MESS Report / In the West Bank, new cars signal the good life
The multitude of car dealerships springing up in cities like Nablus and Jenin reflect the economic growth that is taking place in the West Bank.
New car lots and showrooms, offering vehicles of every kind but mainly Korean, have sprung up at the entrances to Nablus, from the Hawara checkpoint in the south and from the west. Similar showrooms have appeared at Jenin's southern and northern entrances.
The dealerships, showing brand-new cars, reflect the economic growth in the West Bank. While in the '90s, West Bank cities served as a hideout for cars stolen from Israel, today their streets are lined with just-bought models.
A Palestinian journalist in Nablus calls it "the car intifada."
Palestinian and Arab banks in the West Bank are offering loans making it easier than ever to own a new car. Anyone who has a job can pay 10 percent down and borrow 90 percent of a new car's cost from the bank, payable with interest over five to six years.
Until the loan is paid in full, the car is considered bank property.
Kia and Hyundai are especially popular in view of their low price. The biggest demand is for their four-wheel-drive models, but prestigious European cars are also selling well. The Al-Bustami company, for example, deals exclusively in German cars such as BMW, Mercedes and Golf. Japanese cars, too, are in demand. A'alab Al-Hafi, the owner of the car dealership Hafiko, sells mostly Mitsubishi. He says the great improvement in West Bank security means people to want to buy new cars. "Before 2000, I sold about 20 cars a month. Afterward, until 2007, almost no cars were sold. Since then, there has been a significant improvement, both economic and in security."
Al-Hafi says things are definitely better than they used to be. "The dealerships have been renovated and are offering new merchandise. We sell cars from all over the world. They must be up to Israeli standards, of course, and come via Jordan or the Ashdod port."
But cars are only part of the economic development story. A shopping mall has opened on the ground floor of a new Nablus office building. The city center is thriving, the open-air markets, clothing stores and cafes are bustling. In Jenin, not far from the former settlements of Ganim and Kadim, the Dahyat al-Jinan neighborhood is being built. It will have brand-new power and water infrastructure, parks and services, all carefully planned. A new neighborhood, Rehan, is being built in Ramallah. Al-Hafi says his family has bought three apartments in the new neighborhood, which will have private homes as well.
Nablus' oldest mosque, in the city's casbah, is being renovated, and the market square is clean and tidy.
A former Al-Aqsa Brigades activist, once on Israel's wanted list, has married and gone into the family business. His friends have also "retired" from militant activities and become business people. These days he works with youths, helping them to resist "tempting" offers to join militant groups.
The disappearance of fugitives from city streets is perhaps the key to the dramatic change in the Palestinian cities. Most people credit the change to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who against all odds brought about an economic revolution to the West Bank.
Fayyad, whom Palestinians can't stop praising, is becoming increasingly popular for his performance and his successes.