Saturday, February 1, 2014

A SuperBowl thought: has Scarlett been to a checkpoint?

In response to Scarlett Soda Stream Occupation Superbowl here, David Marquand wrote to me from Oxford, invoking the resolve of many Israelis to oppose the horrors of the Occupation:

"Dear Alan

What a terrifying picture you paint. Judith and I have visited the West Bank – only some time ago now – with a group of elderly peacenik Israeli ladies who do their best to patrol the Wall, and intervene when (as frequently happens) they notice Israeli soldiers behaving particularly badly. When we were there a coach of Palestinians on their way to a wedding had been stopped for no reason whatever. In the end, because of the intervention of the Israeli ladies, the coach was allowed through. But they were not going to be allowed back!

Anyhow, all best


Palestinians have requested Scarlett Johannson drop supporting Soda Stream and recover herself. Ilene Cohen in the first sentence of a valuable post cuts to the core of the issue:

"With the hubris that comes with unbridled paternalism, Massa Danny boasts about how well he treats his house slaves (he's doing it for them) and Scarlett thinks it's all just swell ("a bridge of peace" and all).

But colonial occupation is wrong, just as slavery is wrong. Unfortunately, the majority of twenty-first-century Jews in 'the only democracy in the Middle East' don't get it."


Scarlett will go from doctor to vamp for the "environmentally friendly" soda in a four million dollar viral purchase by SodaStream in the fourth quarter. I like Manning and company (and admire Seattle), but the game is, actually, far less significant than the Occupation and Johansson's shilling for it.

In addition, there is a general war-promoting, even militarist aura to American professional football - I remember four jets flying in formation over a Broncos-Cleveland playoff game in the 1990s and it is a ritual of Superbowl announcers to flash to people on military bases "in 177 countries" - usually, split screens go to troops at 4 bases - who are all watching "THE GAME."

The subtext here is life-threatening, the text comparatively...fizzy.


The Financial Times says in an editorial what the world (i.e led by the Boycott and Divestment Movement) needs to make Israeli leaders heed - an end to the Occupation and the settlements (the FT, an English business paper, is highly regarded - daily circulation roughly 2 million - but not, however, widely influential in America).


January 31, 2014 7:29 pm
A star stumbles in the settlements

Scarlett Johansson’s defence of her sponsor is naive

The decision by actress Scarlett Johansson to stop being an ambassador for Oxfam, the social justice charity, and continue as brand ambassador to SodaStream, an Israeli company that makes home-carbonated drink dispensers at a plant in the occupied West Bank, might be dismissed as a storm in a fizzy cup. It should not be.

The Lost in Translation star has accidentally turned a searchlight on an important issue – whether it is right or lawful to do business with companies that operate in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land – as well as inadvertently sprinkling stardust on the campaign to boycott Israel until it withdraws from the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem – a separate issue, at least so far.

SodaStream makes some dispensers in Maale Adumim, the biggest of Israel’s West Bank settlements, illegal under international law. It employs about 500 Palestinians and claims to promote jobs and peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. Ms Johansson says the company is “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine”. That is naive, as is her conflation of this controversy with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement advocating the isolation of Israel.

The status of the settlements is clear in international law even if Israel chooses to ignore this and expand its colonisation of Palestinian land, while ostensibly negotiating on the creation of a Palestinian state. Last year the EU adopted rules prohibiting grants to entities operating in illegal settlements. Yet the EU still let Israel into Horizon 2020 – the only non-member state in this €80bn research and development programme – making Israeli tech high flyers eligible for European public money provided it is not spent in the settlements.

That is not a boycott. It is the application of the law. Yet if Israel maintains its occupation, and spurns the peace terms being negotiated by US secretary of state John Kerry, such distinctions will erode. European pension funds are already starting to pull their investments in Israeli banks with branches in the settlements.

Israeli leaders, from former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert to Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, justice and finance ministers in the present rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have warned that Israel faces ostracism unless it makes a deal on Palestine. Now it is the settlements that are being targeted. But that could easily morph into a general boycott.

It is disingenuous to romanticise settlement enterprises. The occupation imprisons thousands of the Palestinians’ young men, gives their land and water to settlers, demolishes their houses and partitions the remaining territory with scores of checkpoints and segregated roads. There are almost no basic foundations for an economy. The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to build “bridges to peace” on other people’s land without their permission."


