Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Village Just South of Shiloh on the Next Hill Over

West Bank's own slice of America
By Martin Patience
BBC News, West Bank

Mazraa Sharqiya is not your average Palestinian village.

Expensive jeeps and cars line the pristine streets. Expensive villas nestle behind high stone walls.

Whereas many modern Palestinian homes are built from cinderblocks, here there are opulent four-storey residences, many of them clad in marble.

With about a third of Palestinian households in the West Bank living in poverty according to the United Nations, Mazraa Sharqiya is an obvious exception to the rule.

Some Palestinians even refer to the village as the Miami of the West Bank on account of the wealth and the seemingly endless summer partying.

But the wealth found in Mazraa Sharqiya is not produced locally - it comes from the Palestinian diaspora, people who have left their homes in search of a better life.

About two-thirds of the village's 15,000 inhabitants live abroad, mainly in the United States.

During the summer, many of the residents return to their home village where they have built villas.

Ahmed Yacoub, 46, is one of them. The father-of-six left the village more than 30 years ago. He says that because of the Israeli occupation there were few opportunities for young people in the village.

Mr Yacoub first went to Puerto Rico, then Chicago, and then back to Puerto Rico where he runs a successful clothing company.

But he returns home every summer, although Israel often makes it difficult for him and his family to enter, he says.

"I like to bring my children here to teach them the Arabic language and customs," says Mr Yacoub, sitting on a chair on his patio.

"Because when they are far away then cannot learn like they do when they're in the village."

Until the early 1980s, Mazraa Sharqiya looked like any other Palestinian village in the West Bank during that period.

There were modest two-storey houses and many of the roads were unpaved.

But when expatriate Mazrawis began to find their feet abroad, the money started flowing in and the villas began going up. This has created what Mr Yacoub calls the "new town" and the "old town".

Despite being born and raised in the village, Mr Yacoub says that he often feels like an outsider.

"Some of the villagers see us as foreigners," he says. "I don't feel integrated with the rest of the village, the ones that never left."

In the summer, the village experiences a mini economic boom with the surge in population. It is not unusual to see lorries carrying luxurious, French-style, furniture crawling through the village.

Many expatriates get married in the village - and there can be as many as four weddings a day. One of Mr Yacoub's sons, Jomaa, 25, says that he is rarely in his bed before 0400. But in the winter, the village is ghostly quiet in comparison.

"The weather is very cold and most people are bored," says music-shop owner, Abdel Hakim, 28, who lives in the village all year round. "There is nothing to do."

At a local pool hall, some of the village's teenagers get in some practice. All say they would leave the village for United State if given the opportunity. "More money," says one teenage boy in broken English. And that is the dilemma that this village experiences.

Most of the expatriates say that they would like to live here permanently - but the Israeli occupation and the lack of opportunities make that difficult. It is only by their living abroad that Mazraa Sharqiya can continue to thrive.


And see my wife's posts a while back on Arab mansions:



No comments: