New Internationalist

SodaStream, Scarlett and the bridge of peace that isn’t

Scarlett Johansson [Related Image]
Hollywood star and SodaStream promoter Scarlett Johansson. Gage Skidmore under a Creative Commons Licence

Now that the Oxfam-Scarlett Johansson-SodaStream controversy is finally over, it’s time to put aside the ‘he said, she said, they said’ accusations and take a closer look at some of the hard-to-hear facts.  

The controversy began when actress Scarlett Johansson, a global ambassador for Oxfam, accepted an endorsement deal with SodaStream International, an Israeli company which, since 1996, has had a home carbonation production plant in Mishor Edomim, an industrial park in Ma’ale Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank.  

Activists who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement pressured Oxfam to drop Johansson; Oxfam urged Johansson to drop SodaStream. Objections to Johansson’s new role were futile, and her expected dismissal by Oxfam did not materialize.  However, Johansson had the last word when, after eight years with Oxfam, she initiated a parting of ways.  

No-one can deny that Johansson has the right to choose who she supports. However, to represent both Oxfam and SodaStream is a contradiction if you believe in justice and human rights. A statement made by her shows a lack of knowledge concerning the connection between SodaStream, the settlement enterprise, and the rights of the Palestinians:  

‘I remain a supporter of economic co-operation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day,’ she said.  

Building a bridge to peace? That is more than laughable! Doesn’t Johansson realize or care that SodaStream is located in an illegal settlement, built on land that was occupied by Israel in 1967?  

International law states that Israel, as an occupying power, is forbidden from altering the occupied territories in any way, including through the construction of settlements and industrial parks, except for reasons having to do with military necessity or to benefit the occupied population specifically.

To date, there are 17 Israeli industrial zones housing over 600 Israeli factories in the West Bank. WHO PROFITS, an organization which exposes industries’ involvement in the occupation, says that ‘these parks were established to explicitly serve the settlements, the Israeli economy as a whole and to strengthen Israeli control of the Occupied Palestinian Territories’.  

And according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, the Israeli ‘companies that operate in settlement Industrial zones enjoy low rent, tax incentives, and other forms of government support, as well as lax enforcement of environmental laws’ Industrial zones in the West Bank also enforce a minimum of labour regulations.

The Palestinians are in a Catch-22 situation. Due to high unemployment and economic difficulties in the West Bank, many Palestinians have no choice but to work for low wages in Israeli industrial zones that are built on Palestinian land.  

Additionally, they do not have the same civil rights that Israeli employees enjoy, and are dependent on employers for work permits, making them subject to exploitation and discrimination. Fearful of losing their work permits and jobs on the settlements, their demands for enforcement of workers’ rights fall silent. Caught in the middle of dirty politics, their work, ironically, enables the settlement enterprise to grow.  

Does that sound like a bridge to peace? In spite of SodaStream and Johansson’s claim of this so-called bridge between Palestinians and Israelis, WHO PROFITS describes SodaStream in a less flattering way.  

Their 2011 report about SodaStream states that in three consecutive years, Kav LaOved (an Israeli NGO which protects the rights of disadvantaged workers employed by Israeli companies) reported that the 442 Palestinian workers at SodaStream were employed under harsh working conditions which included below minimum wages, long work days, and revolving-door policies. The report said that they were ‘at the bottom of the hierarchy in the factory and fearful of being dismissed’.

SodaStream’s claim that the company is economically beneficial to Palestinians is questionable. How can that be possible, if the company pays taxes to Israel and the Ma’ale Adumim municipality rather than to the Palestinian Authority? How can it be possible if the Palestinian workers are paid below minimum wage? Is there anything more precious than one’s land, the source of one’s livelihood? How can it be beneficial to those Palestinians whose land is occupied, and is now being used for settlements and industrial zones?  

None of the three players of this drama came out looking good.  

SodaStream, a company with 25 plants worldwide and customers in 45 countries, has been the subject of scrutiny by supporters of Palestine. Will the fact that it has a plant in an illegal settlement damage its name internationally? Time will tell.  

Johansson, who once advocated for justice, selfishly chose financial gain over human rights.  

And was Oxfam’s hesitation to let Johansson go a matter of not wanting to lose their money-maker? Their claim that they are opposed to trade from Israeli settlements because ‘they further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support’, somehow no longer seems to ring true.  

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  1. #1 Israeli Response 06 Feb 14

    Destroying a country (by international law) is illegal but nothing was done and no protests went on when all Arab neighbors and the Palestinians tried to wipe out Israel a couple times, right? But now when Israel occupies, which to me seems pretty merciful compared to what they wanted to do with the Israelis, it's not ok.
    I don't know why I'm explaining this because obviously your mind unconsciously blurs out the first part of what I said and all you read is Israel occupies and got pissed off.
    I would like to see how they would be treated by Syria if Israel didn't exist (because Israel was southern Syria) and how much they would like chemical attacks compared to living with Israelis.

