Protesters against closure of Arad factory block entrances to the city

The main entrances to the southern city of Arad and the route to Eilat were locked Friday morning by demonstrators protesting the closure of a factory in the city.  Some 700 people turned out for the protest against the closure of the Arad Towels factory, including employees of the plant, Arad residents and workers at the local Flextronics factory.

Demonstrators protesting the closure of a factory in Arad on Friday morning (Photo: Noa Bitton)

Demonstrators protesting the closure of a factory in Arad on Friday morning (Photo: Noa Bitton)

The 200 employees of Arad Textile Industries — the last ones remaining from a work force of 700 just four years ago — were fired this week, in a huge blow to the remains of Israel’s dying textile industry and to the small, isolated Negev town where the factory is located. The town of 28,000 people, which has an unemployment rate about 1 percentage point higher than the national average of 6.4%. Just 300 meters from the Arad plant, 23 employees of a Flextronics factory producing parts for defense electronics makers Elbit Systems were receiving notice of a pre-dismissal hearing.

Four years ago, Arad Textile, popularly known as Arad Towels for its principal product, churned out 1,200 tons of towels a month. But output has since declined by a whopping 95%, to just 70 tons. The company moved production from Arad to Jordan and as far afield as China and the United States. Losses over the past four years reached some $13.5 million. Employees were put on a forced vacation on October 1, with management saying they didn’t want to fire anyone during the holiday season. The last 200 Arad Towels workers — 60% of them Negev Arab-Bedouin — got their dismissal notices Sunday. Arad Textile Industries is owned by an American capitalist, Gary Heiman, who recently closed another textile factory in Israel. Flextronics, among whose customers is Elbit Systems, employs 40 people in Arad, of whom 15 will be dismissed.

Arad hit hard by factories closure