Factories in Israel's south pick up the pieces

Kfar Aza after the massacre credit: Reuters Ronen Zvulun
Kfar Aza after the massacre credit: Reuters Ronen Zvulun

With staff murdered and employees scared to return to work, businesses in the region will struggle to survive.

Since the start of the war with Hamas in Gaza, many factories in Israel's south have been operating partially or have shut down activities; Some have suffered heavy losses during the days of fighting, and many employees are afraid to go to work due to incessant firing on the south and fear of terrorist infiltration. Factory owners are worried and angry with the state.

"Until Monday, factories in the Gaza border area did not work, both because of instructions from the Home Front Command because of the fear that more terrorists would infiltrate into the Gaza border region," says Israel Manufacturers Association chairman Ron Tomer. "Hamas understood how important industry is and marked it as a target as well. They are evil but smart and realized that it is not enough to kill people. They also tried to kill the factories and through them the main artery of Israel's economy."

The Knesset Finance Committee will convene only next week for a special discussion on the provision of compensation and grants to businesses and the self-employed in the south, including those affected by the war. Senior Ministry of Finance officials, the Israel Tax Authority and National Insurance Institute are also supposed to participate in the meeting.

Rav Bariach factory in Ashkelon - only 15% of employees working

"We have been operating in Ashkelon since 2008 and we have been through several wars and operations," recounts Rav Bariach (TASE: BRIH) chairman and owner Shmuel Dornstein. The company has 580 employees in the city. "The factory has taken three direct hits over the years. Once the roof was hit, and another time part of the building but everything happening today dwarfs that."

In contrast to previous operations, says Dornstein, in which an absolute majority of employees came to work, in the last few days only about 15% came. "The workers are afraid of the unknown and express distrust in the security forces and the government. We have workers who live in Ashkelon, in Sderot, Ofakim, and along the Gaza border, and they experienced a trauma and fear that I cannot describe. I spoke with one of the workers who was inside his security room in Sderot for 72 hours straight with two children, and with so many people who lost families, siblings and children. This is neither a war nor an operation. It's a disaster."

However, Dornstein does not express concern at the business level, and is more worried about the national situation. "It's impossible to receive rocket barrages every year and now also shooting. If we don't put an end to this, to this thing called Hamas, we won't be able to live in this area anymore and I won't be able to hire hundreds of workers. Therefore, I want the government to manage this business in the best way. I would I want this government to do something. There is not a single government ministry that has a response, there are no answers to problems, there are no people in the field, and there are no organized hotlines. No one goes out to the field to meet, embrace, and provide security to the residents."

Michsaf Nir Am: "It's impossible to work, impossible to exist

Kibbutz Nir Am west of Sderot was hit hard. Since the beginning of the war, the kibbutz residents have been evacuated and the Michsaf factory, which produces silverware and household utensils, has completely shut down its operations. "There has been no activity at the factory in recent days, and as we speak, the security forces are fighting terrorists in the streets," says the factory's CEO, Tamir Simchi, who has held the position for over 25 years.

Michsaf was founded 68 years ago. The factory has 60 employees, all from Ashkelon, Sderot, Nir Am and towns and villages in the area. Simchi is a member of Kibbutz Nir Am, 63 years old, married, father of four daughters and grandfather of three grandchildren. "We have a war, and it has been going on for over 20 years," he says. "It hasn't changed at all, and now it's only more so, with the catastrophe that we knew would happen. over the years there was neglect for the people here, and now the bubble has burst. The situation is sad, painful, difficult and unbearable. Until today, we did the impossible, but today reality hit and blew up in our faces. It's impossible to work, it's impossible to exist."

Simchi says the shutdown of the factory results in losses of hundreds of thousands of shekels in sales every day, and he estimates that the factory will not open for at least the next two weeks. "It's a crazy situation, there's a lot of tension and a lot of difficulty. Running a business is a very difficult thing, and running it in such a security and political reality is just crazy. The combination of things is impossible."

Despite this, Simchi understands national priorities and does not currently expect an answer from the state: "We are in a chaotic situation. No one spoke to us after previous rounds of fighting, but now we do not expect anyone to speak. There are over a 1,000 dead and 200 kidnapped. We are currently not a top priority. We need a game changer otherwise we lose the country. At first we lost the Gaza Strip, now we are losing the country and have to decide. We are tired of paying the price that the security situation produces, and certainly our latest losses. Let's hope the state, the government and the army come to their senses."

Kfar Aza Kafrit: "Don't know what happened to the factory"

Kafrit Industries factory is just two kilometers from the Gaza border. Until the massacre that befell the kibbutz, the factory was an integral part of the fabric of the kibbutz members' lives. "There are hard-working people in Kfar Aza, salt of the earth," said one woman who lived there while serving in an army Nahal unit. Now those hard working, salt of the earth people must cope with the carnage that we are only just beginning to understand the dimensions of.

Kafrit Industries manufactures and markets concentrates, additives and mixtures for the plastics industry. The largest shareholders in the company are Kibbutz Kfar Aza, which owns about 58%. The factory employs about 160 workers, over half of whom are residents of the Gaza border area.

Kafrit CEO Alon Kessler told "Globes", just as he was being drafted for reserve duty, "The factory is inside the kibbutz, and about 30 employees live in the kibbutz. The factory workers and the kibbutz are one. We also have social activities with the other settlements around us." Kessler says that the factory has no water and electricity, and it is still not clear what happened there during the difficult events of the last few days, and whether it will be possible to return to work soon. "The camera system has collapsed, we are trying to organize the entry of a limited team in the next day, so that an initial assessment of the damage can be done."

The factory's production lines are in Israel, Europe, China and North America. Kessler says they have received a lot of support from customers, suppliers and partners who offer what they can to help. "We have factories abroad and we can partially use production lines there. In production lines in Israel, competitors have offered help and we may use it. There is a great commitment. The customers will have to get an answer and we will have to see how to give it as quickly as possible."

The biggest concern at Kfarit is for their people, many of whom are in evacuation sites set up for the nearby settlements. "There are families who were killed, workers who were murdered," says Kessler."

Like other factories in the south, Kafrit has suffered heavy losses. Among those killed was VP business development and innovation Nadav Goldstein. He was brutally murdered by terrorists, along with his family members, his wife Chen, and children Gal, Tal, Agam, and Yam, in their home in Kfar Gaza.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 12, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Kfar Aza after the massacre credit: Reuters Ronen Zvulun
Kfar Aza after the massacre credit: Reuters Ronen Zvulun
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018