In the wake of the European Union’s resolution to boycott the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and terminate all financial contacts with them, foreign journalists toured the Barkan Industrial Park and Ariel University in Samaria last week.
This event was organized by Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) in conjunction with the Yesha Council and The Manufacturers Association of Israel (MAI). The event highlighted the ramifications of the EU’s decision on financial coexistence in the area. The focus of the tour was the joint financial projects between Israelis and Palestinians, which now stand to face financial hardship and possible termination as a result of the EU’s recent actions.
Some 40 journalists, including reporters from CNN, Al-Jazeera, The Financial Times, and French, Chinese, German, and Dutch news agencies, visited the Lipsky plastic factory. While there, they met Rashid Marar, head of the assembly division, who is one of the 3,000 Palestinians employed at the Park.
The reporters also witnessed the coexistence displayed at Ariel University, where Palestinian students study alongside Israelis. “We don’t make distinctions between workers according to what side of the green line they live on,” said Dan Catarivas of the MAI. “We want to have the best economic possibilities. The Palestinians are a major part of Israel. We try to concentrate purely on economic issues, not politics.”
Starting in 2014, products made in Judea and Samaria that go to EU countries will no longer be labeled “Made in Israel,”‘ but rather in the “occupied territories.” The decision will require the EU and its members to stop cooperation with and funding of Israeli institutions and businesses in the area.
Catarivas said that the EU’s decision is “a storm in a teacup,” assisted by disinformation in the media. But, in reality he said, “there will be no functional effect on the Israeli economy.” He explained that exports from Israel totaled nearly $46 billion in 2012 compared to just $250 million from Judea and Samaria (0.55%).
Furthermore, goods from Judea and Samaria have been taxed by the EU since 2005, and are not subject to the Free Trade Agreement enjoyed by the State of Israel. Those who do stand to be harmed by boycotts on Israeli products from Judea and Samaria are the Palestinians themselves.
There are 14 industrial centers dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria, which include some eight hundred factories and businesses. Seventeen thousand employees work at these centers, eleven thousand of them Palestinians.
According to data presented by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, the employees earn two to three times more than the average pay earned by the Palestinian population, and receive full social benefits as prescribed by Israeli law. Based on the Arab familial structure in the region, which is comprised of Hamulot, large families, it is estimated that these workers support more than 100,000 dependents.
Further, a secondary source of livelihood has developed around these industrial centers in the form of transportation for the employees, haulage of products and materials, and services and equipment suppliers. Therefore, boycotting Israeli products from the settlements essentially harms many Palestinians’ livelihoods.
If these factories are shut down, most Israeli workers will find another source of employment, as opposed to the Palestinians who could remain with no source of income.
Officials reported that the tour was successful and satisfying, receiving positive feedback from the attendees. Ron Paz, a PMO official, told Tazpit News Agency: “We focused on financial issues and refrained from touching on political topics. The reporters received a clear message: sanctions against Judea and Samaria pose a threat to the mutual financial cooperation in the region and hinder any possibility of peace and normalization.”
Dani Dayan, former head of the Yesha Council explained that peace begins from the bottom up. You start with employment, raising the standard of living, working side by side, and build peace from there. “Peace is not imminent,” he said, “and in the meantime we need to work on fostering relations.”
Yigal Dilmony, deputy director-general of the Yesha council, stated that the purpose of the tour was to expose the truth: “All residents of Judea and Samaria can properly support themselves and live side by side in peace. There is nothing like a first-hand encounter to present the truth”, he told Tazpit News Agency