Israel Builds Industrial Zones to Deepen Control of West Bank
Under the international radar, Israel is turning West Bank land into commercial centers – some of which stand vacant. These zones broaden Israeli presence in the territories, including in areas unauthorized for housing construction and outside the settlement blocks.
The Shiloh industrial zone, adjacent to the settlement of that name in the middle of the West Bank, is spread over 500 dunams (125 acres). But a visit to the site shows that it isn’t exactly a humming industrial enclave with masses of workers coming and going from its factories and businesses.
The few small factories at the zone take up only 28 dunams (seven acres, or 5.6 percent of the area) and a total of 36 workers. Most of the land is empty. Several dozen prefab homes were placed there recently for the evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost, but they refused to move there and the structures stand vacant.
This industrial zone is one of 14 that Israel has set up beyond the Green Line. While some are successful and flourishing, with high occupancy rates, others are mostly empty, producing nothing, certainly not jobs.
But these industrial zones, of which more are planned, and their area, which could reach several thousand dunams, will enable Israel to boost its presence in the territories, including in areas where no home construction has been approved. When it was proposed to house the Amona evacuees on such lands, Civil Administration sources said that only a short procedure was necessary to permit the building of homes on open land originally zoned for industry.
“We’re talking about areas in which Israel, with its ravenous hunger for land, is prepared to invest millions to develop,” says Dror Etkes of the left-wing organization Kerem Navot, who researches Israeli land policy in the West Bank. “We can see this clearly in the Gush Etzion industrial zone, where there are lands where nothing has been built, but the state is rushing to build extensions there that are standing empty and will stay empty for years.”
Indeed, of the 200 dunams that have been allocated to the Etzion industrial zone, only 60 are in use. This didn’t stop the planning bodies from expanding it by another 17 dunams last year. “The amount of industry that you’ll find in these areas is in inverse proportion to the piggishness of them,” adds Etkes.
While the left criticizes, the settlements welcome and justify these land allocations. The Gush Etzion Regional Council stressed that there is a demand for space in the area and they are negotiating with a number of interested parties.
But there’s more to the story than any specific industrial zone. While the establishment of industrial zones in the West Bank are reported separately and are not part of any official plan to move commerce and industry eastward, the facts and plans seem to indicate a trend. According to the Economy Ministry, there are 91 industrial zones that it helps fund, so the 14 in the West Bank constitute more than 15 percent of the total.
Slowly the West Bank is becoming a more significant region in terms of its production capacity. The Mishor Adumim industrial zone, which covers more than 1,600 dunams and is only a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem, employs more than 1,300 people, and there will be more, since there are still 500 vacant dunams there. The Barkan industrial zone, near Ariel, is pretty full, with only 14 of its 728 dunams vacant, while the 203 dunams of the Shahak-Shaked industrial zone in northern Samaria are all occupied.
Still more space
A few dozen meters from Route 443, east of the separation barrier and near Modi’in, the 15th West Bank industrial zone is due to be built. The Civil Administration refers to it as the Kharbata industrial zone due to its proximity to the Palestinian village of that name and it will occupy 310 dunams.
Kharbata is to be joined by three other West Bank industrial zones that have been advanced in recent months. One will be located in western Samaria after a bitter dispute between the Samaria Regional Council and the towns of Elkana and Oranit was finally resolved. Only the intervention of Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan brought about a compromise that allowed the project to go forward.
Meanwhile, the Mount Hebron Regional Council has been promised by the Civil Administration that two industrial zones will be built there, one in Tenne-Omarim and the other at Tarqumiya. Regional council officials say that the Tarqumiya plan is not related to a government promise to advance an industrial area for Palestinians in that area.
Two industrial zones already exist in the Mount Hebron area, neither particularly successful. One is in Kiryat Arba, slightly east of Tarqumiya, which is spread over 200 dunams, 75 percent of which are empty. And not far from the planned zone at Tenne-Omarim is the Shima-Meitarim industrial zone, where 60 percent of the 220 dunams are unused. Regional council officials say, however, that several companies have committed themselves to building in the Shima-Meitarim industrial zone and that the area is actually “full to the brim.”
Ben-Dahan cites the importance of industrial zones as employment centers. “The goal is to create jobs, to attract more residents,” he said. “That’s the real goal. The real goal is for Judea and Samaria to develop, so that people won’t have to travel to the center of the country [to work]. It’s also important to the Palestinian residents, since in the end they, too, will benefit from industrial areas near their homes.”
Indeed, the settlers like to present these industrial zones as a tool for promoting “economic peace” by providing jobs to both Jews and Palestinians.
“I see in this something very important and significant, because my worldview is that peace will spring up from below, between people and neighbors,” says Yochai Damari, chairman of the Mount Hebron Regional Council. “The moment that the economic system can create partnerships there will be a real ability to create a way of life based on [common] interests and trust.”
He admits that industrial zones have significant economic benefits for those local councils that benefit from the real estate taxes paid by the tenants, which in some cases help keep the beneficiary towns afloat. But to Damari, the biggest benefit is the diplomatic one. “I see these things from a diplomatic perspective, more with the eyes of someone who has lived here almost 40 years and has four generations in the Mount Hebron area,” he said. “In the end, neither we nor they [the Palestinians] are moving from here.”