DAVID ELHAIINI, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, signs a resolution to fight BDS as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan looks on..
(photo credit: MIRI TZACHI)
David Elhaiini, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, is pleased with life in the Jordan Valley. He’s pleased with the vast number of dates grown in the area, covering an area of 2,500 hectares – more than anywhere else in Israel. He’s pleased about the number of Jewish communities (21) and the quality of life.
“Residents of the Jordan Valley have a very good life, and the annual demographic increase of 6% is among the highest in the country,” he reports.
Elhaiini, a resident of Argaman, is especially gratified by the excellent relations between the Jewish communities and their Arab neighbors.
“The only source of income for the Arab population in the Jordan Valley is the Jewish settlements,” he explains. “We employ over 6,000 Palestinians each day, and in the peak periods – June, July and September – the number reaches as much as 12,000 people per day.”
Elhaiini says that the interest is mutual. “There’s a joint economic interest – they want to work, and we want to employ them.”
He estimates that, overall, the Palestinian population in the area earns over NIS 24 million per month from its work with the Jewish settlements. Salaries paid by Jewish industries are three times higher than those paid from other sources.
Elhaiini explains that the relationship between the Palestinians and the Jews in the area is much more than an economic partnership. “We live together. When you have a worker who has worked together with you for years, you have a relationship. You become his friend. They come to our weddings, and we attend theirs.” Relations with the Palestinians in the area extends to other areas of cooperation. “If there is a fire, the firefighters from the Palestinian Authority come and assist us. If they have a fire, we send our firefighters to help them. It is mutual.”
To illustrate the friendship between the peoples, Elhaiini cites another incident that occurred. “Several years ago, acts of vandalism were committed by Jews in the neighboring Arab village. I sat with the mukhtar of the village. I explained to him that these acts were not committed by the Jews in the area, but by people from the outside who wanted to disrupt lives.” Elhaiini adds, “The mukhtar said, ‘You’re right. Gather your people from Argaman, and let’s make a joint demonstration against violence.’”
Chuckling, Elhaiini, who has Moroccan roots, recounts the story of the pre-wedding “henna” celebration that he hosted before his son married an English-speaking girl, whose family came from the United States. “We invited our workers, and the guests of the bride were shocked to see Palestinians in attendance.” He recounts how the ice was broken between the American and Arab guests when the wife of one of his workers demonstrated her talent drawing with the henna plant extract. Instantly, he recalls, all of the guests moved near her to see her beautiful work.
On a more serious note, Elhaiini cites another reason for the excellent relations between Arabs and Jews in the Jordan Valley. “We employ them daily, and 70% of our population is active in agriculture. We have been here for 50 years, since 1968. They know us. We know their children, and they know our children.”
He points out that the Jewish farmers share their agricultural expertise with their Palestinian neighbors. “We teach them the best ways of growing dates. They ask questions and work with us. Our instructors visit them unofficially, because the PA does not want any connection.”
Elhaiini says that the quality of life for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley has improved dramatically. “You can see it in the number of their children who attend university. Their profits and benefits have increased, and on Fridays they go for picnics in the Jordan Valley.”
“We want to transform these good relations into more concrete areas,” says Elhaiini, “but the Palestinian Authority is preventing us from doing anything, and their BDS supporters don’t understand that they work to prevent peaceful relations.”
The average Palestinian in the Jordan Valley, says Elhaiini, is simply interested in a place to work that pays a respectable monthly salary. “The moment that you don’t see them as the enemy, and they don’t see you as the enemy, you see that they just want to live, work and earn enough money.”
“When I worked in agriculture,” he jokes, “my wife would tell me that I spend more time with Yusuf, my field manager, than I do with her. We would be together from 5 a.m. until 4 p.m. When you work together, sit together and eat together, you create relationships.”
Elhaiini hopes that just as the date yield in the Jordan Valley has grown, the relationship with the Palestinian people in the area will continue to prosper and flower. ▲
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