Omar Barghouti, an eloquent philosophical defender of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, underlines why the Israeli government, with its brutality in the Occupied Territories and treatment of Arab Israelis as second class citizens, fears an increasing boycott and isolation if it refuses to move now toward a two-state solution.


New York Times
SundayReview|Op-Ed Contributor
February 2, 2014

"Why Israel Fears the Boycott

JERUSALEM — IF Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail because of Israel’s continuing construction of illegal settlements, the Israeli government is likely to face an international boycott “on steroids,” as Mr. Kerry warned last August.

These days, Israel seems as terrified by the “exponential” growth of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or B.D.S.) movement as it is by Iran’s rising clout in the region. Last June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively declared B.D.S. a strategic threat. Calling it the “delegitimization” movement, he assigned the overall responsibility for fighting it to his Strategic Affairs Ministry. But B.D.S. doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel; it poses a serious challenge to Israel’s system of oppression of the Palestinian people, which is the root cause of its growing worldwide isolation.

The Israeli government’s view of B.D.S. as a strategic threat reveals its heightened anxiety at the movement’s recent spread into the mainstream. It also reflects the failure of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s well-endowed “Brand Israel” campaign, which reduces B.D.S. to an image problem and employs culture as a propaganda tool, sending well-known Israeli figures around the world to show Israel’s prettier face.

Begun in 2005 by the largest trade union federations and organizations in Palestinian society, B.D.S. calls for ending Israel’s 1967 occupation, “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,” and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and lands from which they were forcibly displaced and dispossessed in 1948.

Why should Israel, a nuclear power with a strong economy, feel so vulnerable to a nonviolent human rights movement?

Israel is deeply apprehensive about the increasing number of American Jews who vocally oppose its policies — especially those who are joining or leading B.D.S. campaigns. It also perceives as a profound threat the rising dissent among prominent Jewish figures who reject its tendency to speak on their behalf, challenge its claim to be the “national home” of all Jews, or raise the inherent conflict between its ethno-religious self-definition and its claim to democracy. What I. F. Stone prophetically wrote about Israel back in 1967, that it was “creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry” because of its “racial and exclusionist” ideal, is no longer beyond the pale.

Israel is also threatened by the effectiveness of the nonviolent strategies used by the B.D.S. movement, including its Israeli component, and by the negative impact they have had on Israel’s standing in world public opinion. As one Israeli military commander said in the context of suppressing Palestinian popular resistance to the occupation, “We don’t do Gandhi very well.”

The landslide vote by the American Studies Association in December to endorse an academic boycott of Israel, coming on the heels of a similar decision by the Association for Asian-American Studies, among others, as well as divestment votes by several university student councils, proves that B.D.S. is no longer a taboo in the United States.

The movement’s economic impact is also becoming evident. The recent decision by the $200 billion Dutch pension fund PGGM to divest from the five largest Israeli banks because of their involvement in occupied Palestinian territory has sent shock waves through the Israeli establishment.

To underscore the “existential” danger that B.D.S. poses, Israel and its lobby groups often invoke the smear of anti-Semitism, despite the unequivocal, consistent position of the movement against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. This unfounded allegation is intended to intimidate into silence those who criticize Israel and to conflate such criticism with anti-Jewish racism.

Arguing that boycotting Israel is intrinsically anti-Semitic is not only false, but it also presumes that Israel and “the Jews” are one and the same. This is as absurd and bigoted as claiming that a boycott of a self-defined Islamic state like Saudi Arabia, say, because of its horrific human rights record, would of necessity be Islamophobic.

The B.D.S. movement’s call for full equality in law and policies for the Palestinian citizens of Israel is particularly troubling for Israel because it raises questions about its self-definition as an exclusionary Jewish state. Israel considers any challenge to what even the Department of State has criticized as its system of “institutional, legal and societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens as an “existential threat,” partially because of the apartheid image that this challenge evokes.

Tellingly, the Supreme Court recently rejected an attempt by Israeli liberals to have their nationality or ethnicity listed simply as “Israeli” in the national population registry (which has categories like Jew, Arab, Druse, etc.). The court found that doing so would be a serious threat to Israel’s founding identity as a Jewish state for the Jewish people.

