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By Rhonda Spivak [Special Report from Tel-Aviv]

The conference was held at the City Hotel in Tel-Aviv by MASHAV and the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IPCC), which was established in the fall of 2008.

 About 70 Palestinian women, mostly Christians from the Bethlehem area and El Azariya, all received special permits from Israel to attend the conference designed to promote economic peace between Israelis and Palestinians.




"We all feel badly when we hear about difficulties at the checkpoints, but we are sending a message to the international community that we are looking at ways to improve our economies," said Divon, who was the Israeli ambassador to Canada from 2000-2004.

Haim Divon, head of Israel's National Agency fro International development Corp'n. photo by Rhonda Spivak

Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon. photo by Rhonda

[photo of Divon is on far left]


Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Danny Ayalon of the Israel Beiteinu party told the conference that most checkpoints in the territories had been removed by the Netanyahu government.

[photo of Danny Ayalon is on immediate left]

Ayalon called on the Arab Gulf states to "put 10 billion [petro] dollars into the West Bank to create jobs and a new economy," which "will be a basis for a good statehood."

 The Palestinian women at the conference were welcomed by Ofer Gendelman, who was the Israeli consul in Ottawa from 2003-2007 and is currently chief executive officer of the IPCC. In an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Gendelman noted that Israel benefits from good trade relations with the Palestinian Authority.

"Trade between Israel and the Palestinians amounted to 15 billion shekels [more than $3.5 billion US] in 2008. Of that 15 billion, 80 percent is Israeli exports to the Palestinians, while only 20 percent is Palestinian exports to Israel. Also, of that 15 billion, 13 billion consists of trade between the West Bank and Israel and two billion is trade between Israel and Gaza," he said.

"I expect that the amount of trade between Israel and the Palestinians will grow significantly this year, given the removal of many checkpoints, the improved security situation and the developing Palestinian economy, among other factors," Gendelman added.

When asked why there is no Palestinian co-chief executive officer with him at the IPCC, Gendelman responded, "We would love to have a Palestinian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce but it is up to the Palestinian Authority to do this. We represent Israeli businesses first and foremost, but we also help Palestinian businesses that want our help. We have had a few dozen Palestinian businesses who have asked for our help, mostly in regard to security and customs issues."

For example, Gendelman, who speaks Arabic fluently, said that the IPCC has been asked by the Coca-Cola company for assistance."Coca-Cola in the Palestinian territories wants to import assets to clean its bottles, but the problem is that the assets could also be used to make bombs. Israel prevents dual-use materials from entering the West Bank and Gaza, so they can't import it. We are trying to find another product for them that isn't dual use, so that way it is a win-win situation. We haven't yet found the solution," he said. 

Fatima Faroun, chairperson of the Sharouq Society for Women, based in Bethany, expressed frustration about the lack of support women entrepreneurs are given by the PA.

"In Palestine, there's nothing to support us," she said. "There is no government money in Palestine given to women who want to start businesses. There is no justice. International organizations need to hear this."

Most of the Palestinian women at the event nodded their heads at this comment."I visited Oman to see what they do there. The Oman government supports women who want to open small businesses. If a women gets training and consultation with the government there, she can get a $20,000 loan and, if she succeeds, she can get up to a $100,000 loan. More money from the PA and NGOs needs to go to women," Faroun said.

Other Palestinian women from Bethlehem expressed frustration about Israel's security fence."Because Bethlehem is cut off by the separation wall, the economy has been terrible. Many men have had no work and the woman of the family has had to find a way of providing for her family. Some of the women here have had to start making embroidery and crafts to feed their families," said Antionette Goerge Knezivich of Beit Jalla.

About half the women at the conference were sponsored by MASHAV to spend a week in Israel and undergo entrepreneurial training in Haifa.

One young Christian Palestinian woman told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that she favoured a two-state solution and believed that Palestinian refugees ought to be able to return to Palestine, not Israel. It was her first time in Tel-Aviv. “Tel-Aviv is beautiful,” she said. 

Verersions of this article has previously been published in the  Canadian Jewish News and the Vancouver Jewish Independent.

Business women at the by Rhonda spivak

Anne George Knezevich of  Beit Jalla, who helped arrange for Palestinian women to get special permits to attend th econference. Photo by Rhonda Spivak


Former Israeli ambassador to Canada Haim Divon, who currently heads MASHAV [Israel's National Agency for International Development Cooperation], told a large group of Palestinian women from the West Bank at a women's business conference recently  that he hopes trade between Israel and the Palestinians will continue to increase.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.