A Palestinian Woman’s Perspective on Working for an Israeli Company

I was born in east Jerusalem before the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel took control of the eastern part of Jerusalem. When I was very young, we moved to the town of al-Azariya, which is near Jerusalem. Because we had Israeli identification cards, like the residents of east Jerusalem, the Israeli government told my father that if he gave up his Israeli ID and replaced it with a Palestinian one, he would no longer be required to pay Israeli taxes.

Customers at a Rami Levy location

Customers at a Rami Levy location. (Rami Levy/Facebook)

Therefore, he decided to give up his Israeli ID and received a Palestinian one. Now I am married to an Israeli Arab from Be’er Sheva. We applied for a family-reunification permit at the Israeli Interior Ministry, and my Israeli identification was restored. Arabs of 1948 (Israeli Arabs) receive Israeli citizenship, while Arabs in east Jerusalem are only residents.

I attended a good school in east Jerusalem, and I then completed a BA in business management. In the years before the 1995 Oslo Accords, I worked for 10 years in the Israeli Civil Administration’s branch of the Interior Ministry in Ramallah. Our team was a mixed one of Israelis and Palestinians, and we worked well together. We provided the Palestinians public services and handled legal requests and certificates. I would prepare passports, ID cards, birth certificates, and marriage certificates. The Palestinian public and the Israeli government depended on us. We felt that we were all equal. If one of us was sick or on vacation, we would fill our coworker’s shifts; it didn’t matter if they were Israeli or Palestinian. Despite the Israeli salaries being higher than the Palestinian salaries, our salaries were good compared to those in the private sector in Ramallah. I love to work with people of all different backgrounds, and we were a diverse group of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze. We were like a family there. I had fun working in the Civil Administration, and found my work rewarding and exciting.

In 1995, the year that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established, I was transferred from Ramallah to work in the Israeli Civil Administration in Beit El. Shortly thereafter, they transferred the population registry to the Palestinians, and I was also transferred to work at the PA Interior Ministry in Ramallah. Although I was doing similar work to my previous job at the Israeli Civil Administration in Ramallah, the conditions of the new job were far worse. I never received a single penny of salary for the two years I worked there.

Two decades have passed, I have still not received my severance pay from the Palestinian Authority. I have recently hired a lawyer to fight for my severance and salary for the years that I worked there. He fights for my salary and severance all the time, but it is very difficult to obtain it.

Shoppers at the Rami Levy branch in Gush Etzion

Shoppers at the Rami Levy branch in Gush Etzion, October 2017. (David Abitbol)

My husband and I own a house in al-Azariya, very close to the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim. For centuries, Muslims and Christians have lived together in al-Azariya. In recent years, however, the majority of al-Azariya’s Christians have moved to Jerusalem. A Saudi caliph built a mosque next to my house. In al-Azariya there were few religious Muslims.

However, recently Caliph Ben Zair, the caliph of Ibn Dabi in Saudi Arabia, sent the Muslim community money. He told the community that the caliph would donate everything al- Azariya needed, like a community center, kindergartens, a hospital, and schools. However, so far only a magnificent mosque has been built that cost millions of shekels, and many believe that half of the money went to the PA. We are still waiting for the rest of the municipal buildings promised by the emir.

I started to work at Rami Levy in December 2005. I remember how I found this job. My husband and I went to shop at Rami Levy. He knew the manager of the store, Yaakov, and I asked him if they were looking for workers. So he told me to come the next day and begin working. Yaakov is a wonderful man and one of the people I respect the most.

The Khalifa bin Zayed Mosque in al-Azariya

The Khalifa bin Zayed Mosque in al-Azariya, built in 2014 with money donated by Saudi Caliph Ben Zair, as a result of Saudi Wahhabi dawa (proselytization) activity.
(UAE Interact)

When I was first hired, Yaakov prepared all of my necessary employment documents for me and told me, “Don’t worry, we will help you out.” He sent an associate to my house, and we then went to the Israeli police to get a certificate of integrity and a work permit. We went to the police on Thursday, and by Sunday I was already working.

Yaakov has always stressed Israeli-Arab coexistence. He treats all his staff, including myself, with dignity and without any discrimination. Even when there are problems or mistakes, he does not judge a person based on their ethnicity; he is fair to everyone. When I began working at Rami Levy, I was a cashier, because I know Hebrew and I am a diligent worker.

