After Barkan: A look at West Bank industrial areas of ‘coexistence’

THE OFRA SETTLEMENT is seen from the Amona outpost in the West Bank. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
THE OFRA SETTLEMENT is seen from the Amona outpost in the West Bank.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
The deadly terrorist attack which killed two Israelis and wounded a third at the Barkan Industrial Park on Sunday has put the 16 Israeli industrial zones across the West Bank, often cited as examples of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, in the spotlight.
For some, the industrial zones of varying sizes are a major source of employment for Palestinian workers who benefit from considerably higher wages than the West Bank average, as well as providing rare but welcome proof of the possibility of coexistence between two populations usually associated with conflict.
Palestinian employees working at industrial zones can earn more than double the West Bank average wage – NIS 120 per day, according to a 2015 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics report.
For others, the industrial zones are nothing but an opportunity for Israeli employers to exploit cheap Palestinian labor, low municipal taxation and to boost settlement income.
Israeli army searches West Bank village for assailant who killed two Israelis, August 10, 2018 (Reuters)
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The 16 West Bank industrial zones employ approximately 11,100 Palestinians today, according to figures supplied by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT), the body responsible for implementing the government’s policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The most significant industrial zones in terms of Palestinian employment are Mishor Adumim, providing work for 4,400 Palestinians; Barkan, the site of this week’s attack, which employs 3,300 Palestinian workers; and Ariel, which employs 2,100 workers.
The Mishor Adumim Industrial Park, near Ma’aleh Adumim, covers 383 acres of land and is home to approximately 330 Israeli-owned factories and businesses. In addition to the 4,400 Palestinians with employment permits at the industrial park, its factories also offer a significant source of employment for the Bedouin population.
Mishor Adumim hit the headlines in 2015 when SodaStream closed its factory there after being targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for its West Bank presence. Of the 500 Palestinian employees who worked at the company’s headquarters, considered by some as an icon of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, only 74 received permits to continue working at the company’s new Lahavim location.
Established in 1982, the Barkan Industrial Park, located approximately 25 km. from Tel Aviv and adjacent to the Barkan settlement, was described as a “symbol of coexistence” by Economy Minister Eli Cohen following Sunday’s terror attack. In Barkan, employees work in 160 factories and businesses.
In a similar move to SodaStream, Israeli companies Barkan Wine Cellars, Mul-T-Lock and Bagel Bagel moved production operations from Barkan to within the Green Line in recent years.
The Ariel Industrial Park provides space for more than 40 factories producing a wide range of products.
Although it is difficult to accurately assess the impact of Israeli settlement industry on the domestic economy, the European Union – Israel’s greatest trade partner – provides some information due to its labeling requirement.
A UN report published last year cited Israeli government estimates that industrial goods produced in settlements and exported to Europe were worth $300 million annually. Total Israeli exports to Europe in 2017 amounted to $16.84 billion.
As to whether Sunday’s terror attack will harm Israeli hopes for coexistence through its West Bank industrial parks, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) was unequivocal in his response.
“We will continue to develop and invest in joint areas, which are the hope for a quieter and safer future,” Edelstein said.