By Adam Keller
Production lines in industrial zones in the West Bank have begun to deteriorate of late. The Barkan Winery has turned its back on the settlement after which it is named, and has moved to Kibbutz Hulda, within the Green Line, the pre-1967 border. Mul-T-Lock, which commands a near monopoly in the Israeli lock market, announced that it will also be leaving the Barkan industrial zone. In addition, Soda Club has promised its Swedish partner Empire that it will not export products produced in its plant in Mishor Adumim.
These days, factories located in settlements are becoming more risky and less profitable. This wasn’t always the case. Four years ago, Eti Alush, the man behind the Barkan industrial center, presented a rather rosy picture: “There is no ideology in economics. Entrepreneurs come here for the money, not for political reasons. Barkan is accessible and relatively cheap, and businesses pay discounted city tax (arnona). It’s an area under development, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry offers substantive assistance under the law for encouragement of capital investments, and Palestinian labor costs are low as well.”
Export to Europe didn’t seem like a problem for settlers back then, and Alush described the deception quite openly. “Companies that operate in the area have a number of factories, some of which are located within the ‘Green Line,’ aside from the one in Barkan. They label exports to Europe as coming from Kiryat Gat or Petah Tikva, not Barkan ¬ because of the European boycott, and also because of settlement boycotts by various groups, like Gush Shalom.”
A factory isn’t some toy that can be hidden under the carpet. It’s not difficult to enter, conduct surveillance and take pictures of trucks leaving the factory gates on their way to the port. European Union members don’t like to be duped, and Britain has recently upped its supervision and checking procedures on products “Made in Israel,” to ascertain where exactly they are coming from. A group of European citizens has begun investigating the businesses more thoroughly. Dutch beer giant Heineken, which was set to buy the Barkan wineries, faced a serious danger of a widespread consumer boycott on the streets of Amsterdam, and scrambled to make sure that its Israeli subsidiary left the area.
As for Mul-T-Lock, the firm boasts of being “part of the Swedish company Assa Abloy, the world leader in development and production of physical and electronic locking solutions,” since 2000. Certainly a productive business alliance, one that opens many doors all over the world, but doesn’t jive with production in the settlements. After Swedish religious and human rights organizations published an in-depth study of Sweden’s involvement in Mul-T-Lock, Assa Abloy hurried to apologize to the Swedish public and promised that the error would be corrected, and that Mul-T-Lock would leave Barkan.
The writing is on the wall. Anyone who wants to be part of the international community, and build global, long-term businesses, had better stay away from the settlements.
The writer is the spokesman for Gush Shalom and a member of the movement’s emergency settlements team.