The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Strategies for Rafah

A Vision for the Future of the Municipality of Rafah
The Municipal Council of the City of Rafah

Note from the organizers of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP):
In the perspective of December 2003 the strategic plan document which follows may seem to have an unreal quality. Over the past two years incursions and destruction of infrastructure by Israeli forces have been almost unceasing. A steady diminishment of the ability of the municipal government of Rafah to carry out even the most basic functions of local government has occurred. The Intifada has done its part to eclipse such basic functions. And in the past two months a significant further portion of the city of Rafah was systematically reduced to rubble, with thousands made homeless. The Gaza Strip as a whole, and Rafah in particular, are largely closed off from Israel, from the West Bank, and from the rest of the world.

We think it is important, however, to present this plan (developed in 1999 and 2000) which expresses so clearly and so well an aspirational vision for a peaceful Rafah in which community development and individual fulfillment can take place. We feel that a Madison-Rafah Sister City relationship can make a contribution, however small at first, toward resumption of progress toward the goals that are identified here. In addition, for Madison readers, the document provides valuable descriptive material about Rafah.

Except for this cover page, minor formatting changes throughout, and omission of appended lists of participants, this document is presented without editing. The original document may be found at on the internet.

–Madison-Rafah Sister City Project Committee, December, 2003

Table of Contents

Message from the Mayor
Message from the Municipal Manager
Rafah: A Unique City
Developing the Vision Together
Vision and Mission Statements
Strategic Directions
Promote economic development activities
Expand Rafahís infrastructure network
Promote growth with respect for the environment
Improve community services and facilities
Strengthen transportation services
Increase the availability and quality of housing
Manage physical growth
Preserve our heritage

Message from the Mayor of Rafah

On December 4, 1999, a planning process called Rafah 2015 was launched to develop a vision and set broad strategic directions for our municipality over the next 15 years.

This is a new kind of process for our community and the first Palestinian Municipal Council appointed since the return of the Palestinian Authority. Our planners have had consultations with more than 500 citizens of Rafah ñ women, youth, refugees, professionals and other residents. We have heard your views about the future of our city. We have also conducted extensive research and analysis on land use, transportation, economic and environmental issues, recreation and community services that affect our daily lives.

There is little doubt that the issues and solutions are challenging. Although not everyone will agree with all of our proposed solutions, we did find a strong emerging consensus on most. The resulting vision statement and our new strategic directions must be more than simply statements on paper; they are a living document that will show us the way forward and help us develop specific policies to implement the solutions. They will also be used to amend the Rafah Land Use Master Plan to reflect our findings.

Perhaps, most importantly, this vision and these strategic directions are the result of an open, transparent and participatory process. They are owned by all the citizens of Rafah.

On behalf of the Rafah Municipal Council, I want to thank all those people who participated, helped us to define the issues and propose solutions. We respect your input and appreciate the time and energy that you have voluntarily contributed to this process.

This plan does not represent the end of our process ñ it is a significant milestone. We invite you to continue to participate in the implementation of Rafah 2015 and to help shape a better quality of life for all our people in Rafah.

Saied Fathi Zouroub, Engineer, Mayor of Rafah

Message from the Municipal Manager

The last four years have brought about many positive changes for the people of Rafah. For the first time in our history, the Municipal Council has taken over responsibility for regulating and monitoring public health, stores, parks, sports and cultural institutions, land transportation and public markets. We are now also responsible for fire abatement, waste management, issuing construction and demolition permits and supplying water and sewage networks.

These new responsibilities have posed certain challenges. We wish to thank the Palestinian Municipal Management Project and in particular the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian International Development Agency for their assistance in helping us increase our capacities to manage these challenges as a new municipal government.

This support, and the support of other donors, has helped us recognize the importance of our own expertise and experience, develop new ways of involving the community in our decision-making (including the development of this vision and these strategic directions) and increase our abilities to protect our physical environment. We have also established a women and development unit and funded several local neighbourhood community services projects.

