Israel Company of Works

Two Wheels for
Traveling a New Road

For a year now, the CDO (Company of Works) has been open in the Holy Land, with joint ventures with Italian firms, agrarian projects, training courses for public administrators, and five thousand bicycles

by Filippo Landi

Thirteen months have passed since the opening of the CDO office in Israel, enough time to give an initial accounting. “We have necessarily traveled a different road than that taken in other countries, and thus we have not limited ourselves to just offering services to those already engaged in an entrepreneurial activity, and making efforts to get them into an association. In fact, the idea of joining an association is often foreign to the culture of those who work as artisans or entrepreneurs. So, our effort has been directed at increasing direct contacts between Israeli and Italian firms, in order to help start joint ventures. The most recent is an accord between two firms that work in the medical sector. After this, our greatest challenge will be to help trilateral economic initiatives take off, between Israelis, Palestinians, and Italians, in which the role of the Italians, you understand, will be to catalyze initiatives that otherwise would never be able to start.”

Planting seeds

We get a firsthand look at this initial accounting as we speak with Jonathan G. Sierra, head of his own multimedia firm and also professor of graphics in computer applications. The very young waitress who brings us our coffee at the YMCA bar in the heart of Jerusalem immediately recognized him as her teacher. “I am a Jew and I live in Jerusalem,” said Sierra, “and there is one thing that I am particularly grateful for in the work of these past months. It has enabled me to come in contact with concrete people and places, not ghosts.
It forced me to have an experience of meeting people that I wouldn’t otherwise have had, left to just my goodwill. Not all the encounters were positive, let me be clear. You can’t just improvise a new entrepreneurial mentality that goes beyond the rancor and egotism wrought by the conditions of life in these years here.”
In any case, giving up is not called for. Seeds can be planted where the earth seems most favorable. In the Jordan Valley, this affirmation has been taken literally.

Looking to Europe
“In three farms, the Palestinian farmers have just planted the seeds of the products that will grow over the next months. We help them produce according to the criteria imposed by Italy and the European Union.
In this way, we want to promote the exportation of their products not just to Israel but also to Europe. We have already started in this work, in this entrepreneurial effort. We want to help the farmers even more. We’d like to build a place–but it won’t be cheap–on the Israeli–Palestinian border where the pre-transit merchandise security checks requested by the Israelis can happen quickly. It would provide guarantees for everyone, speed up exportation times, and increase the farmers’ earnings. This objective is still far off, but at least we have started.”

Five thousand bicycles
And there is another initiative, no longer just a project, about which Sierra is happy and surprised.
“During a Company of Works assembly, I had the idea to ask, ‘Is there anybody who knows about bicycles?’ I didn’t think I would set off a process that has taken on surprising speed. A project had been shelved for years without anyone to move it forward: the prototype of a bicycle, obviously to be built here, for the Palestinian and Israeli market, as well as for the European one. An Italian entrepreneur, a maker of bicycle and motorcycle accessories, responded to my inquiry, even coming here to Israel to offer his managerial skills. We will assemble five thousand bicycles, practically by hand, and deliver them by May, ready for the Italian market. Every bicycle sold will serve to provide capital for the future factory. Those who buy one of these bicycles will be informed of the destination of their money. The first two bicycles will be given away, one to the Israeli Prime Minister, and one to the Palestinian Prime Minister.”

Sacred objects
In Bethlehem, another project is moving ahead, too. In the past few months, pilgrims have been returning, and once again the shops are selling olive wood sacred objects that for a long time had lain unsold, in the silence of the city.
“There is optimism,” Sobhy Makhoul, President of the CDO of Jerusalem, tells us, “even though there is also fear about the political instability. A new economic block is always possible. But this limping situation is preferable to that of previous years. In Bethlehem, the Company of Works has three objectives.
First of all, we want to give artisans their dignity as men. There are terrible work situations, like for artisans who work mother of pearl in the midst of all the dust, or inhale wood varnish fumes, all without any kind of protection for their health. Thus, we want to help them to create different and better working conditions for their health and safety. Then, we will help them replace old and recycled tools that have become dangerous. Many of these machines can be substituted with similar ones produced for Italian artisans, so there is the possibility to transfer means and knowledge from Italy. Finally, we want to build a training center, to vary the types of products, not only religious objects, but also small, high quality wooden objects that can be easily exported to reach potential new clients.” Help in achieving this project also comes from the Franciscan Community. “The head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land has never failed to support us.” Finally, in Bethlehem, there is the Catholic University.
Soubhy Makhoul concludes, “In this sphere, with the support of AVSI and the Lombardy Region, we would like to set up a professional training course for public administrators; well-prepared young people to work as public functionaries in the Palestinian territories are needed today and even more for the future.”