The Coca-Cola Company inaugurated its first bottling plant in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a facility which will eventually employ 270 people and indirectly support hundreds of households.
The $20 million (NIS 76 million) investment, in coordination with Coca-Cola’s Palestinian partner, National Beverage Company, is the fourth bottling plant in the territories, which also contains four distribution centers.
“National Beverage Company and Coca-Cola share great pride in having been part of the fabric of Palestinian communities for almost 18 years and our new Gaza plant shows our ongoing commitment to investing in and supporting progress in communities around the world,” said Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company.
The bottling facility first began production in April 2016 but began full operations after a ceremony on Wednesday.
The drink will be distributed through 4,000 outlets in the coastal enclave, delivered by 18 branded trucks.
— The Coca-Cola Co. (@CocaColaCo) November 30, 2016
With a total of 600 employees NBC, which began bottling Coca-Cola in 1998, is the third-largest Palestinian employer and fifth-largest Palestinian investor.
The new plant currently employs 120 workers, spans more than 15,000 square meters and contains a single bottling line capable of filling up to 36,000 bottles per hour. Over the next three years the company plans to introduce a second line and expand the number of workers to 270.
Coinciding with the launch of the new facility, The Coca-Cola Foundation, National Beverage Company and the international aid organization Mercy Corps announced a new $1.3 million (NIS 5 million) charitable initiative to bring clean drinking water to 30,000 Gazans living in refugee camps and to increase employment among Gazan youth.
Unemployment among 20 to 24 year-olds in the coastal enclave stands at more than 65 percent, one of the highest in the world.
“While Gazan communities and people face many challenges, there is also great hope through an ambitious and aspirational youth population who want to play a part in Gaza’s economic and social progress,” said Paul Dudley-Hart, senior vice president of Mercy Corps.
Between 2008 and 2014, the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Hamas terrorist group, fought three wars with Israel, leading to widespread bombing destruction within the enclave.
The opening of the new factory was welcomed by the Israeli army, which maintains a blockade on certain goods entering the Strip. Some 550-600 trucks laden with goods and materials pass daily from Israel into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing.
The construction equipment for the plant originated in Jordan, entered Israel through the Yitzhak Rabin border terminal, and was brought into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) tweeted about the opening of the factory.
— COGAT (@cogatonline) November 30, 2016
Coke is not the only carbonated beverage manufactured and sold in the Gaza Strip. A 7-Up factory has operated in Gaza since 1962 and Pepsi Cola has been manufacturing there since 1997.
AFP contributed to this report.