west bank park 298.88.
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
After 25 years of silent growth, the Barkan Industrial Park in the West Bank shook off its fear of international boycotts and for the first time opened its doors to the public on Thursday with a host of festive activities that catered to families and customers looking to celebrate Succot.
For a long time, the more than 100 businesses located on the 1,400-dunam (350-acre) site feared such publicity would harm their ability to exports goods, so they didn't want to advertise the fact that they are located some 17 kilometers over the Green Line, explained Ahuva Shiloh, spokeswoman for the Samaria Regional Council.
But in that last year that attitude has shifted, said council chairman Benzi Lieberman, who also heads the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
The lack of publicity regarding the industrial park, which he described as the country's second largest, didn't keep some of its companies from appearing on boycott lists in Europe, Lieberman said.
The damage has already been done by the left wing, he said, "so there's no reason why we shouldn't hold our heads up high and be proud of the park."
Disengagement in August 2005 was not just about the withdrawal from Gaza - four settlements in Samaria were also evacuated, said Shiloh.
In the depressing aftermath, the council did a strategic study, in which it concluded that it needed to reach out to the public at large. It's customary for other industrial parks to host events for the public, so this park decided to do so as well.
"We wanted to connect to the heart of the people," said Lieberman. Shiloh added that they wanted the public to see that the West Bank was more than a few caravans and biblical sites.
The park, which started in 1981, has been a popular spot for businesses and factories because it is off of Route 5 and centrally located to the rest of the country. It employs some 5,500 people, of whom a third are Palestinian. Even on days when there were terror attacks, the park opened for business as usual.
"It's an island of normality," said Shiloh.
The location has proved to be so popular that the park is in the process of developing an additional 100 dunams to hold more businesses, Lieberman said.
Those who visited the park on Thursday for the first of a two-day festival could find cheap wares such as towels, sheets, clothing, artwork and jewelry. They could taste wines, cheeses and salads and enjoy train rides and puppet shows.
Lieberman said he was surprised that thousands visited the park. At this rate, he estimated, some 20,000 would have passed through by the time the event closed on Friday.
"We thought we would get half those numbers," he said.
Shiloh added that the mothers with baby carriages and the children shifting through boxes of games only proved one point - "no one comes here for politics, they come here to do business."