Why Seven-Up bottled out of the Gaza franchise: A Palestinian family's soft-drinks enterprise was built up and cast down by the fortunes of war. Dependence on Israel exacted a cruel price

DOES ANYBODY know that the people of Gaza don't drink Seven-Up any more? And should anybody care?

Mohamed Yazegi, manager of the Seven-Up Bottling Company, the largest and oldest factory in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, says people should know and should care if they want to find peace in the Middle East.

Israel's peace efforts have recently begun to focus on Palestinian business. In a big policy shift, the state is promising to promote economic self-sufficiency for Gaza and the West Bank, investing pounds 50m in infrastructure. But to Mr Yazegi such promises are as idle as the lines of green bottles whose contents fizz quietly beside him in the sun. He knows what is needed to bring life to the Palestinian economy: an end to lawlessness and an end to the occupation.

He points to destroyed machinery, the work of Israeli saboteurs. And on his desk sits an affidavit, filed in a New York court: Seven-Up Bottling Company vs Pepsi Cola International Ltd, of New York. The parent company is pulling out of Gaza, refusing to renew Mr Yazegi's franchise.

Levering the top from his bottle of pop, the Seven-Up manager tells his tale. The family have lived in Gaza for generations. Citrus is Gaza's natural bounty and, in the early 1950s when Gaza was under Egyptian control, Mohammed's father, Tawfiq, started bottling juice. 'He used a hand-operated machine - a British one,' he says. The family launched its own 'Gaza Cola', and in 1962 Seven-Up International approached the enterprising Yazegi family and offered them a fizzy-drink franchise. 'In the 1960s, business was good here,' says Mr Yazegi, summoning up unfamiliar images from the past, of another Gaza bustling with commerce. 'The seas were open and ships bringing raw materials docked at Gaza port.'

With the advent of Israeli military rule following the 1967 war, the factory was crippled. But in 1975, Seven-Up International renewed the franchise again and new markets were found. Seven-Up had spotted potential for profit in Israel and seen how to use the Gaza bottlers to exploit it. An Arab trade boycott, in force against Israel since 1967, meant Seven-Up could not offer a franchise to an Israeli company for fear of being blacklisted in the Arab world. But because the Yazegi family was able to trade across the Israeli lines, Seven-Up could circumvent the boycott.

The entire Palestinian economy began to depend on Israel during the 1970s and 1980s as more and more Palestinians were encouraged to work in Israel. In the 1980s one-third of Gaza's income was generated though earnings in Israel, one-third through money sent back to relatives from Palestinians working in the Gulf, and one-third through the citrus trade. Israeli occupation discouraged the growth of indigenous Palestinian industry, and with its international franchise Seven-Up Bottling became one of few factories of any size operating inside Gaza.

But the Yazegis too became dependent on Israel. All materials were imported from Israel and by the mid-1980s 40 per cent of the factory's trade was done in Israel.

When Pepsi bought Seven-Up in 1986 the Gaza factory was in profit and the franchise was renewed. Then began the decline. First, in 1987 came the intifada, the Palestinian uprising. 'We never knew when the strikes or the curfew would come. It was very hard,' says Mr Yazegi. Next came the Gulf war and the eviction of Palestinian workers, lopping one-third off Gaza's earnings. The Gulf war was responsible for a further blow to the Yazegis: it weakened the power of the Arab trade boycott. In December, Pepsi decided to end the unprofitable Gaza franchise and offer the deal to an Israeli company.

Betrayal hangs in the air at Seven-Up Bottling Company. But it is not only the US parent that is severing ties: Israel is trying to cut and run. Last month, following a rise in Palestinian attacks, Israel closed itself off to Palestinian workers and another third of Gaza's income has been lost.

Rising debt brought about a new dependency - on loans from Israeli banks, which have a way of calling in debts with brute force. Three weeks ago, with the Strip under curfew, Mr Yazegi was called to his factory at 11pm to find 20 Israeli soldiers and a number of unidentified civilians armed with massive cutters and six trailers. They had broken down the gate and locked up the elderly guards. 'They did not even ask for the keys,' says Mr Yazegi. They cut electric connections, removed computer disks, spilt files and removed machinery.

'They took the new line for non-returnable bottles. There was a big demand for this in the market,' said Mr Yazegi. 'They took sugar. They took the concentrate. They even took a textile machine which belonged to a friend. He was starting a new business and had left it here until the curfew was over.' The Israeli army provides 'security' protection to Israeli debt- collectors.

'I welcome all investment in Gaza,' says Mr Yazegi, who is chairman of Gaza's industrialists' committee. 'But no investment will work before the political situation is changed. Israel must let Gaza go free. Let it have its own leadership and open the seas again. Then it could be a new Hong Kong. It is a virgin area full of cheap labour. The Israelis must realise that they built an economic situation to be dependent on them. They cannot just tell us to go to hell.'

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

Special Needs Teaching Assistant

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Special Educational Needs Teach...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London