The Washington Post
An economy crippled
It takes only minutes for Jamil Hazalin to walk to his job just over the ridge. The delay each day comes at the gate to the Sha’ar Binyamin industrial park, an Israeli settlement located about a half-hour drive south of Evyatar along Route 60. Israelis pass freely; he is told to wait, and his ID is checked by the same guards who checked it yesterday and will check it tomorrow.
“They know me, but still they put me through this, while the Jews just pass through,” says Hazalin, 40, wiry and bronzed from a lifetime of outdoor work.
The daily humiliation is a price he pays for plugging into a West Bank economy that has grown critically dependent on Israeli jobs and goods in recent years. Israeli restrictions on Palestinian development and economic activity in the West Bank, coupled with Israeli control of key resources like water, have stunted the growth of a local Palestinian economy that could underpin a viable state.
Hazalin is one of 40,000 West Bank Palestinians who turn to Israeli settlements for a paycheck. Another 140,000 cross the Green Line into Israel every day for work. That’s about one-fifth of all Palestinian workers in the West Bank.
In the morning traffic crawling along Route 60, cars with Palestinian license plates carry workers like Hazalin to settler factories and construction sites. Other vehicles ferry farmers who until recently planted their own crops to jobs in settler fields and greenhouses, which in turn depend on land and water diverted from Palestinian use. Agriculture and fishing have dwindled from 12 percent to 3 percent of Palestinian gross domestic product since the first Oslo accord was signed in 1993, according to the United Nations. Manufacturing has been nearly halved, from 20 percent to 11 percent.
Many of the passing panel vans bring fruit, milk and yogurt from Israel to shops in Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages. Palestinian shoppers spend their Israeli wages on Israeli goods their own market is not producing.
Hazalin has worked for 13 years as a security guard and then maintenance man at Psagot Winery, an elegant stone complex at the far end of the industrial park. Before that, he was a guard at another settlement and previously a construction laborer inside Israel. Palestinian employers could never afford to pay him, he says.
On this particular morning, he’s helping set up for a Jewish wedding later in the day. His Hebrew is good enough to understand instructions from the bride and the mother: Place the chairs just beside the Jewish wedding canopy, so the guests have a view of the minarets of Mukhamas, the Palestinian village across the valley.
Psagot bills itself as being “in the heart of Israel.” In 2019, owner Yaakov Berg sued the European Union for the right to stamp “Product of Israel” on his exported wine, made from grapes grown at another, nearby settlement. He lost — E.U. rules still distinguish between products from Israel and the occupied territories — but Psagot emerged as a favorite of right-wing Zionists. On the day a helicopter brought Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for lunch in 2020, Hazalin was told to stay away for “security reasons.”
With the arrival of evening, shadows stretch deep in the valleys and Hazalin mounts the winery’s blue tractor and trundles onto the highway, towing a trailer full of freshly stripped grape stems and leaves he gets as a perk. After one harrowing stretch through Route 60 traffic, he ascends a dirt ridge and pulls up beside a collection of metal shacks and corrals, the impoverished Bedouin encampment that has been his family home since the 1950s.
Before he even fully stops, young boys swarm the tractor, climb into the trailer and pitch the stems and leaves down to dozens of milling goats.
Looking back across the ridge to his Israeli workplace, Hazalin can no longer imagine two separate states being split from the single economy of occupation. “We are too mixed together now,” he says. “There is not a border you could fit between us.”