Israel remains the only country on earth that does not recognize its own nationality, as that would theoretically avail equal rights to all its citizens, undermining its “ethnocratic” identity. The claim that B.D.S., a nonviolent movement anchored in universal principles of human rights, aims to “destroy” Israel must be understood in this context.

Would justice and equal rights for all really destroy Israel? Did equality destroy the American South? Or South Africa? Certainly, it destroyed the discriminatory racial order that had prevailed in both places, but it did not destroy the people or the country.

Likewise, only Israel’s unjust order is threatened by boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights activist and the author of 'Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.”'"


Here is the rest of Ilene Cohen's post:

"January 30, 2014

With the hubris that comes with unbridled paternalism, Massa Danny boasts about how well he treats his house slaves (he's doing it for them) and Scarlett thinks it's all just swell ("a bridge of peace" and all).

But colonial occupation is wrong, just as slavery is wrong. Unfortunately, the majority of twenty-first-century Jews in "the only democracy in the Middle East" don't get it.

And the settlement/occupation/SodaStream/BDS/Johansson/ saga has moved to a new level. The denouement: Scarlett has chosen SodaStream and dumped Oxfam (which considers the settlements illegal).

Robert Mackey at The Lede at the New York Times has his third posting on the imbroglio, first following, with a full update. It is amazing, the freedom with which Mackey operates on I/P issues, a freedom absent from the news pages. The format at his blog is not subject to the usual constraints, though he often dutifully cites his "colleagues" Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren.

The story is everywhere else as well, including, of course, throughout the Israeli press. Much of the coverage has been rich in background on the occupation, though just this morning, alas, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations [mainly a conduit for American imperialism, former State Department official] and Israel panderer par excellence, praised Johansson on Morning Joe for her decision to dump Oxfam. But here's AP and here. All Things Considered on NPR ran the story this evening here. These stories are chock full of information. And now Kershner's joined in, writing about "the fuss" (no surprise that her piece is the weakest). But with everything out there, maybe even Richard Haass will learn a thing or two about the occupation.

I guess you could say that Scarlett's new contract with SodaStream opened a Pandora's box.

Second following is a piece from Haaretz, "It's Complicated," by Judy Maltz. The author checks out the industrial zone in the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, where SodaStream is located. She weighs the pros and cons for Palestinians. There's a subtext here that I reject—that somehow if a balance sheet ends up with more in the "better" column, it justifies the occupation. It does not. Let me be clear about what I'm saying, of course, I'd rather an employer treat employees better rather than worse. But better to be free than to live under colonial rule.[!] "Benign occupation" is an old Israeli talking point that mostly fell into disuse with the first intifada. But it seems to be back, courtesy of SodaStream. Danny Birnbaum's paternalism toward his Palestinian workers does not obviate the fact that he operates in an illegal settlement built on stolen land. As he says in the NPR piece linked above: "I don't like the settlements." Really?

So what is his message—that Palestinians should be grateful to be living under Israeli occupation and working at SodaStream? That the occupiers get to determine for the occupied people what is good for them?

See the third item following, at Mondoweiss, about organized Palestinian responses to SodaStream and Johansson. People need to understand that Palestinians are agents with something to say and that the paternalistic CEO of SodaStream is not empowered to speak for them.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is caught in the netherworld between denying that BDS matters at all and strategizing about how to counter the threat it poses, last following.

This is beginning to feel like South Africa in the 1980s redux, when whites were "rebranding" the regime to give apartheid a prettier face and Ronald Reagan stood with Pretoria



"January 30, 2014, 5:07 pm
Scarlett Johansson Chooses SodaStream Over Oxfam After Dispute About West Bank Factory

Updated, 5:49 p.m. | Forced to choose between two endorsement deals, the actress Scarlett Johansson decided Wednesday to end her charitable work on behalf of Oxfam, an antipoverty group that opposes trade with Israeli settlements, and continue as a paid “brand ambassador” for SodaStream, a company that manufactures products in the occupied West Bank.

The break with Oxfam comes a week after the charity said that it was engaged in “a dialogue” with the actress, who had helped raise funds for nearly a decade, and days before the broadcast of Ms. Johansson’s Super Bowl commercial for SodaStream’s home carbonation machines.

A version of Scarlett Johansson’s Super Bowl ad for SodaStream posted on YouTube by the company has been viewed more than five million times since Monday.

