Less than a 30 minute drive from the center of Jerusalem one can find Israelis and Palestinians working side by side, in the hope of creating a good life for all. This is the concept behind economic peace, a reality lived by three business managers and their workers. We’ll visit a Date Farm in the Jordan Valley, a halva factory in Ariel and a plastic manufacturer in Barkan. Their stories show shortcomings, resilience and the price some businesses pay to promote this optimistic idea.
Date Farm - Jordan Valley
“We are neighbors,” Israeli date farmer Inon Rosenblom stated emphatically. His farm is located in the Jordan Valley Jewish settlement of Na’ama.
Rosenblom has lived in the Jordan Valley since 1982. His moshav sits on the top of a hill overlooking the fruits of his labor, a 12 hectare (about 30,000 acre) farm producing dates, basil and even tropical fish – a new venture.
There is cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, Rosenblom said, but have you “heard of a thing called Zionism? This is our land… we only came back after a short period of 2,000 years.”
Rushing from place to place in a dusty Toyota, Rosenblom always has time to stop and talk to his workers. He employs between 10 and 30 Palestinians on a daily basis, depending on the season.
“What’s leading people here is the economy [and] to have a quiet, convenient life,” Rosenblom said. “A lot of love goes into nurturing life here; it’s like growing on concrete.”
Treated sewage water from Jerusalem is used to water date trees. Mosquito traps were created to limit the use of pesticides. And relationships with foreign importers were fostered in order to create a market for the produce.
“We exported the idea to our neighbors,” Rosenblom said of the farm’s desert agriculture techniques. They could only succeed because of the innovative growing techniques invented by Zionist settlers, he said.
Achva Halva Factory (Daphna Krause)
“They can yell like crocodiles,” he said of his Palestinian neighbors, “but they have all that we have and more.”A confectionery in a contentious land
Achva Halva Factory - Ariel Industrial Zone
When walking through the door of the Achva Halva factory, a wave of sugary scents washes over you. The air is thick with the fragrance of halva, rugelach and meringues. You feel like you’re gaining calories just from breathing the sweet air.
In 1997, the factory moved from Tel Aviv to the Ariel Industrial Zone in the West Bank. Yoav Mallach, the factory’s operations manager, says the factory now produces four tons of tahini every hour as well as halva, meringues and baked goods.
“We don’t have any political aspects at all, not to the left side or the right side of the political issues,” Mallach said regarding the location of the factory. “It’s a good climate and close to the center of Israel geographically.”
Achva employs around 240 people. About 60% of the employees are Palestinians.
“We keep the politics and all the other issues outside the factory,” he said. “Here everyone is equal: there is no religion, no history. Keep everything, all the conflict outside. Here everyone works in complete harmony.”
Mallach says the average salary for Palestinians who work in similar Palestinian factories is around NIS 2,000 a month. At Achva, the base salary is NIS 8,000. Achva is an Israeli factory that follows Israeli labor law and minimum-wage rules.
29-year-old, Mujahed Ahmed has lived his whole life in a village with 2,200 people, located 20 minutes from the Achva factory.
“I enjoy working here. There are no Palestinians, no Israelis; everyone is working together,” Ahmed said. “You don’t find the conditions everywhere that you do in this factory.”
Ahmed is manager of the packaging department, where he works with two of his brothers and 10 cousins.
Lipski Plastics Factory (Daphna Krause)
“Other people who don’t work here, are calling all the time asking [for a job]… every day I get around 20 phone calls.”
All of Mallach’s products are kosher certified, but his location has at times hurt business.
“They put a stamp on our product ‘Made in the West Bank,’ or do not buy our products to begin with… We can’t do anything about it, we are manufacturing – this is what we know how to do, and that’s it. It’s a matter of politics, not a matter of manufacturing.”
Working side by side
Lipski Plastic - Barkan Industrial Area
Cranking, wheezing and rocking machines are lined up row upon row. Managers straining to talk above the noise that is now the background of some 65 Palestinian and 35 Israeli workers at Lipski, a plastics factory located in Barkan’s industrial area.
“We are one factory, one plate, all of us,” Yehuda Cohen, CEO of Lipski Plastics, said. “If the company succeeds, all of us [will be] getting more. If the company does not succeed, some of us go home, and the others are getting less. This is the most important benefit that we can have here.”
The company exports rattan bins and brushes as well as plastic plumbing pipes.
“In 1988 this industrial area was built … because the government wanted to support this area
. I came here 11 years ago and I found this building.”
For Cohen, being in this industrial area created a way to gain willing employees.
“After I came here, I found that if you give a Palestinian employee a fair salary, conditions and respect, you get wonderful people. It’s a win-win situation: I need workers and the workers need work.”
Rasheed Morrar is a Palestinian worker who is now a manager for Lipski’s assembly department.
“What you have to understand, to appreciate, are the other people – even [if they have] another language, even another state... If you work with them, you will appreciate them,” Morrar said.
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