We look forward to continuing our work with the citizens of Rafah and to developing the policies and actions needed to implement our common vision.

Dr. Ali Shehda Barhoum, Municipal Manager, Rafah

Rafah: A Unique City

The municipality of Rafah lies at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, in the Palestinian Territories. To the immediate south lies Egypt, while the city itself is bordered by Khan Younis on the north, the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Beir Sabii Territories on the east.

Rafah is an ancient city, founded in the eighth century BC. It was originally recognized as the boundary between Egypt and Syria overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Through the years the town has been called Robihwa by the Egyptians, Rafihu by the Assyrians, Raphia by the Greeks and Romans and finally Rafah by the Arabs. Its population swelled dramatically with the arrival of the Palestinian refugees in 1948.

After the partial withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces in 1994, the Palestinian National Authority appointed a new Municipal Council to manage Rafah in 1996. There was little left in terms of infrastructure and the new council began the process of reconstructing the city.

Rafah has approximately 130,000 residents, and covers about 5,500 hectares. Over 70% of its people live in refugee camps, and more than 50% are under 15 years of age.

During the last five years, Rafah has experienced significant growth including the construction of the Gaza International Airport (the only international airport in Gaza), as well as the construction of new schools and clinics and upgrading of infrastructure services such as roads, water and sewage.

Several features indicate the potential for increased economic activity and prosperity:

… Rafah ís a strategic commercial location as the gateway to Egypt (the Rafah Land Crossing is the only southern connection between Palestine and Egypt);

… Rafah has strong sense of community with a history of neighbourhood committees working together to help each other;

… Rafah has plans for new industrial and free trade zones near the airport; and,

… Rafah has a large beach area which offers excellent potential for tourism.

Developing the Vision Together

Rafah is committed to a participatory and transparent way of doing business. The Municipal Council believes that if we listen to what our citizens are saying and reach consensus on how to move forward, we will be able to build a successful future together.

The process of developing this vision began in December 1999.Ý We held 25 community meetings and listened to more than 500 people representing neighbourhood committees, students and teachers in schools and universities, ministry officials, professional associations, clubs, womenís organizations, youth groups, municipal staff, village councils and individuals.Ý At every meeting people wanted to talk and share their ideas about their city.

The issues raised most frequently included:

… create economic development opportunities that lead to jobs

… provide more social and community services, especially health care and education

… develop adequate green space and recreational areas

… improve environmental quality and reduce pollution

… create a cleaner municipality

… find a balance between controlling urban growth and preserving agricultural land

… coordinate transportation networks

… address potential water shortages

… locate a university or satellite campus in Rafah

… take advantage of Rafahís strategic location as a gateway city

… implement a more participatory planning and decision-making process

… expand the sewage system to cover the entire municipality

… maintain and reinforce strong neighbourhood identities

… clean up the market area

… examine how and where to develop a city centre

In June 2000, we met again with citizens to set priorities and determine together which issues were the most important. As you will see, each element of the resulting vision statement and strategic directions is important on its own. But it is in the integration of these social, physical, environmental and economic perspectives that we will be able to more efficiently direct the human, fiscal and physical energies required to create a healthy city.


All of the citizens of Rafah will live in a safe and healthy city by 2015.

We will achieve this by pursuing long-term sustainable development activities that lead to permanent employment and continued economic growth and by strengthening our infrastructure services especially our supply of clean drinking water to provide the highest quality of life possible for our people.


The Municipal Council of Rafah will provide leadership and work with all of the citizens, existing neighbourhood communities, all levels of government and international aid donors to build efficient, effective and participatory local government, deliver necessary services and make the vision of our people a reality.

Strategic Directions

Where are we going? What is most important for Rafahís future? These are the strategic directions for Rafah 2015 that emerged during the consultations and discussions with the citizens of Rafah.

1. Promote economic development activities leading to permanent, long-term employment opportunities

Rafahís location on the southern border of Palestine makes it the natural centre of economic activity for the region. It is already the hub of a transportation network offering not only roads but also access to the sea and to the only international airport in Gaza.