Oxfam’s stated position is that “trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law,” should be discouraged because companies profiting from the continued occupation “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Last week, however, Ms. Johansson expressed her outspoken support for the SodaStream factory in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, echoing the company’s chief executive in calling the plant “a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine.”

While the content of the talks between the actress and the charity were not made public, a statement released on her behalf contained a significant error about Oxfam’s policy regarding Israel. According to the statement, Ms. Johansson and Oxfam parted ways because of “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

But Oxfam does not support the Palestinian-led campaign known as B.D.S., which seeks to isolate Israel economically until it ends the military occupation of territories seized during the Six-Day War in 1967 and allows Arab refugees to return to their former homes in what is now the Jewish state. The charity objects to the import of goods produced in Israeli settlements but is not opposed to trade with Israel, an Oxfam representative told The Lede on Thursday.

Despite that fact, supporters and critics of Israel read the end of Ms. Johansson’s relationship with Oxfam through the lens of the B.D.S. campaign.

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and the author of “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights,” hailed the success of B.D.S. supporters in drawing attention to the ethical issues involved in the location of SodaStream’s factory.

“Without doubt,” Mr. Barghouti said in a statement released by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, “the biggest loser in this well publicized B.D.S. campaign was SodaStream, which was exposed to the whole world as an occupation profiteer. Prior to this, most SodaStream customers had no idea that it is involved in grave violations of human rights by producing in an illegal settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

As the Israeli blogger Mairav Zonszein notes, Oxfam’s stance seems identical to that of Peter Beinart, author of “The Crisis of Zionism,” who, in a 2012 New York Times Op-Ed article, called on American Jews to initiate “a counteroffensive” to the B.D.S. campaign by lobbying for a total boycott of the settlements. Mr. Beinart criticized Ms. Johansson last week and reminded his Twitter followers that prominent Israeli actors and writers had refused to perform in the settlements for years.

As The Lede explained last week, SodaStream made ethics a part of the conversation by marketing its domestic carbonation systems as an ethical alternative for consumers concerned with the environmental impact of bottled sodas, including Coke and Pepsi.

In an illustration of how the association with Ms. Johansson was becoming an impediment to the charity’s work, Oxfam’s social-media team found itself besieged by questions about SodaStream just as it was trying to draw attention to ethical questions about one of the Israeli company’s rivals, Pepsi [!]. In the run-up to the Super Bowl, Oxfam has asked its Twitter followers to complain to Pepsi about its poor treatment of farmers in Brazil and Cambodia.

The charity’s current online campaign against Pepsi, to protest the beverage company’s practice of buying sugar produced on land Oxfam says was unfairly taken from farmers without proper compensation, is the latest wave in a series the antipoverty group calls “Behind the Brands.”

The debate over Ms. Johansson’s endorsement of SodaStream unfolded as reporters began looking more closely at the company’s manufacturing plant in the Mishor Adumim industrial park, part of the Maale Adumim settlement. As The Jewish Daily Forward in New York reported, although many Israelis expect that settlement to become a part of Israel after the land swaps Israeli governments have insisted on in any future peace deal, “Maale Adumim is nevertheless a settlement especially loathed by Israeli peace activists. It was made possible in the 1970s by one of the largest expropriations of Palestinian land implemented by the Israel during its 46-year occupation of the West Bank.”

As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem explained in 1999, the settlement, including the SodaStream factory, was built on land taken from five Palestinian towns and two Bedouin tribes evicted by Israeli forces.

Perhaps more important, as the Israeli columnist Larry Derfner explained in 2012, this settlement is already “a stake in the heart of a prospective Palestinian state,” because it nearly bisects the West Bank and further construction there threatens to cut off “Palestinians’ access to East Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital.” That appears to be less by accident than by design. Mr. Derfner noted that Benny Kashriel, the settlement’s longtime mayor, told The Jerusalem Report in 2004, “Maale Adumim was established to break Palestinian contiguity.” The settlement, he added, “is Jerusalem’s connection to the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley; if we weren’t here, Palestinians could connect their villages and close off the roads. Maale Adumim necessarily cuts the West Bank in two.”

