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Industry as a Bridge for Peace

Sima Borkovski, January 7, 2010

GOSB Teknopark in Turkey, which contains over 60 Research & Development and software companies. (Photo: Sima Borkovski)

"If people are busy with work and earn good wages, they won't have the time or the motivation to engage in terror. Religious fanatics only flourish where poverty and despair rule." This is the basic principle behind Stef Wertheimer's innovative plan to solve the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, using industry as a vehicle of peace.

Wertheimer, 83, one of Israel's most successful industrialists, is anything but a dreamer. He has established an industrial empire consisting of ISCAR, the precision metal-cutting tools company founded in 1982, and five industrial parks, intentionally situated in peripheral areas in Israel. These complexes of export-oriented factories generate annual sales of $2.7 billion and provide employment to their surrounding areas. According to Wertheimer, "There are no unemployed, only people who are unlucky to find a job."

100 islands of peace

Wertheimer's initiative to create 100 industrial parks throughout the Middle East that will employ Israelis and Palestinians might sound a bit far-fetched, but it has already gained the support of important policymakers. The most prominent one is George Mitchell, U.S. envoy to the Middle East, who is currently on a regional tour of the Middle East meeting with leaders in order to reignite the peace process. Wertheimer's peace enterprise is acknowledged in Europe as well. It is symbolic that, in March 2008, 70 years after he fled Nazi Germany with his family, Wertheimer returned to Germany to receive the Buber-Rosenzweig-Medal in Dusseldorf for his vision to advance peace through industry.

The Holy Chair also demonstrated his support in Wertheimer’s peace vision when he landed his helicopter on the soon-to-be-built industrial park in Nazareth last May. Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel on May 10 and on the 14th he visited Nazareth, where he celebrated Mass on the Mount of the Precipice. His message of peace was heard by 35,000 believers close to the site where the city’s new industrial park is going to be founded as a symbol of harmony and peace.

The park will provide employment mainly for the Arab community of Nazareth and technical education to its youth at the technical school that is being built alongside the park.

"It took us eight years of preparations and negotiations, but once the park is completed it will definitely bring prosperity to the city that cannot rely solely on tourism and urgently needs more sources of employment for its citizens," Wertheimer said.

For someone who does not care so much for academic degrees and believes that learning a trade is far more important, Wertheimer has quite an impressive list of awards and titles from various organizations and some of the leading academic institutions in the world. He was even awarded the Israel Prize, the country's highest honor, for his "contribution to society and the state." "It seems I have a special talent for prizes," he said modestly. But apparently his greatest talent is helping entrepreneurs turn their dreams into a reality.

Power cannot solve problems

"In this part of the world we don't have oil or vast territories, and therefore we must rely on industry that can be exported to make it possible for us become part of the free world," he explained. "Both Israelis and Palestinians are nations consisting of refugees, and unfortunately we have grown accustomed to living in fear. But it doesn't have to stay that way forever. Israel needs to realize that power cannot provide an answer, and the Palestinians need to understand that they won't solve their problems with terror. I believe factories should be the new path for peace. In all of our industrial parks, people of various nationalities and religions work side by side, and the conflicts are left aside because they need to meet their deadlines," he insisted.

Wertheimer's Industrial Parks provide a five-year incubator for small manufacturing export companies. Entrepreneurial creativity is encouraged, and the parks also include cultural facilities, such as sculpture gardens and museums, to display the beauty of industry.

"Tefen Park, which is the flag park and located in the Galilee, provides employment and education to the people of the whole area, and even during the time of the Second Intifada this part of the country remained relatively calm. This proves my point that when people have something to lose and are proud in their source of livelihood they would not want it to be destructed by war," he said.

In 2003, Wertheimer expended his regional influence when he built an industrial park in Gebze, Turkey. "We had the complete cooperation of the Turkish authorities and of our Turkish partners with whom we worked side by side. Turkey realizes that in order to join the European Union its economy must be strengthened, and they can do that by developing export industries," he explained.

It seems that most of all Wertheimer would have wanted to build an industrial park for the Palestinians, and he actually had plans to establish such a park in Rafah. However, the latest war in Gaza chilled his enthusiasm. "Unfortunately it seems that Gaza will probably have to be destroyed several more times until the Palestinian extremists realize that terror is not the way to solve their people's problems. I fear it might take 10 or even 20 years for the situation to change."

Sima Borkovski is a freelance journalist based in Israel who writes consistently for magazines, websites and papers in the United States. and Europe. She can be reached at sima@words4you.co.il and words4you.co.il.

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