We believe that sustainable economic development is crucial to the success of Rafah 2015.


1.1 Develop Rafahís strategic location as the gateway to Egypt to its full potential.

1.2 Build on the existing agriculture industry as an important component in any future economic development initiatives.

1.3 Take full advantage of the new industrial and free trade zone to encourage regional economic cooperation.

1.4 Integrate any new construction especially of the local trade and industrial areas into this plan.

1.5 Identify potential tourism development areas on the Mediterranean coast.

1.6 Initiate discussions for a university or satellite campus of an existing university to be located in Rafah.

2. Expand Rafahís infrastructure network especially the provision of adequate water supplies

The shortage of water in the Palestinian Territories affects both the health of the people and the environment. Over 80% of Rafahís residents currently have access to water services, but improvements are still needed in the quality of the water and in increasing individual household connections. For example, it is estimated that at the moment an average of 12 individuals use each connection and this is considered quite high. As well, the average daily per capita water consumption is 60 litres ñ far below the World Health Organization recommendations for urban populations.

In Rafah, almost all activities depend on access to water. Without an adequate supply of water, it is more profitable for farmers to sell their agricultural land for development purposes rather than try to keep growing crops. The result is a loss of jobs in the agricultural industry and a loss of agricultural land.

Any type of economic development requires access to water services. Failure to address potential water shortages means that building a green city or building a new university will remain mere dreams.

Beyond the provision of water, there is the question of sanitary drainage. At this time, only two percent of Rafahís area (covering 33% of the population) is covered by sanitary drainage. Any planning involving water must take this into consideration.

We believe that improving the availability and quality of water will increase the quality of life in Rafah 2015.


2.1 Increase water supplies to households and individuals in Rafah.

2.2 Ensure the quality of Rafahís drinking water is acceptable by international standards.

2.3 Incorporate sanitary drainage facilities into any new development plans.

3. Promote growth with respect for the environment

Concern for the environment is a global phenomenon, but in Rafah people live with the results of environmental degradation every day; our citizens deserve a cleaner municipality. Only .073 percent of our land was classified as green in 1998.

We believe that respect for the natural environment must be at the centre of all our plans for Rafah 2015.


3.1 Integrate environmental impact assessments into every part of Rafahís development plans ñ from the vision to the day-to-day activities.

3.2 Develop adequate green space and recreational areas for all residents.

3.3 Improve the quality of Rafahís environment by reducing water, sewage and air pollution.

4. Improve community services and facilities

The need for improvements in physical infrastructure services is obvious to all citizens. We want to make it equally clear that the real bricks and mortar bringing this city together are its community services.

We believe that appropriate community services must be available to all citizens in Rafah 2015.


4.1 Provide more community services including health care and social services.

4.2 Work with other levels of government to increase their contributions to this effort.

4.3 Ensure that new services and facilities are located within the strong and clearly identifiable neighbourhood groups that make up our city.

5. Strengthen transportation services

Transportation networks are the spine of Rafah. By establishing a system of regional roads, and an international highway linking the provinces and interior of the Strip with Gazaís International Airport and the free and industrial zones, Rafah could become the nexus of transportation in any future relationship between Palestine and Egypt. A network of local roads already provides connections between Rafahís various neighbourhoods. However, only 36% of Rafahís roads are paved.

We believe that the existing transportation network should be upgraded and redesigned in Rafah 2015.


5.1 Pave all regional roads and major city streets, over time.

5.2 Plan for and designate parking sites at the local level in each district, at the regional level, at the airport and at the crossing point.

5.3 Encourage residential growth along existing roads and streets to take advantage of the transportation infrastructure already in place.

6. Increase the availability and quality of housing

Refugees from the 1948 exodus make up eighty-four percent of Rafahís current population.Ý Sixteen of the eighteen refugee camps are located in the centre of the city where day-to-day living conditions do not often meet minimum standards.

With a projected population growth rate of 4.3% per year, and an average of 2.3 individuals per room, housing is a critical issue in Rafah.

