Upon entering the new Rami Levy supermarket in Gush Etzion, one is witness to
what many only dream about in the Middle East: Jews and Arabs shopping and
working side by side in perfect harmony. Jewish cashiers check out both Jewish
and Arab customers, and Arab men stock the aisles and cut your meat. Where else
do settlers and Palestinians get along so well? The new store, which opened just
three weeks ago, is the latest of the 21-store supermarket chain. The
supermarket is located between Efrat and Alon Shvut at the Gush Etzion
intersection, and both Palestinians and Jews feel comfortable shopping
But all is not as idyllic as meets the eye.
of neighboring towns oppose the employment of Palestinians in the store – which
is not located within a Jewish settlement – and are even threatening to boycott
According to the organization Lehava, a Hebrew acronym
for The Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land, Rami Levy stores such as
these can lead Jewish girls into the arms of Arab men. One of the directors of
Lehava, who identified himself only by his first name – Bentzi – says there have
been at least three instances of Jewish employees becoming romantically involved
with Arab employees in the Betar Illit, Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan branches of the
supermarket. One of the cases allegedly involved a married woman who left her
husband and moved to an Arab village, and has since returned.
Lehava works in conjunction with Hemla, a dormitory for women who are involved
in relationships with Arab men, which tries to coax them to return home,
providing them with support and counseling. The dormitory currently has more
than 25 women of different ages and backgrounds, the youngest being
According to Bentzi, when Lehava contacted owner Rami Levy and told
him of the situation, Levy expressed sympathy with the cause and said he was
trying to prevent further instances. But Lehava says Levy has not taken any
concrete steps toward that end.
Suggestions such as employing men and
women in separate departments or hiring only same-sex employees were not
adopted, according to Lehava.
But Levy says the claims are unfounded.
“It’s all lies.
None of it is true,” said Levy last week. “I don’t know
who these people are, and I don’t understand why their baseless claims are being
Levy says he was never contacted by the organization, nor
has he ever heard of any of his employees becoming romantically
“We discourage these types of relationships.”
Levy chain was established in the Mahaneh Yehuda market in 1976 as a small
store, which has since grown to enormous proportions in recent years, owing its
success to its low prices. Levy hypothesizes that the claims are coming from
small business owners who have been hurt by his chain’s growth and success,
something he feels bad about.
Levy says he is opposed to intermarriage
and has even provided separate employee dining areas for men and women in some
of his branches. “We have a synagogue in every store, and I am more cautious of
intermarriage than Lehava is,” he says. When asked what measures he would take
if he heard about an instance of an impending intermarriage between two of his
employees, Levy said he would speak to the hearts of both parties involved and
try to persuade them against it.
Other protests came from residents of
nearby Efrat, who approached Levy and requested that he employ only Jews in the
new store instead of Palestinians, even though Jewish employees might be more
Nomi Baruchi of Efrat, who met with Levy on the matter, says
most supermarkets in the area do not employ Arabs, citing an Arab employee
involved in a terrorist attack as the reason. Baruchi urged Levy to answer the
call of his fellow Jews who are crying out for work, even if they demand
slightly higher wages than Arab workers. In addition, she says the Jews who are
employed there feel uncomfortable being surrounded by Arab workers, In response,
Levy agreed to employ any Jew fit for the job.
How do the neighboring
residents feel? Avi Rosenfeld of Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim, a Rami Levy shopper, says
he understands Levy and says that business is business.
“This is simple
economics. He opened the store without any political considerations,” says
Rosenfeld. “It’s in a central location for both Jews and Arabs. If you shop in
Talpiot, there are also plenty of Arabs there.”
Rosenfeld estimates that
people from at least six neighboring Jewish towns shop at this
But others, like Sarah B. from Efrat, say they don’t feel safe in
the store, even as they continue to shop there. “When we walked in, my
asked me if it was safe to come in here, since we educate them to be
Arabs.” She added that although “there are a lot of Jewish workers in
there would be even more if the Arabs weren’t employed here.”
But all in
all, she says, Arabs work in Jewish houses and in their towns, and it’s
realistic to expect them not to work in Rami Levy. As for shopping, she
feels torn, being attracted to the low prices and nearby location but is
about the possible danger.
A.J. from Alon Shvut is not as sympathetic.
“You can see how the Jewish girls mix with the Arabs in the store; it’s
But her friend is of a different mindset, saying, “If we can’t
shop together, then there’s no hope. And it’s the opposite of a security
No Arab would target a store that’s so full of Arabs.”
A quick glance
around the new store confirms that one thing is not in dispute: business
Levy is booming.