Shomron’s Industrial Parks: Fostering Jewish-Arab Coexistence

Shomron’s Industrial Parks: Fostering Jewish-Arab Coexistence

By Sergey Kadinsky

The uncertainty of next month’s Israeli election hasn’t shaken the confidence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, which count nearly a half million residents and industrial parks where thousands of Jews and Palestinian Arabs work alongside each other. As an alternative to the separation of two people into two states, these industrial parks offer a vision of an economic peace as was promoted
last week by the Shomron Regional Council on its tour of New York and Washington.

“We have almost 500,000 Jews today, 36 communities and towns in the Shomron. It is the heartland of Israel,” said Shomron Regional Council Mayor Yossi Dagan. “We have industrial zones with 8,000 Jews and Arabs working together. It is the only real example of coexistence in the Middle East. Every day, we hear from Arab leaders that the Palestinian Authority is stealing. It’s time for a new future, an economical future.”

Dagan spoke about the economic situation in his region at a Midtown Manhattan law office provided by supporter Simcha Hochman, with One Israel Fund Executive Vice President Scott Feltman making the introduction. The Cedarhurst-based nonprofit provides assistance to Jewish communities across the Green Line on a variety of development projects such as playgrounds, security measures, and a medical center.

Feltman was joined by Shomron International Relations Director Chen Ben-Iulu and Sheikh Abu Khalil al-Tamimi, a Hebron resident supportive of the Israeli administration of the territories. “We have a special guest who is a Palestinian Arab. He was supposed to travel here through Jordan, but the Jordanians turned him away. Yossi Dagan called everyone in the Israeli government so that he could fly through Ben Gurion. He is trained as a judge in a religious court.”

Defying the boycott policy of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Tamimi meets regularly with Dagan and other local Jewish leaders, expressing support for industrial parks and the Jewish presence in the territories. “The Arabs and Jewish Israelis are already living together. From the Islamic point of view, there’s no denying the people of the holy book,” he said. “The most important things in the
prophet’s message are justice and equality.” As he sees it, both people are destined to live on the same land “until the Mashiach arrives.”

When asked why there has been very little contact between Israeli and Palestinian individuals, he pointed to their respective governments for not promoting interaction beyond the diplomacy of leaders and impersonal business connections. “We want to say to Israel, because you control the holy land, organize a Palestinian leadership that believes in coexistence. I spoke in Efrat at a conference and it was all over the Israeli media but then we didn’t see anything organized.”

In a society of extended clans, a quick search for his name results in numerous references to activist Bassem Tamimi, whose daughter Ahed made international news for assaulting an Israeli soldier. Bassem also has one cousin who murdered a resident of Bet El, and another who was killed in a confrontation with Israeli soldiers. There is also Sheikh Taissir Tamimi, a Palestinian Authority cleric who holds hostile views towards Israel.

In a society where hatred of Israel is inculcated since early childhood, Sheikh Abu Khalil al-Tamimi credits his parents and education with his open-minded approach towards the Jewish state. When asked about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he regards him as a man of peace who is limited by opposition to Israel within his political faction.

In the meantime, the 16 Israeli-run industrial parks across Yehudah and Shomron continue to provide work for nearly 11,000 Arabs, according to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit, the Israeli agency responsible for the region. Its wages exceed those of the Palestinian Authority while rents on space for businesses are lower than within Israel proper.

Businesses within these industrial parks face boycott pressure in Europe, Israel’s biggest export market, while Palestinian workers recognize that with few jobs available in Palestinian-run areas, those provided by Israel are a necessity. “Industrial zones pay the Israeli minimum wage, so Palestinian workers make much more working there,” said Ben-Iulu. “There are 164 factories in total with a waiting list at Barkan. Here they pay less per square foot.”

By Sergey Kadinsky