Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Regionalization in the Galilee

I have lived for almost 30 years in Karmiel in the Galilee. A recent shopping trip brought into focus a major change in the area: it is become an economic region, not the sum of a series of small towns and villages.

To demonstrate, my wife was looking for a dress for her daughter’s wedding. Searching on the Internet, she found some interesting dresses on a site for a store in a nearby Arab village. We went there and found a store that in terms of size has nothing to be ashamed of even if it were in Tel Aviv or Haifa.  At least half of the customers were Jewish.  Likewise, a few years ago, I needed some urgent tests on my heart. I was sent to a fully-equipped clinic staffed by a hospital cardiologist in an Arab village. 

This phenomenon is occurring throughout the Galilee. Beit Jann, once famous for providing recruits to the police and military, now specializes in cultural tourism, marketing its Druze heritage to tourists in Israel and abroad. Arab village businesses, whether restaurants or building supply stores, depend on Jewish customers.  Likewise, clothes stores in Karmiel, a “Jewish” town, cater to the local Arab taste in terms of color and style. A high percentage of the sales people are also local Arabs.  There is even a glatt (high level) kosher restaurant attached to a major Arab shopping center. This type of marketing attests to the wide customer base of all Galilee businesses.

The reasons for this economic linking include greater population, income and mobility.  The population of the Galilee has grown rapidly due to immigration and a high birth rate among Arabs. As education has improved in the area, so has income, allowing people to purchase more and fueling the regional economy.  Cars and drivers licenses are simply much more common. Owning is a car is now much more affordable than it was in the past. Moreover, Arab women are now getting drivers licenses, allowing them to expand their shopping base from outside their home villages.

The process in the Galilee is not “apartheid” as those ignorant critics accuse Israel, but unprecedented integration, which has created economic interdependence. I don’t expect this trend to stop in the foreseeable future.

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