You’ve probably heard of the Lipski company in one of two ways: either you’ve seen their logo in the bathroom or in the hardware store near your house, or you’ve read about them in the news, in the context of the BDS boycott. The reason is simple: Lipski, the industry giant in plastic and sanitization products, is located in Barkan Industrial Zone in Samaria. What fewer people know about Lipski is that the company is a wonderful example of coexistence between Jews and Palestinians. We thought that was an excellent reason to get to know Yehuda Cohen, the CEO, and ask him how he deals with the attempted international boycott of industrial production in Judea and Samaria.
“We Build Connections that Lead to Coexistence and Peace”
From the very beginning of the interview, Yehuda explains that contrary to the way Lipski is portrayed by various boycott organizations, the company is not part of the problem – it’s part of the solution. “There are 60 Palestinians and 40 Israelis employed at the factory, in either managerial or regular positions based on their skills,” Yehuda explains. “The atmosphere is of one big family. We don’t feel fear or tension, and we talk about everything and advise with each other. There is no discrimination here at work. We build connections that lead to coexistence and peace.”
Yehuda, first of all – tell me about the Lipski company.
Lipski manufactures plastic products and specializes in sanitation, bathroom and plumbing products made of plastic. The company is very well known in Israel. 85% of the products we manufacture are sold in hardware stores, ACE chain stores and more. The remaining 15% are exported, primarily to Europe. The company was founded in 1965 by a talented, dear man named Mr. Lipski. In 1998, the company was acquired by Sami Sagol, owner of Keter Plastic. In 2003, when I was an employee at Keter Plastic, I was asked to establish a new company that would employ the most senior employees from Keter, and to build a new organizational structure with them.
How did you end up in Barkan?
In 2000, I established the factory in the industrial zone in Lod. The company continued to grow and develop, and in 2007, when the space became too small for the factory’s needs, I transferred our operations to Barkan. I have been here for ten years.
There are more Palestinians than Israelis at the factory. Why do think they come to work specifically for you?
I think that in the end of the day, it’s worth their while. At our company, everyone enjoys the benefits of an Israeli salary: a pension fund, social benefits, vacation days, recreation days, everything. They come on organized shuttles that we arrange from the villages, and they also hold managerial positions at the company. The feeling is that we are all working together to advance our company.
“When my sons were in Gaza – my Palestinian employees asked about them with concern”
What does working together look like on a daily basis?
The atmosphere here is of one big family. I think that people feel open and friendly toward each other, and I say that with the utmost sincerity. Even when my sons were in Gaza during the wars, my Palestinian employees always asked about them with concern. When the security situation is tense and there are terror attacks on either side, it seems that we don’t agree with each other and retract from one another. We also go on outings together, and we have a retreat once a year.
Are you invited to visit their villages as well?
Definitely. I feel at home in their villages. I drive freely in this region and in Hebron with them. About a month ago, I attended a great beer festival in the village of Taiybe with friends from work. I had a wonderful time. My wife came with me too. I drove with a man from one of the villages. I enjoyed the beer, and he told me that he enjoyed the music and the atmosphere. The evening was a lot of fun.
Do friendships develop between the Jewish and Arab employees at the factory?
For sure. Aside from the fact that anyone who has a wedding or significant occasion always invites the other employees at the factory, beautiful friendships have developed here. If not for our joint employment, these ties would probably have never been able to develop.
Inviting to a party is easy. Do the employees also help each other out in times of need?
Yes. I can tell you that there is much mutual concern for one another. One time, for example, one of the Palestinian employees needed medical assistance, and we made sure to help him out financially and obtain proper care for him at an Israeli hospital.
Honestly, what do the Palestinians that work at Lipski think about Israel?
Look, it’s no secret that they want to have their own state and a sense of independence. On the other hand, they want to live with us in peace and mutual cooperation. They enjoy the salary terms they have with us, and if they have medical problems, the State of Israel accepts them into its hospitals for treatment. They need this and they are thankful for it. For most of them, their goal is to earn a living respectably and bring hope to their families, and that is what I am able to provide for them.
Are their Palestinian employees here who also hold managerial positions?
Of course, there are many. Our warehouse and customer service manager, for example, is Palestinian. That’s probably the second-highest ranking position at the company. He is responsible for supplying our merchandise throughout the country. I also have a plastic injection manager at the factory who is Palestinian, and the manager of the packaging and overseas shipment department, a very important and significant position at the company, is also Palestinian. I assess my employees according to their performance and not based on any other criteria.
“Industry in Tel Aviv and Industry in Judea and Samaria – They’re One and the Same”
To what extent does industry in Judea and Samaria provide employment to Palestinians?
Industrial production in Judea and Samaria is based on Palestinian labor, in the city of Ariel as well. My estimate is that the breakdown of employment is about 20% Israeli and 80% Palestinian.
Do boycotts and the BDS impact the businesses?
No one likes to be labeled. Industry in Tel Aviv and industry in Judea and Samaria are one and the same. They shouldn’t be separated. If you want to boycott, boycott the entire country. I am part of the State of Israel. Locally as well, there are people who choose to boycott products that come from Judea and Samaria, but I think that Israeli consumers should be supporting us. Our prices are good, and the quality of our products is much better than that of our Chinese competitors.
Do you think that factories like yours can pave the way toward peace?
I think that we have built a bridge toward coexistence and peace, without a doubt. The more that people involved in industry recognize this, the greater the chances are that peace will develop from within the nations. The politicians don’t know how to make peace and their interests do not correspond with those of the simple citizens. Therefore, I support the establishment of more joint places of employment.
If there’s one thing that I hear in almost every conversation with residents living on this side of the Green Line, Palestinians and Israelis alike, it’s that the simple people want to live in peace. It seems that working together also brings the hearts closer, regardless of ethnic or political identity. I believe that peace will be obtained not through boycotts, but through living together.
What do you think the situation will look like in fifty years from now?
My vision is to see entire industrial areas here that employ both Palestinian and Israeli workers. I think that is what needs to happen here. It’s already happening now, and I hope that in the future, this trend will only become more common.