At Site of Terror Attack, Jews and Palestinians Determined to Keep Working Together

Security checks were far more strict and Palestinian cars weren't allowed to enter the industrial zone. 'It'll make our co-existence more difficult here, but I’m sure they'll find the middle road in the end,' one factory owner says

Workers undergo a security check at the Barkan industrial zone, West Bank, October 8, 2018.
\ Moti Milrod

The iron gate of the Alon Group plant in the Barkan industrial zone was closed on Monday, 24 hours after the terror attack in which Ziv Hajbi and Kim Yehezkel Levengrond were murdered. A few photographers and an employee of the Samaria Regional Council hanging death notices were the only people to be seen. There weren’t many security vehicles nor was there the noise of heavy equipment. The large factory that on most days produces large recycling receptacles wasn’t open; the Palestinian workers did not come to work and the Jewish ones were en route to Hajbi’s funeral at Moshav Nir Yisrael.

“Fire tomorrow’s terrorist today,” read stickers from the extremist anti-Arab Lehava organization, which were pasted on the police tape still seen on the gate, testimony to what had happened there the previous day. That was the only expression of hate in the industrial zone, which was opened in 1982. Tension, however, could be felt in every plant in the compound, particularly because the terrorist was still at large.

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“Routine is stronger than anything,” said Rafi, who has a furniture factory in Barkan. He had arrived at his factory early Sunday morning, just when the attack occurred. “We didn’t hear anything. We were busy working. But I think it could happen anywhere. It’s as dangerous here as driving on the road.”

David, who for 12 years has owned a clothing factory at the site, said that in the long term this incident would not affect the daily routine and work at Barkan. “It was an isolated event within a plant. It hurts and it will make our co-existence more difficult here, but I’m sure they will find the middle road in the end.” Asked if he felt fear or anxiety during the 12 years he’s been there, he said one was always aware, but no more than that.

At the back entrance of the industrial zone, near the offices of the regional council, a worker passed through the metal detector and it beeped. A security guard approached the surprised worker and asked him to empty the contents of his pockets and knapsack. The Palestinian workers underwent far more stringent security checks than usual when they arrived for work Monday, and anyone who made the metal detector beep was searched.

“I always go through, say hello to the guard and the magnetometer beeps. I’ve known the security guards for many years, so they check my permit, and allow me to enter. They have nothing to check me for,” says Mohammed, who works at a sewing workshop in the area.

Mohammed has worked for 15 years at Barkan and before that worked in the settlement of Elkana. He said that in recent years the guards had stopped paying attention to the beeping metal detectors because checking every worker would make everyone late for work.

“I’d heard on the phone from friends that the entrance to Barkan was chaotic, so I waited a few hours at home before setting out. When I got to the gate they told me to make a U-turn and leave my car outside Barkan,” Mohammed said. “What happened yesterday is difficult and did damage. Many workers who don’t have permits didn’t come today. I fear that soon the situation will be difficult, that the army will come and it will be a mess.”

A worker at Barkan industrial zone.
\ Moti Milrod

A factory owner entered with his truck during a shift change with one of his workers sitting next to him. He was forced by a security guard to take the worker back to the entrance and let him off to be checked.

“There is tension in the air,” said one of the security people, who has worked for several years in Barkan. “I don’t remember such an atmosphere. People are afraid the terrorist will return here because he knows the area. But I’m sure things will get better and everything will go back to the way it was.”

Palestinian cars were not allowed to enter the industrial zone; drivers had to park outside the compound and either walk or wait for an employer to pick them up from the guardhouse. “The owner has never come as early as today,’ said one of the workers, smiling. “He knew there would be problems at the entrance so he came to make sure that everyone would get to work on time.”

“A worker who is searched physically is indignant, but if he raises suspicion, they are right,” said Daoud, who has worked in Barkan since 1992. In the carpentry shop where he works with four other workers, they listened to a song by Syrian singer Asala Nasri on the radio while planing a tree.

Daoud seemed to speak for all of them. “The attack angered us even more than the Israelis, it hurts our livelihood. Since yesterday it’s hard to work, I’m not focused, I’m shaken up. Anyone who comes here wants to make a living, feed their family. Someone who does something like this doesn’t want to earn a living, he wants to kill. But what does killing two people get you? That’s what’s going to change things?”

“What happened there eats me up,” said Ahmed, who works in a plant on the street where the attack took place. “You can’t understand it. He tied up a girl and shot her? He went crazy.”

Ahmed has been working at this factory for eight years, with 12 years experience altogether in Barkan. He started to work in Israel when he was 13 and until 2000 was still working in the sewing factories on Kishon Street in Tel Aviv.

“We heard shots, but because of all the noise we didn’t realize that they were shots, and then the ambulance arrived. The truth is we thought a worker had fallen. We went outside and saw people in shock; we asked one of the Jewish managers what had happened, and he said a terrorist had killed two people. I once met one of the owners of Alon, who asked me if this was a quiet street and if I could help him find workers. I referred one friend and he slowly brought the others.”

“I cried yesterday, even though nothing happened to me,” said Devora, who owns a large factory in another part of Barkan. She moved the factory from the center of the country to Barkan a year ago partly because of the tax breaks but primarily because Jews aren’t interested in working on her production lines, she said.

“Until yesterday I didn’t have a moment of fear, but yesterday I sat and couldn’t move. We closed the gates and the doors to the factory for the first time. Yesterday when we heard there was an attack, I went out to the street, though I didn’t know what I was looking for there, and immediately they yelled to run back inside.

“This guy has disrupted everything,” Devora continued. “I hope they catch him because there is a great fear that he will come here again, maybe at night. If this turns out to be more than a one-time thing, it’s going to be very rough.”