Coca-Cola is building a factory in Gaza, but before you applaud such an investment in an area where the economy is shattered and unemployment ranks among the highest in the world, let’s examine the deal more closely. Who will actually benefit from this? It’s a rhetorical question really, because the Palestinians living there will be the long-term losers while the neighbouring State of Israel will count the shekels rolling in.
The first of the materials to build the factory came via Israel with a convoy of 10 trucks carrying assembly line machines through the Yitzhak Rabin border terminal; from there the lorries were processed by the Israeli military into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing last week. This, in itself, is amazing, since only 130,000 tons of construction materials have been allowed into Gaza since the latest Israeli blitz; five million tons are needed to try to rebuild the factories bombed to destruction by Israel in its last two wars against the civilians of Gaza.
Thousands of families are still without homes in the depths of a Gaza winter and some of the dead are still buried under the tons of rubble where tower blocks stood before the Israeli military destroyed them. Despite international promises of humanitarian aid and a massive rebuilding programme nothing of any substance has happened because of the ongoing siege of the territory led by Israel and Egypt.
Raw materials needed in the production of Coca-Cola, which is high-up on the BDS boycott list, include water and sugar. Clean, fresh water is a rare commodity in Gaza; most of the natural sources are contaminated very badly so no doubt Israeli entrepreneurs will be on standby to supply millions of gallons… at a price. Environmental reports from around the world, from South America to Asia, reveal that wherever there is a Coca-Cola bottling plant its arrival is usually followed by chronic shortages of fresh water.
There is, of course, already a dire water shortage in Gaza (as the Friends of Al-Aqsa website points out); a recent World Bank report revealed that the water purification and sewage treatment infrastructure in Gaza is on the verge of collapse following Israel’s various attacks over the past few years. Access to water on tap is limited on average to 6-8 hours for 1-4 days a week for the population of Gaza, so it is almost inconceivable that the Coca-Cola Company would divert water ear-marked for ordinary Palestinians. Isn’t it?
I imagine that the businessmen cashing in on the water shortage will also be sourcing another vital ingredient of Coca-Cola, sugar, for the new Gaza plant, although where those behind the factory will get the much-needed reliable power supply is anyone’s guess. The Palestinians living in the enclave face regular and lengthy power cuts; only 30 per cent are hooked up to an intermittent service and the hospitals rely heavily on emergency generators for routine supplies.
I’ve walked through the debris of what was once an industrial estate in Gaza; it was razed to the ground during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 and Palestinians have been unable to rebuild it ever since. Thousands of factories which once provided tens of thousands of jobs are no longer there. Coca-Cola executives must have obtained some guarantees from Tel Aviv that Israel’s pinpoint accurate missiles will not target the new factory.
My scepticism about the whole project is shared by the head of a messianic Jewish ministry, albeit for different reasons. While Jan Markell, founder and director of US-based Olive Tree Ministries, agrees that “tens of thousands of jobs” are needed to pull Gaza out of the “disaster of war”, she added: “Will it just become a haven for rockets and other kinds of weapons? I have a feeling it will. I think Coca Cola is absolutely out of their minds to do this.”
The factory will be located in Gaza’s Karmi industrial zone and will cost $20 million to build It is intended to employ 1,000 workers, according to a report on the Israeli NRG news site. More conservative sources estimate that just 400 jobs will be created; either figure is but a drop in the ocean that are Gaza’s unemployment statistics.
The project’s initiators are Palestinian entrepreneurs Munib Al-Masri and Zahi Khouri. Mr Khouri is the chairman of the Palestinian National Beverage Company and owns three Coca-Cola franchises in the West Bank.
Coca Cola says that, in addition to providing hundreds of jobs for Palestinians, the new factory will lead to the launch of social programmes. Forgive me for asking, but if Coca-Cola was genuine in wanting to help the Palestinian people shouldn’t it demand an end to the Israeli-led land, air and sea siege of Gaza? If Coca-Cola really wanted to help it would pay taxes directly to the Hamas-controlled Gaza government rather than the corrupt Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. Hamas has now been removed from the European Union’s terror list in an acknowledgement that it should not have been put there in the first place, so the corporate giant shouldn’t feel compromised. Some would argue, moreover, that ethics and principles have never got in the way of Coca-Cola’s ambitions before.
It’s worth remembering that while the company developed the image of Coke as a patriotic American drink, and that drinking it was somehow synonymous with fighting against the enemies of freedom and democracy in the thirties, it also did business in Nazi Germany. It was there, apparently, that the “Coca-Cola logo rested comfortably next to the swastika“.
While Tel Aviv is always keen to revive horrific memories of Nazi atrocities during World War II and hunting those who worked closely with and within the Third Reich, it seems to have developed political amnesia over this episode. Of course, perhaps to atone for collaborating with the Nazi regime, Coca-Cola’s support for the Zionist State is unstinting, which has made it a prime target of the BDS movement. Coca-Cola claims that “a small number of politically motivated groups” are going after the company “for the furtherance of their own anti-multinational agenda.” It denies that its actions in India, for example, have contributed to depleting local aquifers, saying that allegations are “without any scientific basis.”
In its mission statement Coca-Cola says that it wants:
To refresh the world – in mind, body and spirit
To inspire moments of optimism – through our brands and actions
To create value and make a difference everywhere we engage
If it is at all sincere about this then the company should use its corporate might and influence in Israel to get the siege lifted and stop the Zionist state from developing its apartheid system against the Palestinians. My fridge is a Coca-Cola free zone and will remain that way until the company puts the Palestinian people before profits.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.