Initially, I was the only Arab employee at my Rami Levy branch. Then another Arab worker was hired. Today there are more than 140 Arab workers at this Rami Levy branch. I have found that the Jewish workers are more spoiled; they don’t love to work hard and are not satisfied with the salary. However, Arab workers are happy to receive what they are given.

We have families, we have children, just like our Jewish coworkers, but we are ready to settle for less. I worked so hard at my new job that I was promoted to division manager. However, I love the people and therefore requested to return to the cash register, where there is more interaction with customers.

At the end of 1997, an Israeli law was passed that determined that Palestinians working in Israeli factories or in the Civil Administration would receive labor protections according to Israeli law. Under this law, Israeli and Palestinian Rami Levy employees are truly equal.

Along with our regular salary, the Israelis also give us health and social benefits. Rami Levy also grants a yearly bonus.

Rami Levy’s Mishor Adumim location

Rami Levy’s Mishor Adumim location. (Alex Danilov/Google)

I also have an education fund distributed once a year through an account set up by Rami Levy. Next year, if I choose, I can use this fund and go to university. In the PA, there are no such provisions. Most Palestinian Authority employees do not receive a salary slip, and there is nothing like social rights, a pension, or an education fund. I receive at least 4,000 shekels a month. In the PA, perhaps a famous doctor will receive 3,000 shekels a month, without insurance or rights.

I have worked at Rami Levy for 11 years. I truly love my work. For Muslims, working is a form of prayer. I go to work because it flows through my blood, like religion. It is a rare blessing for a Muslim woman to leave the house, see the world, speak with people, and to go out to work. It is unusual for a woman not to be with her husband and children all the time.

My husband works in Be’er Sheva, and thankfully I’m not alone at home every day waiting for him.

Therefore, I am a workaholic. There are always things for me to do at work. Customers always come to me, speak with me, and laugh with me. I love to talk to people about Rami Levy’s products and the food we sell, and about their shopping experience, even if it was not enjoyable. I like to help solve problems, and I explain to them that it brings me joy to help solve problems and see satisfied customers. I feel that customers also love me and treat me accordingly. I have always advocated for coexistence. I am most happy interacting with both Israelis and Palestinians. But extremists, particularly Hamas leaders, try to stop these interactions. They threaten Palestinians who interact with Israelis all the time, and even kill people. This really frightens me.

Three of Nadia Aloush’s coworkers

Three of Nadia Aloush’s coworkers on break at Rami Levy’s Mishor Adumim branch. (Ehab Salah Aldeen/Panaramio photo)

Presently the BDS movement poses a new danger to Palestinians who work with Israelis.

The BDS movement uses the same intimidation tactics as Hamas. Many Palestinian workers lost their jobs in 2016 after SodaStream’s branch in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone was closed, in part due to BDS pressures. Many Palestinians who were former SodaStream employees sat at home for a year and could not find comparable work, if any. My cousin Namir, who worked at SodaStream for six years, was one of the lucky ones. He received a good salary from SodaStream and used his savings and compensation to open a supermarket in al-Azariya. He now has more time to spend with his children, who are happy to have their father present every day. Had he instead taken a job in the PA, he would likely be making only 1,000 or 2,000 shekels a month and would have received no compensation. Instead, he reinvested money that he earned working for Israelis in the local economy, and his family thanks him for it.

Both Jews and Muslims shop together at Rami Levy’s Gush Etzion location

Both Jews and Muslims shop together at Rami Levy’s Gush Etzion location, Oct 2017. (David Abitbol)

My cousin Namir, who worked at SodaStream for six years, was one of the lucky ones. He received a good salary from SodaStream and used his savings and compensation to open a supermarket in al-Azariya.

Nonetheless, BDS activists across the world don’t hear stories like Namir’s. BDS activists in Europe and the United States are against coexistence. They are especially against Israelis having businesses in West Bank industrial zones, even if they employ Palestinians. They argue that businesses like Rami Levy are part of a dangerous and illegal occupation and should be boycotted, as should all products from Israeli settlements. BDS activists say that people like Rami Levy and my manager Yaakov are exploiting their Palestinian workers, and that we are abused like slaves. Therefore, they argue that Rami Levy should close its West Bank branches because it will “benefit” Palestinians.