  2. #2 Monique Buckner 07 Feb 14

    The 'Israeli Response' comment is somewhat astonishing in several ways. The war of 1948 by Arab armies was a direct response to ethnic cleansing by zionist militia which began in earnest in December 1947. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were blown up, their inhabitants forced out by the thousands or simply murdered, this including women, children and the elderly. Deir Yasin is probably one of the most well-known examples. Forests were eventually planted over the remains of these villages in order to hide these crimes and hamper the refugees' return. Not one of those Arab armies entered the State of Israel but remained instead within what was left of historic Palestine, solely to defend this mostly unarmed population which was being obliterated. All of what I say is on historical record and common knowledge- especially to the British who witnessed this firsthand. Palestine is a country that actually was wiped off the map by zionists, its remaining territory ever-shrinking with the ongoing ethnic cleansing of occupied territory through home demolitions, forced removals of population and land grabs.
    To say that Israel was 'southern Syria' is complete nonsense. Israel does indeed illegally occupy the Syrian Golan Heights in the north (and these Syrians, even while there is a civil war in Syria, insist that they wish to remain Syrians). Israel has illegally occupied not only Palestinian and Syrian land, but also that of Egypt and Lebanon. What is now Israel was once called Palestine- a land recognised by the Romans, Ancient Greeks and Ancient Egyptians for over 3,000 years.
    Speaking of chemical attacks, Israel chemically attacks the Palestinians on a regular basis. Not one of us has forgotten the white phosphorous used in Gaza to burn alive civilians, including children. We remember also those killed by Israeli (Made in the USA) teargas attacks on peaceful demonstrators- including babies asphyxiated, and canisters used as projectiles to smash into the ribs or heads of Palestinian men, women and children during weekly demonstrations against the occupation.

    http://972mag.com/israel-gives-up-white-phosphorus-because-it-doesnt-photograph-well/70063/
    http://972mag.com/ngo-demands-that-police-investigate-toddlers-death-from-tear-gas/2795/

  3. #3 Israeli Voice 07 Feb 14

    In her anti-israeli piece, Ms Buckner forgets that the ethnic cleansing included the expulsion of 1 Million Mizrahi Jews from Arab states. These people were literally kicked out of their homes at gunpoint. Their homes, businesses, lands and bank accounts were systematically confiscated. The amount of territory stolen has been conservatively estimated to be equal to 4 x current Israeli Land Area.


    NO JUSTICE for MIZRAHI JEWS = NO PEACE.
    Please stick this in your ’progressive website’ !

  4. #4 Monique Buckner 07 Feb 14

    'Israeli Voice' is of the opinion that the Palestinian people should suffer for any Mizrahi Jews expelled from Middle Eastern countries.
    That the Palestinian people are neither legally nor morally responsible for these expulsions is of no consequence to 'Israeli Voice'. 'Israeli Voice' states that instead of seeking justice at appropriate bodies such as the United Nations, zionists will continue to take it out on the innocent Palestinian people who had nothing to do with the expulsions. An Israeli voice has spoken and revealed a warped sense of what 'justice' entails and why zionists keep abusing the Palestinian people.

  5. #5 Charlie Coyle 07 Feb 14

    As usual the anti-Israel brigade have no concept of fact when reporting the Israel- Arab/Palestine wars. If the shoe was on the other foot, apart from the fact that 'Palastine' would be a festering and corrupt dictatorship, you can bet your last shekel there would be no 'Israel Problem' as what the Arabs had in store for the Israelis would have made the holocaust tame by comparison.

  6. #6 Monique Buckner 08 Feb 14

    'Charlie Coyle' complains about facts. The fact is: not one soldier from any of the Arab armies set foot in Israel but remained in the newly set borders of what remained of historic Palestine in order to defend the Palestinians who were barely armed (the British had confiscated what guns they had during the repression of the revolts against British rule) and being brutally massacred and driven out of their homes by zionist militia. What zionists had in store for the Palestinian people has ashamed and appalled many Holocaust survivors. The fact is: hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians made refugees. The fact is: Israel is built upon the ruins of historic Palestine, quite literally in the case of those destroyed villages. The fact is: to this day, Palestinians are still being driven from their lands and homes. That 'Charlie Coyle' insists that Palestinians would be living under a dictatorship is nothing but racist, ignorant and ironic (given that they are now living under Israeli occupation (not very different to a dictatorship). When the Gazams democratically elected Hamas in 2006, it was Israel that responded by placing the territory under a siege and causing immense hardship and deprivation over the years. Israel has caused this region to fester in every manner conceivable- by 2016, not that far into the future, Gaza will be completely out of clean drinking water.

