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Last updated: 14 May, 2007 - Published 15:40 GMT
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Visiting a Palace in the West Bank
El-Masri's palace near Nablus
El-Masri's palace was completed during the second Intifada
One of the richest men in the Palestinian Territories has welcomed Outlook to his mock 16th-century villa near Nablus.

Munib el-Masri was inspired to build his villa when he studied in Chicago in the 1950s and came across the Palladian style of architecture.

"I fell in love with the Palladian style of a house," he told Outlook reporter Lipika Pelham, "And I decided from that time that when I went back to my country I should build something like this on one of the mountains."

It was only after he'd made a fortune in the oil industry, however, that el-Masri was able to go ahead with his extravagant plan.

El-Masri on the steps of his palace
El-Masri imported materials and artwork from Europe.

He began in 1998 and the climax of the building took place during the Intifada in 2000.

"That gave me a lot of enthusiasm to show to the Israelis and to the world that Palestinians have the urge, the perseverance and the stamina to do something like this.

"During the Intifada 500 people from Nablus and the villages around Nablus participated in the building of this house.

"When we were about to finish it, it was occupied by the Israeli army and they left it in a terrible mess."

Situated on Mt. Gerizim in Nablus on some 70 acres of land, Munib el-Masri's palace is a mock 16th-century Italian house, the original of which is located near Venice, designed by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio.

A statue of Hercules
Hercules, who personified stamina and determination, is an inspiration for many Palestinians

Almost all of the building materials, including the gravel and sand, were imported from France.

Even during the second Intifada, while battles were taking place in the old city in Nablus and bombs going off everywhere, the construction work continued.

A 16th-century sculpture of Hercules is placed in the middle of the entrance hall. In the northwest room the walls are decorated with original drawings by Modigliani and Picasso.

In the courtyard is a swimming pool whose walls are inlaid with ancient stones imported from France, and alongside the pool is an enormous jacuzzi and sauna.

The formal garden at the Palace
In the garden are the most ancient olive trees that al-Masri could find in the territories. Some date back to the Roman period.

Despite being built at a time of conflict, el-Masri's building celebrates cooperation and tolerance.

The central structure is called the Dome of Tolerance and includes tributes to the three semitic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

El-Masri was a close friend of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat which has led to suggestions that he benefited from special concessions that allowed him to accumulate huge wealth.

"I never had any concession from anyone," he told reporter Lipika Pelham, "I never benefited materially out of my association with Arafat.

"I did benefit a lot spiritually."

El-Masri's company The Palestinian Development and Investment Company (PADICO) currently represents about 35 percent of the Palestinian economy.

What do you think? Is there a place for such grand structures in areas of struggle and poverty?

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