One of America’s most enduring gifts to the Middle East is the suburban indoor shopping mall. Israel’s first was the Ayalon Center outside of Tel Aviv (1986). Istanbul saw the Atakoy Mall go up in 1987. Jordan’s pioneer was Amman’s Abdoun Mall in 2001 (Picture from virtualtourist.com), and Beirut‘s ABC Mall opened its doors in 2003.
This month, a new luxury mall opened on the outskirts of the northern West Bank city of Jenin. Haaretz reports that the five-story Hirbawi Home Center cost $5 million to build and is filled with foreign brands carrying upscale products, from espresso machines to plasma screens.
Most of the products are priced on par with Israeli figures, but furniture is a bargain in Jenin.
Jenin’s mall – and those in the works for Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and Tul Karem – will be an interesting experiment in Palestinian consumer culture and urban planning.
While malls in Israel and America have been blamed for draining business out of city centers, in the West Bank there is only a thin strata of people who can afford shopping in them. Therefore, the city centers may stay lively. Likewise, Hirbawi CEO Ziad Turabi said he is not too worried about a curfew on Jenin: “Let’s just say we don’t pin much hopes on shoppers from other areas,” he told Haaretz.
This could mean that the only people shopping in Jenin will be from the city, and not residents of mid-sized towns whose business would otherwise whither up thanks to the mall.
Suburbanization and shopping malls go hand in hand. For Palestinian cities and villages, that process has unfolded ever so slowly in large part because of the Israeli control of the area.
At the same time, in Israel suburbanization is on a tear, with new malls, outlet shopping centers and highways sprouting up nationwide. Jenin’s mall may be the start of a dramatic reorientation in Palestinian land use that makes the West Bank look much more like its neighbor.