Swedes relocate West Bank firm

Gush Shalom proclaims more businesses will follow Mul-T-Lock due to international pressure.

October 23, 2008 23:11
3 minute read.
Swedes relocate West Bank firm

Mul-t-lock Barkan 224.88. (photo credit: Diakonia report )

In an unusual situation for the West Bank's Barkan Industrial Park, which so far has largely escaped the pressure of international boycotts, a Swedish-based locksmith company that operates a factory there announced this week that it was relocating to within the Green Line for political reasons. "We're leaving because [the industrial park] is in the West Bank," Ann Holmberg, spokeswoman for the Assa Abloy company, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Sweden on Thursday. Assa Abloy, which acquired the Yavneh-based firm Mul-T-Lock in 2000, also purchased a subsidiary plant at that time in the Barkan Industrial Park, which is located more than 10 kilometers over the Green Line, near Ariel. The company, Holmberg said, was remiss in not understanding the significance of the location until last month, when the point was hammered home by a report issued jointly by the Church of Sweden, aid group Diakonia, and SwedWatch, a nonprofit group that monitors the conduct of Swedish businesses. The report, Holmberg said, accused the company of acting in an "unethical" manner and of "violating international law" by having a subsidiary in the West Bank. The report itself listed a number of international laws it believed the company had broken. It stated that "businessmen and -women may either be found directly liable for the commission of crimes against international law, or they may be found to have assisted others in the commission of a crime." A contrite Holmberg said, "We are very sorry that we did not notice it before, but we did not understand that we might be violating international law." In a statement Tuesday, the company said, "Assa Abloy can only in this context regret that the inappropriateness has not been noted internally, during the eight years of ownership, of having a production unit on the West Bank." Representatives of Diakonia in Israel did not want to comment on the issue. But Adam Keller of the Israeli left-wing group Gush Shalom said he believed other companies in Barkan were considering leaving. International pressure makes it hard for these companies to conduct business outside of Israel, he said. Just a few months ago, he added, Barkan Wineries left as well. Still, Assa Abloy remains one of the few to do so based on such a public statement of ethical consideration. The factory, which was first opened there in 1984, employs 100 people. Gershon Mesika, head of the Samaria Regional Council, which operates the Barkan industrial site, said that the move did not concern him, because demand to conduct business in the park - which is located on 1,400 dunams and is home to 120 businesses - was so high that there was a waiting list of 30 companies that wanted to move in. His spokesman David Ha'ivri said the park itself was in the process of rezoning so it could expand by another 100 dunams. The businesses themselves are an important source of employment for both Israelis and Palestinians in the area, Ha'ivri said, noting that out of the 6,000 workers in the park, some 3,500 are Palestinians - many of whom live nearby and who could not attain work permits for businesses over the Green Line. "If the settlements and the factories were not here, these 3,500 Palestinians would not have a place to work," said Ha'ivri. In this park, he added, "Jews are Arabs are working together, and this is the true meaning of coexistence." He blamed the European Union for the move and said, "It is unfortunate that the policy of the European Union is forcing successful factories out of the Barkan area. They are not able to deter the popular demand for more factories." Ariel Mayor Ran Nachman, who created the park 27 years ago, said it was outrageous that a company, particularly a European-based one, was leaving for political reasons. When the Nazis herded Jews into the gas chambers, Nachman said, "Sweden was neutral and did nothing. Sixty-five years later, nothing has changed. It is the same Europe and the same anti-Semitism." The Israeli left-wing groups that work with them, such as Gush Shalom, are even worse, Nachman said, adding that if one goes back to ancient times, the Bible doesn't speak of Palestinians, but it does state that this is the "promised land of the Jewish people." He declared that when "Gush Shalom dies and disappears," the Barkan Park will still be here. AP contributed to this report.

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