.  Bishop Munib Younan of the ELCJHL was the keynote presenter. After his courageous and engaging talk (which you can read at, I shared how impressed and excited I was by seeing the construction in Rawabi. I asked Bishop Younan if the ELCJHL was ready to staff three schools by next fall. You won’t be surprised that his confident reply was, “Of course!”

I pray that the courageous Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers we encountered will gain greater voice and influence for lasting security and prosperity for Arab and Jewish people. It is exciting to watch as people of good will and faith work together for a two-state future, using the courageous vehicles of both peacemaking and peace building.



As part of her ecumenical and interfaith responsibilies, Bishop Burkat serves as co-convener of the Religious Leaders Council of Philadelphia, along with Rabbi David Straus, Imam Anwar Muhamin and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.