Figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that the north of Israel considerably lags other regions of the country in most economic and social indicators. In Arab settlements, which account for half the population of the Galilee, the situation is especially dire. The idea of setting up an industrial park in Shfar'am is an attempt by The Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at The Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, together with government ministries, to promote "change generating" initiatives. Why do those behind the initiative stress Arab-Jewish cooperation? It turns out that this is a process that is by no means to be taken for granted, and that Shfar'am was the lone pioneer that was willing to respond to the challenge and cooperate with the initiative.
Shfar'am is the second-largest Arab settlement in the north, with 40,000 inhabitants. Most of them are Muslim, but there are some Druze and Christians. Surveys by the Alfanar organization, which has as one of its aims the encouragement of employment of Israeli Arabs, show that although the population is mostly young, with bagrut (school matriculation) certificates and a command of Hebrew, most people, especially the women, do not work. The researchers believe that the population data indicate high quality and growth potential. Their assumption is that setting up the new industrial zone will contribute towards improving the economic situation of the town and its population.
Dr. Gilead Fortuna, head of the Center for Industrial Excellence at The Samuel Neaman Institute, stresses that the research was preceded by "Project North", a study of the state of the region. The Technion has given priority to the Arab population, among other things because over 20% of its student body is Arab. "We have set leveraging the Arab population as a goal. We don't wish to look on the Arabs as a problem. It is clear to us that if we integrate them into the labor market, we will gain important assets from them."
In contrast to the "Judaization of the Galilee" concept of the 1960s and 1970s, the initiators of the project now talk about joining forces. "We want to change the situation in which there are two economies, one Jewish and one Arab. In our study, we recommended unifying and not Judaizing. We said that we would set up an industrial park run by Arabs that would bring together Jews and Arabs in order to get the best out of both."
Why particularly in Shfar'am? Fortuna says that this is because Shfar'am is a fairly tolerant town, it has a huge disused quarry next to it, and it has 600 dunams (150 acres) of land free. And why would Jews want to invest in Shfar'am? "In Nazareth, there is an industrial park belonging to Amdocs, and we discovered that many of the workers there are from Shfar'am. We thought that we would set up a center in Shfar'am that would combine forces."|
Fortuna says that an industrial park can be looked on solely in real estate terms, as a source of municipal rates, but that there is another, more modern approach: "The manager of the park is not just a real estate person, but someone who provides a link between the residents and the government and assists in obtaining permits. He's a partner."
Shfar'am mayor Amin Anabtawi is proud of the initiative and says that it will be the biggest industrial zone in the Arab sector. "We realized that the economy is the key to developing the town. You can't rely on arnona (rates) or on government ministries," he says.
Anabtawi believes that we are on the brink of a new era: "The trend is positive. For the first time, government ministries, at the decision making level, understand that in order for the country to progress, the latent potential of Arab society must not be missed. Government resolution 922 of 2015, which calls for economic integration of minorities, is evidence of recognition of the fact that the wrong must be righted, that the gap must be narrowed, and that there should be an aspiration to equality."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 11, 2017
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