The West Bank city is busily razing older buildings in favour of new apartments and malls. But is the city losing more than it gains?
The de-facto capital of Palestine – situated an hour north of Jerusalem – is experiencing a construction boom bigger than in any other city in the West Bank.
Ramallah’s location plays a big part in its real estate prices, but the lack of progress in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine has given them a further boost. “With the hopes of Jerusalem becoming our capital dwindling to maybe zero, a lot more people are interested in investing now in Ramallah,” says Sahar Qawasmi, co-founder and director of Sakiya, a residency programme for art, science and agriculture.
But the building of new apartment blocks and glitzy shopping malls comes at a cost. According to local architects, a quarter of a century ago Ramallah boasted 832 historical houses. Only 380 still stand.
Dar Harb was the most recently demolished. It was razed in August and will soon be replaced by a new shopping complex called Centro Mall, which will sell international brands and offer entertainment.
Yousef Dartaha, who works at Riwaq to preserve and restore architectural heritage sites, believes it was once the annex of the Grand Hotel. Built in 1924, Dar Harb was said to be the preferred place for King Hussein of Jordan to stay when he visited Palestine.
Current law in Palestine protects all buildings constructed before 1917. For any structure built later, the minister of antiquities in Palestine would need to step in to save it. Post-1917 buildings would need cultural, economic or natural significance to be considered for protection.
But the decades after that cutoff point produced some of the richest architecture in Ramallah. British rule between 1920 and 1948 saw the first use of concrete foundations, flat roofs and high beams in the city. Modernism arrived with Palestinian people who fled the coastal cities of Jaffa, Lid and Haifa and with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.