New North Jerusalem Mall Hopes To Become an Island Of Israeli-Palestinian Coexistence

Business • By Mara Vigevani/TPS • 22 October, 2018

In a run-down corner of northeast Jerusalem, just over the 1949 armistice line that separated Israel and Jordan, supermarket magnate Rami Levy is planning to open what he calls the first Israeli-Palestinian mall at the Atarot Industrial Zone. It will, he says, be a meeting point for Israelis and Palestinians that he hopes will become an island of coexistence.

The idea, Levy told TPS, is to turn the neglected industrial zone into in a gleaming shopping center that provides services to the residents of the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in north Jerusalem such as Neveh Yaakov, Pisgat Ze’ev, Beit Hanina and Shuafat.

Levy, who runs several outlets in Judea and Samaria, serving both Jews and Arabs, is known for his sharp commercial sense and has so far invested NIS 200 million in the venture.

A self-made businessman, born in a family originally from Urfa, a multiethnic city in southeast Turkey with a Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian and Arab population,  Levy says both Arab and Jews want to “to live in peace and earn a decent living”.

“I have believed in peace between Jews and Palestinian from the day I was born,” says the 63-year-old Jerusalemite.  “I know there will be peace.”

Levy says the new mall will create some 1,500 jobs, including at Levy a massive 4,800 square meter supermarket from his Rami Levy Shivuk Hashikma chain.

Those jobs will go to both Jews and Arabs.  “ I do not choose my employees according to religion or race but only to their willingness and ability to work,” Levy says.

The 25,000 square meter mall built on over 4 acres, will serve some 230.000 residents – around 90,000 Jews and 120,000 Arabs –  of the area and tens of thousands of Palestinians who enter Jerusalem daily for work, and “ do not have a nearby shopping mall to spend and buy.”

Israeli chains such as Superpharm, Fox, Golf & Co, Crazy Line, Caffe Greg have taken space at the mall alongside Palestinian retailers who will be venturing into the Jewish consumer market for the first time. Among them Silverado jewelry and TAG Men’s Wear from Ramallah,   well-known Palestinian bakery Sinokrot, Zalatimo candy store, with more than ten branches in Jordan and Kuwait, Giovanni Paolo a men’s fashion store situated in Salah ad-Din Street in east Jerusalem.

Asked about security precautions in the new mall Levy answered: We need to stop worrying about security and start thinking about daily life.”

Osnat Zagrun CEO at Moria-yly Properties & Investment Ltd, and responsible for the marketing of the project, said she had already sold all the space at the mall.

“There is already a  surplus of demand for 5,000 square meters of shops before we have even opened,” she said.

Zagrun said she expects most of the customers to be Arabs at first, but she believes that the neighborhoods Jewish residents, who have more shopping options available, will also discover the new mall.

Many Arabs shop in Malha [in southwest Jerusalem], some 20 minutes away,  or even in Ramallah, a 10-minute drive, that can often be longer due to security checks.  “Now they will have a much better alternative,” she says.

Zagrun also said that while she has a lot of experience in marketing shopping malls, it was for her the first time she had to deal with the Arab sector.

“Perhaps there will never be peace in the region, but through this project, I learned that when it comes to business, peace already exists” she said.  

Levy is confident his mall will beat the competition from nearby Ramallah. “ The secret to my success is that Ialways think of the good of my clients.  Arabs and Jews will find a comfortable mall, close to home and providing all their basic needs,” he said.