Building height is also significant, especially for residential structures. Almost sixty-eight percent (or just over two-thirds) of current residential structures are one-story buildings, 23% are two-story buildings, and 6% are three-storeys and just 3% are over three-storys. Almost all of these buildings, however, have been structurally designed to bear four stories. This means that there is a considerable amount of room to build additional floors. But at the same time, high-rise development is not part of the historical or cultural pattern of living in Rafah, although there is some support for vertical expansion in order to preserve agricultural land.

We believe that the availability and quality of housing must be improved in Rafah 2015.


6.1 Promote residential growth only where appropriate physical infrastructure, transportation and community services already exist or have the carrying capacity to accommodate new growth.

6.2 Locate new housing in underutilized existing structures.

6.3 Improve life for the residents of refugee camps in any possible way, recognizing jurisdictional restrictions.

7. Manage physical growth

Within the city of Rafah, there are three distinct land uses: almost 50% of the land is agricultural; 42% is classified as residential (homes, public services, roads and unused government lands) and 8% is land for future development (currently used for Israeli settlements). The central area is more urban, while the outlying areas remain agricultural.

There are ten distinct communities called neighbourhoods or districts in Rafah, but there is no one central business district, although there is a weekly traditional market on streets near the center of the city. Refugee camps are located where one might expect to find the geographic heart of the city. There is no university, nor are there any areas for city-wide government, culture, sports or recreation purposes. There are very few parks and open spaces.

A little over half ñ 55% ñ of all buildings are in good or very good condition and built with reinforced concrete. About 37% are built of cement, asbestos or zinc and are in poor condition.

With a projected population of 250,000 by 2015, it is expected that Rafahís physical form will change dramatically over the next fifteen years.

We believe that physical growth must be controlled and decentralized, and that sensitive areas must be protected in Rafah 2015.


7.1 Manage urban growth so that existing public facilities such as water, electricity, sanitary drainage, roads, and telephones are used whenever possible.

7.2 Build on Rafahís strong neighbourhoods/ districts and encourage decentralized growth of educational institutions, health and community services and recreation facilities to strengthen these neighbourhoods/ districts.

7.3 Encourage the central area of the city currently occupied by settlements to evolve into the geographic core and central business district of the city.

7.4 Develop, implement and enforce a system of controlled growth so that the density and location of buildings is regulated and adequate light and ventilation are guaranteed for all structures.

7.5 Preserve coastal areas from over-development.

7.6 Even though creating green space is difficult in this region and is entirely dependent on sufficient water supplies, it is essential to plan for useable green areas and a sense of openness.

8. Preserve our heritage

The future of Rafah is rooted in its history; future generations must retain a sense of place and pride in what came before them. This sense of history may also generate new economic development through increased tourism.

We believe that our heritage must be preserved in Rafah 2015.


8.1 Acknowledge and preserve the past.

8.2 Institute regulations to protect architectural foundations, ruins and historic burial sites including the Ruins of Rafah, the Hill of Rafah, the Ruins of Al-Aadas and the Hill of Al Mosbih.


The Municipal Council is proud to have worked with the citizens of Rafah to produce this vision and these strategic directions.

From the beginning, we focused not just on the product or end-result but also on the process. By consulting with as many individuals in the municipality as possible, we have delivered on our commitment to make the development of this vision and these strategic directions as transparent and open as possible.

This participatory process of urban management does not stop here. Further more detailed plans will be developed as a result of this work. Other plans developed earlier such as the Master Plan for Rafah will be adapted to conform to this vision and these directions.

We are committed to creating and expanding possibilities and processes to involve residents in local decision-making.

We believe in seeking out new approaches and practices in all aspects of local government to allow increased community capacity building and representation.

We will continue to work with our citizens, community groups, local government and international partners to make the vision expressed in this document a reality.

For more information contact:

M. Ahmad Abou Younis
Head of Urban Planning Department
Municipality of Rafah
Rafah, Gaza