In West Bank Settlements, Israeli Jobs Are Double-Edged Sword

<p>By Jodi Rudoren - The New York Times<br />
Israeli industries operating in settlements that most of the world considers illegal and a prime obstacle to peace have become a focus of global attention  amid growing momentum for a boycott movement.</p>

Published in The New York Times on 10.2.2014

By Jodi Rudoren

MISHOR ADUMIM INDUSTRIAL ZONE, West Bank — The personal conflict that thousands of Palestinians face working for Israeli companies in the occupied West Bank is particularly stark for Hassan Jalaita, who for 18 years has repaired Israeli Army jeeps at the Zarfati garage here.

Those are the very same jeeps that confront Mr. Jalaita at the checkpoint he crosses each morning. The same ones that sweep through villages where his friends and relatives live. But those jeeps also help pay his $1,471 monthly salary at Zarfati, more than triple the minimum wage in Palestinian areas of the West Bank, where a 19 percent unemployment rate and lack of labor laws make finding a decent job difficult.

“I feel like I’m not a human being — we are serving the occupation,” said Mr. Jalaita, 47, a father of five, two of them university students. “I am forced to work here because I have a house, I have a family. Tomorrow, if there is another place to work, if there is work in Palestine, I will do it.”

Israeli industries operating in settlements that most of the world considers illegal and a prime obstacle to peace have become a focus of global attention in recent weeks, amid growing momentum for a boycott movement targeting Israeli businesses and institutions. The flash point was the actress Scarlett Johansson, who resigned her position with Oxfam, the antipoverty group, on Jan. 30 after Oxfam criticized her for signing on as a spokeswoman for SodaStream, the maker of home-carbonation systems whose largest factory is here in Mishor Adumim.

Underlying the dispute is a complicated economic and political landscape of factories and farms that at once entrench the Israeli occupation and help feed the Palestinian families that oppose it. About 25,000 Palestinians work legally for Israelis in the West Bank, many in construction, building the settlements they hope will soon be dismantled.

There are 15 other industrial zones like this one in territory Israel seized in the 1967 war. They have about 1,000 plants — sophisticated aluminum and food manufacturers as well as tiny textile and furniture workshops — that pump roughly $300 million into the Palestinian economy through salaries and, at the same time, take up vast acreage in what Palestinians see as their future state.

Palestinian officials and boycott advocates say that these settlement businesses exploit a vulnerable work force, and that Israel’s occupation is largely responsible for the moribund Palestinian economy that makes its own jobs appealing. Israeli leaders and factory owners, though, say the companies do more to help than hurt Palestinians, and provide rare opportunities for coexistence between the two peoples.

“I am not a settlement. I am an industrial area, an industrial area that gives hope for people,” said Yehuda Cohen, the chief executive of Lipski, a plastics plant in the Barkan Industrial Park, 15 miles east of Tel Aviv. “If there will be any kind of peace agreement, even if they decide this area should be part of the Palestinian country, we should not destroy the industrial areas. We should increase them.”

Diana Buttu, a lawyer who has been studying West Bank work conditions, and other boycott supporters acknowledged that the settlement industry provided important economic opportunities for Palestinians even as it challenged their national aspirations. The deeper problem, she said, was that the Palestinian minimum wage was $410 a month, compared with Israel’s $1,217, and most Palestinian workers lacked pensions, vacation days and disability insurance — factors she and others say are the fault of the Palestinian Authority as well as Israel.

“It’s imperative upon us, the Palestinians, and the international community as well, to make sure there is an alternative where people are working in decent, dignified, humane work,” Ms. Buttu said.

Israel opened an industrial zone in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot, which had been Jewish before 1948, shortly after recapturing it along with the rest of the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war. Mishor Adumim, created in 1976, now has 250 businesses that are a 20-minute drive from the center of Jerusalem. And Barkan was built in 1982, starting a decade-plus boom in which Israel provided financial enticements to move in as part of a push to strengthen the Israeli presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where 540,000 Jews now live.

Mishor, Barkan and several other large parks are in so-called settlement blocks that Israeli leaders insist will become part of their state under any peace deal, but others are scattered deeper into the West Bank. Palestinians must be 18 to work in settlements; for jobs inside Israel, they must be 24, married and have at least one child.

The Palestinian Authority began boycotting settlement products in late 2009, but stopped short of punishing people who helped produce them. Mohammed Mustafa, the Palestinian deputy prime minister for economic affairs, called the industrial parks part of an exploitative pattern of “business colonization” that has blocked the authority from building a viable economy.

He blamed Israeli land confiscation and control of West Bank water for agriculture dropping to 6 percent from 15 percent of the economy over the past decade. Napco, a state-of-the-art aluminum factory in Nablus, he said, has been unable to anodize because Israel blocks the required materials as a security risk.

“If we have our land, if we have our resources, if we have independence, if we have control of our economy, then we will give them opportunities,” Mr. Mustafa said. “Yes, they are paying them more, but who wants to be working in a settlement? This is, in a way, even worse than not giving them a job.”



אודות Wac-Maan