BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK — A new factory has opened in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. It is the first paper product plant in the history of the ancient city and the first company to open in a new industrial zone set up by the Palestinian Authority.
It's morning at the Spring Tissues factory on the outskirts of Bethlehem and workers are making rolls of toilet paper. The company started operations two months ago and already produces three tons of toilet tissue rolls a day.
Issa Karra’a, founder and marketing director of the company, says there was no such factory before in this city of 60,000 people. Nevertheless competition for customers is stiff.
“We have maybe 10 competitors and every competitor has many brands. So it’s difficult to enter the market because we don’t have that experience. We are new. And it’s a big challenge," said Karra’a.
This is the first factory in Bethlehem’s new industrial zone, launched several years ago by the Palestinian Authority (with support from France). More than 30 projects are being planned in this and two other zones in Jericho and Jenin, says the Zone Authority’s Marketing Director, Nidal Jabari.
“We as the Palestinian government want to create jobs, want to support the entire economy of Palestine by using many tools. One of these tools is the industrial zone," said Jabari.
Businessman Jiryes Karra’a, Issa’s father, is helping with the start-up. He is worried because economic growth in the Palestinian territories is stagnating.
“If it’s a bad situation, of course we are afraid because if we’re not going to full capacity we have to become a little bit down ]downsize]," he said.
Businessmen say restrictions by the Israeli government on Palestinian imports and exports and access to water and electricity present additional challenges.
Normally, Spring Tissue employs 15 people and produces several other products, like tissues and paper towels. But today these lines are idle because raw paper stock, which must be imported, is tied up at an Israeli port.
Jabari says both Palestinians and Israelis have an interest in promoting Palestinian enterprise.
“What we need is to create the peace. We cannot create the peace when these people are very poor. There is no job for them. There is no money for them, no future for them. [So] They are thinking about killing, about bombing," he said.
Prosperity is the best weapon against terrorism, he says, but in any case, Palestinian entrepreneurs will survive because they have learned to improvise, and persevere.