Being here in Israel on a brief but intense four-day mission, and given all that is going on right now as a result of Israel’s announced intention to begin new construction in so-called area E-1, between Ramallah and Ma’aleh Adumim, the title of my article must seem strange.
“This is what peace looks like?” Most of Europe is furious with Israel, and so is America! If this is what peace looks like, spare us, right?
So let me make it even a little bit stranger. The background setting of the article, which happens to be the Soda Stream company’s main factory in Israel (in case you didn’t know, It is a proudly Israeli company) is smack dab in the middle of the disputed E-1 area! This is what peace looks like??
The short answer to that fair question is yes. As we walked out of the Soda Stream factory in area E-1, a rabbinic colleague and friend from Dallas turned to me and said exactly those words. And I think he was completely right.
I can’t speak for other parts of the country, but in the New York City area, it’s hard to watch TV for too long without seeing a commercial for Soda Stream. Talk about a business growing exponentially! Going head to head against corporate behemoths like Coca-Cola, whose advertising budget alone dwarfs the size of most corporations, Soda Stream has become a major market force in the soft drink industry world wide. Through a simple, elegant and ingenious device, it’s product enables one to not only make seltzer from tap water, but also to flavor it and create… Soda! Regular soda (with far fewer calories than ordinary soda because they don’t use high fructose syrup), endless varieties of diet soda… It’s all there at a very reasonable price ( and if you’re wondering, no, I’m not a paid endorser).
Making all of this even better is that the Soda Stream product is an ecological treasure, sparing landfills around the world countless millions of cans and plastic bottles filling up landfills. The company takes enormous pride in how green the product is, and aggressively champions ecological sensitivity as one of its core values.
And here is what is best of all, and what prompted my colleague to make his remarkable comment. In addition to the emphasis on ecology and the fundamental healthiness of the corporate culture, the other core value of the Soda Stream company is its commitment to employing- and equally respecting- a mixed, Israeli and Palestinian work force.
Everywhere we went in the factory, from the assembly lines to the dining rooms to the rest areas, Israelis and Arabs worked side by side, equally proud of the product and committed to the success of the enterprise. Mutual respect is an indispensable component of the Soda Stream operation, and no doubt what helps to make it so successful. That culture was tested durIng the recent operation in Gaza, and I can only imagine that the same issues that serve to create tensions between Israelis and Arabs in the State of Israel are there even if not visible to the naked eye. But managing those tensions in such a caring and competent way is, in itself, a great accomplishment, and one worthy of respect and admiration.
When we were leaving the factory and my colleague from Dallas made his comment, another colleague- this one from Minnesota- said that, of course, it’s only half of what true peace might look like. That, he said, will be when a Palestinian corporate executive- in Palestine- hires Jewish workers and accords them the same respect and opportunity as the Palestinian work force.
It all seems very far away, to be sure. But I must admit to how utterly exhilarating it was to see that, right smack dab in the middle of E-1, an Israeli corporate executive was dreaming the dream, and making at least part of it come to life, in real time.
Now, if we could only find a few political leaders who were dreamers- As John Lennon would surely have said, imagine…