I do not believe that this is better for us. Nobody can answer me directly when I ask where Palestinian workers will go if Israeli factories and businesses in the West Bank are closed. The PA has failed to find jobs to replace those lost at SodaStream. Instead SodaStream itself found jobs for some of its unemployed Palestinian workers in May 2017, when they were issued work permits for the new factory in the Negev. Meanwhile the PA has never stepped in to provide local jobs for SodaStream’s Palestinian employees.

I do not understand how the entire world can donate aid money to the PA when its bureaucrats refuse to create jobs for their own people. Do they not care that their own residents have nothing to eat? Their corruption is destroying any chance for Palestinians to have financial security. I have heard of one restaurateur in Jericho who has to feed PA police officers and bureaucrats every day for free. He is not allowed to ask them to pay for their meals. How is this helping the local economy? My father died a few years ago, and my mother is now a widow. She is old and cannot work.

She doesn’t have Israeli residency or citizenship, and therefore cannot access Israeli health insurance or social security. The PA is supposed to give her 70 shekels each month in social security. But she does not receive even this minuscule sum from them. I have to tell her that we don’t need their money, it is meaningless to us.

There is a general feeling of fear among PA residents. People are afraid to talk about their frustration with our leadership. People are afraid to talk about the political situation, about corruption, and about the fact that the PA is leading a campaign against our sources of income.

BDS activists in Europe and the United States are against coexistence. They are especially against Israelis having businesses in West Bank industrial zones, even if they employ Palestinians.

We see people from Europe and America arguing on TV that Israel exploits the Palestinians in the territories and enslaves them, and that the IDF commits crimes against humanity.

I don’t know where these ideas come from. Those of us who work for Israelis live very well, and reinvest our salaries in the local economy. I am frightened that one day Israel will give the Palestinians a state and unilaterally pull out in only 24 hours. The Palestinians do not know how to govern, and Hamas and Fatah will fight each other, likely hurting the local economy and civilians in the process.

Two Arab employees at Rami Levy’s Gush Etzion location

Two Arab employees at Rami Levy’s Gush Etzion location, October 2017. (David Abitbol)

Many Palestinians come to shop at Rami Levi supermarkets. Rami Levy sells better and cheaper produce. We also offer a better shopping experience, a friendly environment, and helpful, well-trained staff. Anyone who wants to see coexistence in action should come to shop at Rami Levy.

They will see the friendship that blossoms between Rami Levy workers and the positive relationship between us and the customers. I see and hear the conversations between customers who wait in line for the cashier every day.

I know there are many people in the world who support BDS. BDS activists think they are helping Palestinians, but in the end, they are hurting the Palestinian economy and our livelihoods.

Settlers and Palestinians chat together; they feel that they are in a comfortable, friendly environment that allows for these positive interactions. Nobody sees these interactions on TV, but this is our reality. In 2015, when there was a terrorist attack at our store in Mishor Adumim, the Palestinian workers were shocked that this would happen in our store and tried to calm our shoppers.

The PA and Hamas try to prevent Palestinians from using Israeli products. Although Palestinians were afraid to buy settlement products at Rami Levy, they had no choice because our local equivalents are expensive and of poor quality.

I know there are many people in the world who support BDS. BDS activists think they are helping Palestinians, but in the end, they are hurting the Palestinian economy and our livelihoods. If not at a shared place like Rami Levy, when will ordinary Palestinians have the opportunity to meet Jews? How would we build friendships with our Jewish coworkers and not have our ignorance of the “other side” turn to hatred? But maybe, that’s what the BDS movement really wants. I only want to tell them about my life here in the West Bank, so they can understand how positive my experience with Israelis has been. If the Palestinian leadership and the BDS movement cannot help us economically, they should at least leave us alone to earn a livelihood.

Nadia Aloush

Nadia Aloush has worked in a variety of positions, including managerial roles at Rami Levy’s supermarket branch in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone in the West Bank since 2005. After completing a BA in business management, Aloush worked at the Israeli Civil Administration’s Interior Ministry branch in Ramallah from 1985 to 1995, before moving to the Palestinian Authority’s Interior Ministry, where she worked for two years.