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At West Bank Factories, Keeping the Peace Is a Mutual Interest

At West Bank Factories, Keeping the Peace Is a Mutual Interest

BARKAN, West Bank — An Israeli-run factory in the West Bank asks its Jewish employees on military reserve duty not to drop by in uniform so the Palestinian workers won’t feel occupied, according to one Israeli manager.

In the Barkan Industrial Park, one of several Israeli-run commercial zones near Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that Israel and its supporters have long held up as models of coexistence, factory owners pay Israeli and Palestinian workers equally. They avoid any visible security or weapons. And they organize company barbecues to try to keep tensions tamped down.

But those efforts suffered a blow last weekend when a 23-year-old Palestinian electrician, identified by the Israeli authorities as Ashraf Naalwa, ran up to the second floor of the factory where he had been working. Armed with a submachine gun, he bound the hands of a secretary, Kim Levengrond Yehezkel, a 28-year-old mother of an infant, before fatally shooting her, authorities said.

He then killed 35-year-old Ziv Hagbi, an accountant and father of three. He also shot and wounded a 54-year-old employee, Sarah Vettori, before fleeing.

The other factories in Barkan, deep in the central West Bank, were back to normal a few days later, if unsettled by the fact that the suspect was at large. But the attack underscored what many here have long tried to ignore: These islands of cooperation are vulnerable points of friction in territory that the Palestinians claim for a future state and that is part of a Jewish settlement project most of the world considers a violation of international law.

The machines at the Alon Group, where the attack took place, remained idle throughout the week. Death notices hung at the front gate of the factory, which produces waste management systems.

“There’s a lot of pressure on us right now from various quarters,” said Eran Bodankin, the logistics manager. “They say it is best to get straight back to work, to prevent post-trauma and to show the hostile forces that they didn’t beat us.” But he said the company was still focused on grieving and supporting the families of those killed.

“We will return when we feel we are ready emotionally,” he said, “and can give our workers the security required to ensure they’ll get home safely.”

In the room next door, a group of employees, including some Palestinian managers, were meeting with psychologists. Taking a break in the yard, one Israeli said he had worked with some of the Palestinians here for years but didn’t believe they were truly sorry about what had happened, despite what they said. Another said the point was to try to get back to how things were before.

Ms. Vettori told reporters from her hospital bed of how one Palestinian co-worker, Basel, ran to her side, comforted her and stanched the flow of blood from her wound with a paper roll until help arrived.

“One murders and another saves life,” she said.

The roads outside the bubble of Barkan, where pairs of armed soldiers guard Israeli bus stops, are roiling with violence and danger. On Thursday, a Palestinian assailant stabbed and wounded a reserve soldier near an army brigade headquarters. On Saturday, the Israeli police said they were investigating the death of a Palestinian woman who had been struck in the head by a stone thrown by settlers as she rode in a car with her husband in the area, according to Palestinian reports.

But the Israeli-controlled industrial and commercial zones of the West Bank are often held up by Israel supporters as evidence that military rule over the West Bank can benefit the Palestinians. Jewish settler leaders bring international groups to visit Barkan.

In condemning the attack, Jason D. Greenblatt, President Trump’s special representative for international negotiations and main Middle East negotiator, described Barkan as “a beacon for coexistence and a model for the future.”

The West Bank industrial zones offer industrialists cheaper rent than in central Israel, among other incentives. And for the roughly 3,300 Palestinians who work in Barkan, the appeal is clear. They are treated equally in the workplace, earning the same salaries and benefits as their Israeli counterparts under Israeli law.

The Israeli minimum wage — equivalent to about $1,500 a month — is nearly three times what unskilled laborers may earn in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank. Most Palestinians working at Barkan make more in overtime, and some become floor or shift managers.

One factory sends all of its workers on annual group holidays: The Palestinian employees were recently given the choice of Amman or Istanbul, while a Jewish group will soon head to Naples.

The Palestinian Authority disapproves of Palestinians working in the settlements but has not tried to stop them. It has banned Palestinians from selling settlement products, though, viewing the industrial zones as a symbol of normalizing the occupation and entrenching it.

“Somebody occupies your country, steals your land, steals your water, steals your resources, then says: ‘I’ll make a good deal for you if you come work for me. I’ll create jobs for you. We are not occupiers. We are employers,’” said Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official. “This is ridiculous. The colonial settlements are illegal in every sense of the word.”

If the more than 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli control were in Palestinian hands, with international support, Mr. Shaath said, “we could have created a paradise.”

At the same time, he said, he cannot tell his people not to go work in the settlements and deprive them of an income.

In 2010, Salam Fayyad, then the technocrat prime minister who gained the confidence of the West, helped throw products made in the settlements into a bonfire during a protest in the Palestinian town of Salfit, not far from Barkan.

Palestinians working in Barkan’s factories said they were angry with the Alon Group attacker for spoiling things. Mostly, they complained of much more stringent security checks at the entrance to Barkan since the attack, which can hold them up in line for more than an hour.

“He ruined things, of course,” said Basel Abu Hijleh, a Palestinian who has worked for 14 years at the Lipski plant, which produces plastic, sanitization and plumbing products. “Now we have to get here at 5 a.m.”

Inside the zone on a recent weekday, there were no soldiers or any visible security. Ofer Alter, the manager of Lipski, says he tries to create “a family atmosphere.”

“The owner believes that peace comes from the bottom up,” he said. “That if we work shoulder to shoulder, peace will come.”

Many of the Palestinian workers greet him warmly as they file in for the afternoon shift. Besides sending its workers on annual holidays abroad, the company also offers loans.

“Here, inside, I feel we are living an ideal,” Mr. Alter said. “But who knows what can happen an hour from now? As soon as they are out of the green gate, I have no control over anyone.”

The Israeli and Palestinian co-workers rarely meet outside work. Israel forbids its citizens from entering towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, citing security concerns, and Palestinians generally need special permits to enter Israel. Mr. Alter once went with a group to Salfit to pay a condolence call when a worker’s father died, and admits he was terrified.

Some companies like the Barkan winery and SodaStream, trying to protect their business abroad, have left the West Bank in the face of pressure from an international boycott movement in support of Palestinian rights.

At Ofertex, a textile factory, Danny Mayerfeld, the vice president for sales to the United States, said there were distributors who would no longer work with the company in Europe. “This is occupied territory for them,” he said. “They don’t take the Palestinians’ income into account.”

Mr. Mayerfeld, a native of New York, said that he owned a personal weapon but that he left it at home in line with company policy.

Udai Mustafa, 28, from Salfit, has worked at Ofertex for 10 years. His father and a brother also work there. Mr. Mustafa has no fondness for the Israeli settlements, but he has a family to take care of.

“I go from home to work to home,” he said. “I have a wife and three children. If you have work, you take it, wherever it is.”

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