    www.thirstingforjustice.org/?p=1861

    The fact is: the United Nations (including human rights organisations) have compiled several reports on daily reality in Gaza during Israel's inhumane and illegal collective punishment of Gazans, more than half of whom are children. This was written in 2012 and yet the siege remains in place:

    http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_gaza_blockade_factsheet_june_2012_english.pdf

    Palestinian Muslims and Christians have lived for centuries with Palestinian (non-zionist) Jews. These Jews made up less than 10% of the population. If Palestinian Muslims and Christians truly had any notions of holocausting Jews, they had ample opportunity over several centuries to do it- and did not. Yet 'Charlie Coyle' insists that his speculations about what Palestinians would do if they had equality and the freedoms the rest of us take for granted, are 'facts'. Palestinian civil society has come together to state that their chosen means of resisting the brutal occupation is with boycott, divestment and sanctions, a successful tactic once employed by South Africans to gain their rights. This civil society has also issued a declaration to denounce all forms of racism.

  7. #7 Monique Buckner 08 Feb 14

    'Israeli Voice' states: NO JUSTICE for MIZRAHI JEWS = NO PEACE.
    Please stick this in your ’progressive website’ !

    Thank you! I certainly will!

    I'm so grateful you have cleared this up for the rest of us that the Palestinians are being denied peace and justice (but not that we needed proof from you).

  8. #8 Israeli Voice 08 Feb 14

    NO JUSTICE for MIZRAHI JEWS = NO PEACE.

    I am glad that Ms Buckner understands this principle. That for every single Arab refugee ethnically cleansed 60 years ago, at least the same number of Jews were ethnically cleansed at the same time.

  9. #9 Monique Buckner 09 Feb 14

    Actually, 'Israeli Voice', I was being sarcastic.

    Right of return is an inalienable political right that cannot be bartered. Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homes and be compensated for their lost possessions. The same goes for any Jews expelled from their homes in Middle Eastern countries. But it is cynical in the extreme, and legally illegitimate, to say that they 'cancel out' each other. If your suggestion had a scrap of legitimacy, then you could take your argument further and say that Israel's crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Palestinian people can be 'cancelled out' because Jews were murdered in Europe.

    This ploy is cynical and opportunistic in another way- since Al Nakba ('the catastrophe' or genocide of Palestinians beginning in 1947), Israel has been digging in its heels and refusing to acknowledge moral and legal responsibility for its brutality against the native Palestinians. In Israel, Palestinian citizens are prevented from remembering Al Nakba in public, for fear of financial reprisals.
    http://www.acri.org.il/en/2011/03/22/final-vote-on-nakba-law-and-acceptance-to-communities-bill/

    For decades, Israel has claimed that Palestinians left hundreds of villages, land, crops, livestock, money and other property, voluntarily. The latest idea from zionists and their hasbara outfit is to finally acknowledge Al Nakba, but to link it for political expediency to an event for which Palestinians had no responsibility whatsoever, in order to deny the Palestinian people their long-awaited justice.

    http://www.haaretz.com/hitching-a-ride-on-the-magic-carpet-1.97357

  10. #10 israeli Voice 09 Feb 14

    Dear Ms Buckner:
    I agree with your comment that the two cases cannot be used to cancel each other out. The ethnic cleansing of Jews by Arabs was far less defendable than Jewish ethnic cleansing of Arabs. Why?
    1. Mizrachi Jews DID NOT THREATEN the integrity of the Arab states whilst Arabs in mandate palestine DID THREATEN Israel's emergence.

    2. Virtually ALL Mizrachi Jews were expelled (99.5%)
    but only 80-85% of palestine Arabs were expelled.

    3. The distance of ethnic cleansing was between 150 to 2500 km for Mizrachi Jews but just 5 to 100 km for palestine's Arabs.

    Given these major differences, justice for Mizrachi jewish suffering must be dealt with first. The cases cannot cancel each other out. Only then can we achieve any justice for mandate palestine arabs.

    NO JUSTICE FOR MIZRACHI JEWS = NO PEACE

  11. #11 Monique Buckner 10 Feb 14

    Which part of 'inalienable rights' do you not understand, 'israeli (sic) Voice'?

    These rights are unconditional.

    That you make statements such as 'only 80-85%' of Palestinians were expelled and then bring in a distance measure for ethnic cleansing, as though expulsions are more acceptable and less painful and humiliating when the homes, property and lands once belonging to refugees are within visual range or within an hour's drive. And then you suggest that ethnic cleansing could be defensible.

    You state that the Palestinians threatened the emergence of Israel. The truth is that not only was Palestine threatened, the majority of its population was forcibly expelled (ethnically cleansed) or killed, hundreds of villages destroyed, and the country wiped off the world map. This mostly unarmed population had a right to defend themselves and their homeland, rather than zionist militia to brutalise them in order to build a state on stolen land.

