Jerusalem. Sand, rocks, a row of palm trees swaying in the wind and in the midst of them a factory producing machines that make carbonated water with flavors that appeal to children: strawberry, orange and apple. Herein lie both the question (the occupied territories) and the answer (respect and friendship between Israelis and Palestinians). But this isn’t a children’s story. It stems from an “anti-Israel obsession,” as Canadian Member of Parliament Jason Kenney put it, which was fully revealed when actress Scarlett Johansson refused to give in to the vitriolic attacks made against her for appearing in an ad for SodaStream, whose factory is in the Occupied Territories. Scarlett explained that in this factory steps are being taken toward true peace, because Palestinians and Israelis work there together, as equals, with mutual respect for one another. Her courageous action led her to resign from Oxfam, the “human rights” organization for which she has acted as a Global Ambassador for the past 8 years, and which has now been shown to be a center for boycotting Israel.
The attack on SodaStream teaches us a great deal about the cynicism of the anti-Israel boycott. Its target seems to be not the occupation but good relations between Palestinians and Israelis, its objective not peace but incitement, and if Palestinian workers are harmed as a result, what does it matter? The factory at Mishor Adumim is vast and clean, inhabited by jump-suited workers fastening, shifting, loading … and later congregating around a large table to assemble parts. The air is buzzing with Arabic and Hebrew. The miracle of this evil factory is that here, in the Occupied Territories, sitting just a few inches away from each other, Jews and Palestinians chat happily to one another as they pass the pieces to be checked back and forth. They earn the same wages, share the same cafeteria, and take the same bus in the morning, all with insurance and a pension.
Scarlett Johansson’s refusal to fall into step with the boycott campaign has revealed a truth that is unbearable to those for whom everything rests on the wickedness of the occupation: beyond diplomacy, political aggression, or Palestinian incitement, when workers are respected, paid, insured, and cared for, they create something incredible: peace. In this particular factory (there are 8 in Israel), SodaStream has 1200 workers, including 500 Arab Israelis, 450 Palestinians, 150 of other origins, and 300 Israelis. They talk animatedly among themselves – are they playing up for the press and the delegation of visiting Italian parliamentarians? Possibly, but there are many similar situations, like the Barkan industrial area. Twenty thousand Palestinians work in the Territories – if the boycott shuts down SodaStream, 5000 people will go hungry. There was an old weapons factory here in 1967, when this area was in Jordan. SodaStream is NASDAQ-listed and has existed for 107 years. While it has built 8 other sites, it built this facility with a logical vision, unpopular with those who hate Israel: we’re among Palestinians and Israelis, so let’s work together. According to the supervisors, both Arab and Israeli, there are no threats or violence here. “Politics stays outside,” says Ahmad Nasser, a 28-year-old with two children. “This is a bridge to peace. Working here, I’m supporting eight people in my village, Jabaar. Many of my colleagues support ten. How many of them does Oxfam want to put out on the street?”
During lunch at the cafeteria, when manager Daniel Birnbaum said that Scarlett chose to quit Oxfam rather than abandon SodaStream, the workers broke out into loud applause. The Ahmads and Muhammads of this factory earn between $1200 and $2200 – three to four times more than their compatriots. “And we have 30% unemployment.” Ahmad explains he has friends who are Jews, that they came to his wedding, and that his forty-year-old manager is an Arab – a new world. But the bitter fight against the boycott continues: lawyers, appeals, and wasted time, although SodaStream’s international might (it has subsidiaries around the world) will protect it. But it took Saint Scarlett to raise the big question: are groups that support the boycott for or against the Palestinians?
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale; English copyright, The Gatestone Institute