Monday, June 17, 2019
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At West Bank Factories, maintaining peace is a common interest

BARKAN, West Bank – An Israeli factory in the West Bank is calling on its Jewish military reserve staff not to come in uniform so that the Palestinian workers do not feel occupied, according to an Israeli manager.

In Barkan Industrial Park, one of several Israel-operated trade zones near Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that Israel and its supporters have long represented as models of coexistence, factory owners pay Israeli and Palestinian workers alike. They avoid any visible security or weapons. And they organize company barbecues to ease the tensions.

But these efforts suffered a blow last weekend when a 23-year-old Palestinian electrician, referred to by the Israeli authorities as Ashraf Naalwa, ran to the second floor of the factory where he worked. Armed with a submachine gun, he tied the hands of a secretary, Kim Levengrond Yehezkel, a 28-year-old mother of an infant, before killing her, the authorities said.

Then he killed the 35-year-old Ziv Hagbi, an accountant and father of three children. He shot and wounded a 54-year-old employee, Sarah Vettori, before he fled.

The other factories in Barkan, deep in the central West Bank, returned to normal a few days later when the fact that the suspect was at large was troubled. But the attack underlined what many have been trying to ignore for a long time: these islands of cooperation are vulnerable points of vulnerability in a territory that the Palestinians claim for a future state, and that is part of a Jewish settlement project that most of the world regards as an infringement the International keeps law.

The machines of the Alon Group, where the attack took place remained inactive during the week. Obituaries hung at the entrance gate of the factory that manufactures waste management systems.

"We are now under pressure from various sides," says logistics manager Eran Bodankin. "They say it's best to get back to work right away, prevent post-trauma, and show the enemy forces they did not beat us." But he said the company was still focused on mourning and supporting the families of those killed.

"We will return when we feel that we are emotionally ready," he said, "and we can give our staff the security they need to make sure they get home safely."

In the room next door, a group of employees, including some Palestinian managers, met with psychologists. During a break in the courtyard, one Israeli said he had worked here with some Palestinians for years, but he did not think they were truly sorry, despite what they had said. Another said the point was trying to return to the things that were before.

Mrs. Vettori told reporters from her hospital bed how a Palestinian employee, Basel, ran to her, comforted her, and stopped the blood flow from her wound with a roll of paper until help arrived.

"One murder and another saves your life," she said.

The streets outside the Barkan bubble, where armed soldiers guard Israeli bus stops, are raging with violence and danger. On Thursday, a Palestinian attacker stabbed and wounded a reserve soldier near an army headquarters. On Saturday, Israeli police said they were investigating the death of a Palestinian woman met by Palestinian reporters after a rockfall by settlers as she drove in a car with her husband in the area.

But the Israeli controlled industrial and commercial zones in the West Bank are often viewed by Israeli supporters as evidence that military rule over the West Bank can benefit the Palestinians. Jewish settler leaders bring international groups to Barkan.

In condemning the attack, Jason D. Greenblatt, President Trump's Special Representative for International Negotiations and Negotiator of the Middle East, described Barkan as a "lighthouse for coexistence and a model for the future".

The industrial zones in the West Bank provide industrialists with a more favorable rent than other incentives than in central Israel. And for the approximately 3,300 Palestinians working in Barkan, the appeal is clear. They are treated equally in the workplace and earn the same salaries and benefits as their Israeli counterparts under Israeli law.

The Israeli minimum wage – equivalent to about $ 1,500 a month – is nearly three times what unskilled workers can earn in the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank. Most Palestinians working in Barkan are working more overtime, and some are becoming shift or shift managers.

A factory sends all its workers to the annual group vacation: The Palestinian employees recently received a choice between Amman and Istanbul, while a Jewish group will soon travel to Naples.

The Palestinian Authority rejects Palestinians working in the settlements, but has not tried to stop them. However, it prohibits Palestinians from selling settlement products and sees industrial zones as a symbol of the normalization of the occupation and its entrenchment.

"Someone is occupying your land, stealing your land, stealing your water, stealing your funds and then saying: 'I'll make a good deal for you if you do work for me, I'll make jobs for you no occupiers, we are employers, "said Nabil Shaath, a high-ranking Palestinian official. "That's ridiculous, colonial settlements are illegal in every way."

With more than 60 percent of the West Bank under Israeli control in Palestinian hands, Shaath said with international support, "We could have created a paradise."

At the same time, he said he could not tell his people that they should not work in the settlements and withdraw their income.

Salam Fayyad, then Prime Minister of Technology, who had won Western confidence, helped transform the products made in the settlements into a campfire during a rally in Palestinian Salfit near Barkan in 2010.

Palestinians working in the Barkan factories said they were angry at the Alon group attacker for vilifying things. Most of them have complained since the attack about much stricter security controls at the entrance to Barkan, which could keep them in line for more than an hour.

"He has ruined things, of course," said Basel Abu Hijleh, a Palestinian who has been working for 14 years at the Lipski plant, which manufactures plastic, sanitary and sanitary products. "Now we have to be here at five in the morning."

In the zone on a last day of the week there were no soldiers or visible security. Ofer Alter, the manager of Lipski, says he tries to create a "family atmosphere".

"The owner believes that peace comes from below," he said. "If we work shoulder to shoulder, peace will come."

Many of the Palestinian workers welcome him warmly as they arrive for the afternoon shift. In addition to posting workers on vacation abroad, the company also offers loans.

"Here, inside, I feel we live an ideal," said Mr. Alter. "But who knows what can happen in an hour? Once they're out of the green gate, I have no control over anyone."

Israeli and Palestinian colleagues rarely meet outside their work. Israel prohibits its citizens from accessing cities controlled by the Palestinian Authority, citing security concerns, and Palestinians generally require special permits to enter Israel. Mr. Alter once went with a group to Salfit to hold a condolence call when the father of a worker died and admits that he was afraid.

Some companies, such as the Barkan and SodaStream wineries, which want to protect their business overseas, have left the West Bank in the face of pressure from an international boycott movement in support of Palestinian rights.

Danny Mayerfeld, vice president of sales to the United States of America, told OFERTEX, a textile factory, that there are dealers who no longer work with the company in Europe. "This is occupied territory for them," he said. "They do not take into account the income of the Palestinians."

Mr. Mayerfeld, a native of New York, said he had a personal weapon, but left it at home in line with corporate policy.

Udai Mustafa, 28, from Salfit, has been working for Ofertex for 10 years. His father and a brother also work there. Mr. Mustafa does not like Israeli settlements, but he has to look after a family.

"I go home to work from home," he said. "I have a wife and three kids, and if you work, take it wherever it is."


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