Hebron Jews and Arabs Create Ties at Business Conference

The business forum was created by Arab-Muslim Hebron resident Ashraf Jabari and Israel-Jewish Ariel resident Avi Zimmerman.

25.2.19, 08:40
(PHOTO: Yishai Fleisher, Ashraf Jabari, Senator James Lankford and Avi Zimmerman at the Judea Samaria Regional Development Financing Initiative.)

While the Palestinian Authority officially opposes any type of "normalization" with Israel, Jews and Arabs in Judea and Samaria have steadily been building bridges. Efforts to enhance the economy of both communities culminated in the Judea Samaria Regional Development Financing Initiative held in Jerusalem February 21, 2019.
The event was hosted by the Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry led by Avi Zimmerman, a Jewish-Israeli entrepreneur from Ariel, and Ashraf Jabari (sometimes spelled Jabri), an Arab-Muslim businessman from Hebron. The US Israel Education Association (USIEA) helped the initiative and the event was attended by Oklahoma senator James Lankford and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

“The average American has no idea that Palestinians work with Israelis and that countless Palestinians want to work with Israelis,” Jabari said, adding that many residents of the Palestinian Authority are afraid to speak out and be viewed as traitors by the powerful Hamas and Fatah groups. 

Jabari also spoke last year at the 4th annual Sovereignty Conference hosted by Women for Israel's Tomorrow where he blasted the Palestinian Authority for corruption and said Arabs in Judea and Samaria were better off under the Israeli sovereignty.

This year he was quoted by the Jerusalem Post stating “We worked with Israeli business partners from 1967 through 1993, until the implementation of the Oslo Accords. Every day, 200,000 Palestinian workers enter Israel, and there’s NIS 3 billion worth of trade per month across the Green Line."

“We are continuing to strengthen the chamber of commerce and to bring Israeli and Palestinian businessmen to work together," he added.

Hebron was divided in the Hebron Accords of 1997 into separate Jewish and Arab sections. The two ethnic groups had previously lived and worked together in the albeit in separate neighborhoods with tension and instances of violence until the 1929 Hebron massacre.

Jabari added, "we need to break the fence between Israelis and Palestinians and to know that there’s no other way but to work together. We can’t keep going like we have over 25 years and waiting for a political settlement. We don’t have time to wait for politicians.”

Today, Hebron is the largest city in the Palestinian Authority in terms of both size and population and accounts for most of their economy. The city is filled with factories, workshops and businesses such as the Herbawi mattress factory, which employs thousands of PA residents an exports to Israel on a regular basis. 

The Arab side of Hebron is also home to a soccer stadium, and several hospitals and universities. What businesses in the PA may be seeking is the infrastructure and regulations that have made Israel the international economic powerhouse known as stat-up nation with the 3rd most companies listed on American's NASDAQ stock exchange listing.

While Islamic radicals, who exist at a high rate in Hebron, call for a boycott of all Israeli products, nevertheless, they can be found in many PA stores and malls.

A Jerusalem Post article a week before the conference noted that in Hamas-controlled Gaza, Israeli products are viewed as far superior to locally produced ones due to higher production standards and quality control. 

Yet terrorist groups still enjoy popular support among the residents, with Hamas historically winning big in local Hebron city council elections. Earlier in February, Ori Ansbacher, a 19-year-old Jewish-Israeli woman was murdered in a Jerusalem forest by a 33--year-old Arab-Muslim from the Abu Sneinah hills neighborhood of Hebron. The hills became infamous in 2000 as the sniper post from which baby Shalhevet Pass was shot and killed by a terrorist.

Co-founder Zimmerman, who lives in the Samaria city of Ariel, stated, "we are not talking about politics... as a chamber of commerce we look to see what is the compound effect of multiple businesses working with a shared  trajectory.
Ambassador Friedman stated, “there is far more that unites us than divides us... we all recall the Oslo Accords of 1993. There was an increase in terrorism four-fold. Why? Because pieces of paper do not make peace. Relationships make peace. Investments make peace. That is the kind of peace that is enduring.”

While Israeli settlements are often portrayed in the media as being obstacles to peace, blocking the creation of an independent Palestinian state, Friedman and the others at the conference foresaw a new era of Arabs and Jewish settlers working side-by-side in a shared economy. Precedent for such a scenario already exists in the pre-1929 era Hebron when the influx of immigrants from the Slabodka yeshiva infused new life into the economically downtrodden city. After the 1929 massacre, the loss of the Jewish community sent the city back into the status of a forgotten back-water town. 

Today, places where Jews and Arabs work and shop together in Judea and Samaria include the Barkan industrial zone and the Tzomet HaGush shopping plaza in Gush Etzion. However terrorist attacks perpetrated by Arab terrorists against Jews have taken place in both locations. 

Many argue that the 1993 Oslo Accord that created the Palestinian Authority empowered terrorists seeking to oust Israel from existence and dis-empowered the common Arab family who simply seek a normal prosperous lifestyle.

Senator Lankford, who also attended the conference visited Hebron in 2017 and has been supportive of such efforts. His official website states, "Peace will develop when the Islamic nations around Israel see that Israel stands strong and does not stand alone. Palestinian leaders have demonstrated an inability to develop stable and peaceful governmental structures in Gaza and the West Bank. The instability has created fertile ground for extremist groups and terrorism."

Yishai Fleisher, international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron attended the conference calling it part of "the key to Arab-Jewish reconciliation and harmony." He stated, "on hand were innovators from around the world hoping to create joint projects in the fields of tourism, energy, and production. We were cooking up real progress together. Not surprisingly, the Two Staters, Peace Now and the Palestinian Authority, were not in attendance."
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