    You clearly have not bothered to read the Haaretz article I previously posted which covers the issue of the Israeli Mizrahim and the fact that the State of Israel and World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries have blocked any attempt by these Mizrahim to claim their refugee rights, for fear that this may force Israel to settle Palestinian refugee rights.

    http://www.haaretz.com/hitching-a-ride-on-the-magic-carpet-1.97357

    There is no peace in Israel/Palestine because the State of Israel is a colonial project that uses apartheid to disempower and dispossess an indigenous population that it continues to occupy. That you try to lay the responsibility elsewhere is shameful.

  12. #12 Israeli Voice 11 Feb 14

    Dear Ms buckner:
    So if you have a situation where 800,000 people are expelled from their homes at gunpoint and all their property is confiscated then:

    If the 800,000 people are Jews its not so bad.

    If the 800.00 people are Arabs then it is bad & nasty example of colonialism & evil war crimes.

    A good Leftist progressive vision isn’t it?

    Also, you argue that Israel is a colonialist state - but israel is the birthplace of the Hebrew language & the Jewish Religion. You have a very warped historical view.

  13. #13 Israeli Voice 11 Feb 14

    Dear Ms buckner:
    So if you have a situation where 800,000 people are expelled from their homes at gunpoint and all their property is confiscated then:

    If the 800,000 people are Jews its not so bad.

    If the 800.00 people are Arabs then it is bad & nasty example of colonialism & evil war crimes.

    A fair progressive vision isnt it?

    Also, you argue that Israel is a colonialist state - but israel is the birthplace of the Hebrew language & the Jewish Religion. You have a very warped historical view.

  14. #14 Monique Buckner 12 Feb 14

    I never said that one example of ethnic cleansing was more acceptable than the other- you did. You made the comparison between Jewish and Palestinian refugees, not I. Readers just have to shift their gaze up the page to read your previous posts.

    I have never once denied that Palestine is the birthplace of the Hebrew language and Judaism. Palestine also happens to be the birthplace of Christianity and Jesus. And the majority of Islam's prophets originate from Palestine. And your point is?

    Colonialism is 'the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation, which constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights'.

    From a document published by Birzeit University Institute of Law, several factors identify Israel as a colonial state:

    * violations of territorial integrity of the occupied Palestinian territories (Israeli acquisition of territory by force and the
    fragmentation of the OPT through settlements, settler roads, the Wall, the annexation and closure of occupied East Jerusalem for Palestinians, the blockade of Gaza and the treatment of Gaza
    as a separate entity),

    * violation of Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources (Israeli expropriation and exploitation of land and water),

    * integration of the OPT economy into the Israeli economy (for instance Israeli measures such as taxes and import-export
    restrictions which have transformed the Palestinian economy into a dependent economy and a main consumer of Israeli goods),

    * denying Palestinians the right to freely express, develop and practice their culture (the renaming in Hebrew of Palestinian sites and landmarks in the OPT; destruction/closure of cultural
    sites/institutions; repression of freedom of expression),

    * depriving Palestinians of the capacity for self-governance (through the permanent changes in the institutions, laws and administrative system in the OPT caused by the extension of Israeli civil law to the OPT- settlers and East Jerusalem, military orders/laws which oppress Palestinians and privilege
    the settlers, the closure/separation of Gaza and East Jerusalem, the closure of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem)
    .

    A study by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa resulted in this document which details Israeli apartheid and colonialism:

    http://www.alhaq.org/attachments/article/232/occupation-colonialism-apartheid-executive.pdf

  15. #15 Israeli Voice 15 Feb 14

    Before June 6th 1967, there was no wall, no settlers, no israeli bypass roads, no occupation, no Israeli presence in these Areas whatsoever.
    But there was no peace - just terrorism.
    Why?
    Because the Arabs (who called themselves Jordanian at that time) are obsessed of getting rid of Israel.

    So they brought the situation on themselves. Its like children kill their parents but in the subsequent trial complain to the Judge that he pity them because they are orphans.

  16. #16 Monique Buckner 19 Feb 14

    Within the space of a week you move from placing the blame for Israel's violent treatment of the Palestinian people on the fact that Mizrahim have not had their refugee rights settled, to placing the blame on the Palestinians themselves.

    Israel began the war of 1967 which resulted in Israel occupying the fertile Syrian Golan Heights with its excellent supply of water, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. That this violent occupation is blamed on the Palestinian people (who have no army, navy or air force), is quite an incredible claim. It is not difficult to assess which party upsets the peace using military force to target the resources of others.

    This is not merely a matter of the occupation: Israel stands guilty of the crimes against humanity of apartheid and colonialism.

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