Times of Israel reported last week:
At an axis point between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem, and just a two-minute drive from the West Bank crossing that leads to Ramallah, Israeli developer and business guru Rami Levy is building the first Israeli-Palestinian mall. He is hoping the power of the free market can be harnessed into a force for coexistence.How are Palestinian officials responding to a chance at hundreds of jobs and the prospect of co-existence, while at the same time serving tens of thousands of Arabs with services that they have not had easy access to?
The idea for the mall, Levy said, comes from his existing shopping centers and supermarkets in the West Bank, which have become unexpected points of friendly interaction between Jews and Arabs looking for jobs and the cheapest prices.
Half realist, half dreamer, Levy confronts the fact that Arab and Jews are destined to live together and concludes that they must do what they can to make the best of the situation “and serve each other as best as possible.”
If his mall succeeds, Levy said, “it can lead to an understanding that we can do everything together.”
The mall, due to be finished in about a year, sits at the tip of northeastern Jerusalem in the Atarot neighborhood, located in eyeshot of Ramallah and separated from the West Bank security barrier only by a thin road. In total, Levy says, the mall will serve 120,000 Arab and 90,000 Jewish Jerusalemites, plus the tens of thousands of Palestinians streaming daily into the capital from the West Bank for work and pleasure.
Unlike other shopping centers and malls in Israel where Jews and Arabs shop side by side, the Atarot mall will be the first truly joint Israeli-Palestinian venture.
Levy’s company has been working hard to make sure the stores will reflect the local population, including finding Palestinian retailers and private shops to rent storefronts.
Currently, most of the Palestinian stores that have reserved space are food suppliers, including the well-known Palestinian bakery Sinokrot. Another possible store will be the famous Zalatimo candy store.
At one point, Levy had reeled one of the biggest Palestinian wholesalers of electronics, but after the deal was made, the potential client got cold feet.
“There are many who are not afraid. I have rented to many Palestinians. I don’t know exactly happened, but he became scared for political reasons.”
Levy continued: “He needs to understand that most of the customers here will be Palestinians and he would be serving them. He didn’t want to do business with Jews. But we aren’t afraid to do business with Palestinians. I am not afraid. I believe, once I open up here and he sees everything is okay, he will regret it.”
‘He didn’t want to do business with Jews. But we aren’t afraid to do business with Palestinians.’
The 200,000-plus population Levy’s mall will serve has no nearby shopping center and the 60-70 stores will be a great boon in terms of saving money, 1,500 new jobs and access to goods and services.
The head of the Palestinian Consumer Protection Association, Salah Haniyeh, said his group will create a blacklist of any Palestinian shop that agrees to open at that mall, and consumers will be urged to boycott them. He said that the principle of boycotting "settlement" businesses is more important than the "few shekels" of economic benefit such a mall would bring to the region.
There you go.
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