Mevasseret Zion - Israeli and Palestinian leaders might still be refusing to meet each other to even discuss the prospect of peace, but at one West Bank supermarket Arab residents of Ramallah and those living in the Jewish settlements surrounding it come face to face every day.
This supermarket is one of many businesses in the region that bring Israelis and Palestinians together on a regular basis, and highlights ordinary people’s shared desire for a more peaceful life.
“They come here to shop because it’s cheaper and more convenient,” declares the supermarket’s security guard, a jolly middle-aged man who is quick to comment on the peaceful atmosphere that prevails here but is nervous to divulge his own name.
The guard was recently forced into action when more than 100 activists from the pro-Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee stormed the store to protest the presence of a prominent Israeli-owned business in the West Bank, and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory in general. However, he adds that it was a very unusual event and that the shoppers here get along just fine.
“Everyone gets treated the same by me at least,” he says with an infectious smile.
Indeed, on this weekday morning, the guard greets shoppers in a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic. And despite last month’s protest, the scene today is calm.
#Shoppers of all backgrounds browse the food aisles side-by-side, check out at registers staffed by a mix of Israeli and Palestinian cashiers, and then drive back to their own sides of the conflict. Until they reach their respective neighbourhoods the differences between them are minimal, with everyone here striving for the same goal: grocery shopping.
Despite the recent protest and mounting pressure on Palestinians to boycott Israeli products or Israeli-owned businesses, workers here say the store is often filled with shoppers from Ramallah and beyond.
“Many Palestinians like to come here so that they can say they have been to Israel,” quips Abdullah Twam, 22, one of the Palestinian workers, referring to the Hebrew-language signs and the numerous Israeli shoppers, sights one would not see in supermarkets in Palestinian-controlled areas.
The West Bank is divided into three sections, with some areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and some by the Israeli army. The supermarket itself is located in Area C, which remains under Israeli civil and security control but is also accessible to Palestinians.
Twam, who is from the nearby village of Jaba, says that he has not felt any pressure to stop working here because of its location or its Jewish ownership. Rather, he says, the chain treats him and other Palestinian employees well.
With the Muslim call to prayer echoing in the background, women wearing the traditional Muslim head covering and Jewish women clad in colourful headscarves push their trolleys past the guard and disappear through the supermarket’s entrance.
Freda Sviri, a Jewish shopper from the nearby settlement of Beit El, explains that it is more convenient to come here than traveling all the way into Jerusalem, which is about 10 kilometres away, and that it is cheaper.
“When there is a big sale, the place is packed with Arabs and Jews shopping together,” she observes.
While there is little interaction between the Israeli and Palestinian shoppers who come, Sviri notes that the Palestinian staff is “very helpful” and “we treat each other with respect.”
“The problem is not with ordinary people,” she observes, “but with our leaders.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have consistently refused to meet each other to discuss peace. It’s a deadlock, with the Palestinians calling for certain pre-conditions and Israelis saying any negotiations have to start from scratch.
#With all talk of peace at a standstill since Netanyahu came to power nearly four years ago, the coexistence found at this shop is unusual. However, owner Rami Levy, who has three other branches of the chain that bears his name across the West Bank, has reportedly made peaceful overtures towards the Palestinians. Levy meets regularly with well-known Palestinian businessmen to discuss the potential for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation outside of the political arena.
With such businessmen committed to finding a way for Israelis and Palestinians to coexist, perhaps it is time to start utilising the forums that highlight common ground between them to break down ever-growing barriers in the region and make peace.
(The author is the former Deputy Managing Director of The Jerusalem Post, and now contributes to a variety of international publications. This article was published in Common Ground News on Nov. 13,2012)