Swedes relocate West Bank firm

Oct. 23, 2008
Tovah Lazaroff , THE JERUSALEM POST 
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 

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 

"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. 

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com 


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