While opponents of settlement trade, like Oxfam, argue that the relatively small number of jobs generated by factories there do not outweigh the crippling effect of Israel’s military occupation on the Palestinian economy as a whole, SodaStream’s defenders contend that the plant is a boon to hundreds of local workers. The company’s chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, told The Forward this week that although the location was “a pain,” and that SodaStream could move all of its manufacturing to a factory inside Israeli’s internationally recognized borders, he would not do so out of concern for the Palestinians who would lose their jobs. “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” he said.

The newspaper also reported that during its correspondent’s visit, Mr. Birnbaum was applauded by Palestinian workers in the plant’s employee cafeteria when he reassured them that their jobs were safe.

Mr. Birnbaum also told a Reuters reporter who visited the factory the next day that the SodaStream factory was “a dream for activists and politicians on both sides of this dilemma, because it’s a model for peace and is proving every day that there can and will be peace between our peoples.”

The reporter, Noah Browning, noted however that a “mid-level Palestinian employee who spoke to Reuters outside the plant, away from the bosses, painted a far less perfect picture.”

“There’s a lot of racism here,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced.”

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.


"It's complicated: An Arab factory in a Jewish settlement

A visit to the West Bank's Mishor Adumim industrial zone, which was thrust into the limelight this week due to its best-known factory, SodaStream, and actress Scarlett Johansson.

By Judy Maltz | Jan. 30, 2014 | 1:58 PM

{my blog program does not reproduce photographs]
Palestinian workers on a prayer break in Mishor Adumim, an industrial park in the West Bank. Photo by Michal Fattal

Mishor Adumim industrial zone in the West Bank, outside the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. Photo by Michal Fattal

For Palestinians, working at Mishor Adumim is very convenient. Photo by Michal Fattal

MISHOR ADUMIM, West Bank – The Shweiki glass factory, with its sleek outer fa├žade and interior, stands out among the mostly shabby-looking low-tech plants, carpentries, workshops and garages that populate this industrial zone just outside the Jewish settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

But there’s something even more fundamental that sets it apart: Shweiki is an Arab-owned enterprise.

Its ultra-modern glass factory is just a few hundred meters down the road from SodaStream, the company that recently thrust this small industrial park into the international limelight when it hired American celebrity Scarlett Johansson to serve as the global ambassador for its soda machines – at a time when the movement to boycott goods made in the occupied territories is gathering momentum abroad.

A boycotted Palestinian firm

But the managers at Shweiki, established in 1936 by an East Jerusalem family, insists that they get an even worse rap than their Jewish counterparts. On the one hand, the Israeli Ministry of Defense refuses to give its seal of approval to the company’s shatterproof glass, while on the other, the Palestinian Authority boycotts its products.

“The Palestinians in Ramallah say we’re no better than the settlers,” explains Amran Shaloud, production manager at the plant, which moved to Mishor Adumim seven years ago.

Things tend to get complicated here, as stories like his would suggest. Sprawled over nearly 400 acres in the middle of the Judean Desert, a 15-minute drive from Jerusalem, Mishor Adumim is home today to close to 300 factories and small enterprises, including a bowling alley, two huge supermarkets, a small art museum, the huge Extal aluminum company and several kosher wineries. These businesses, including a very few owned by Arabs, are entitled to special tax breaks, as Mishor Adumim is an area designated for preferential treatment under Israeli law.

SodaStream is among the biggest operations, both physically and in terms of turnover, ine/2014/01/29/us/ap-us-people-scarlett-johansson.html?emc=eta1. And another AP: http://in this industrial zone. Surrounded by an ugly concrete wall topped with barbed wire, its manufacturing plant is situated just at the edge of Mishor Adumim, in clear view of local Palestinian children from nearby villages riding around on donkeys. SodaStream headquarters rejected a request from Haaretz earlier this week to pay a visit to its Mishor Adumim factory, saying: “We are not hosting such tours at this time.”

But other factories in the industrial zone were quick to open their doors and make their case for operating in this particular location. Most of these businesses, like SodaStream, rely heavily on Palestinian labor – in some cases, almost exclusively.

In defending her decision to represent an Israeli company based in occupied territory, Johansson this week cited the livelihood and welfare of these Palestinian workers. This claim echoed in numerous conversations with Jewish managers here this week.

“We can move our factories elsewhere, so it’s not a big problem for us, but they’ll lose their jobs,” notes Ami Cohen, the chief financial officer at Emesh, an upscale wood-furnishings manufacturer.

“Where else do they get paid like this, and where else do they have conditions like this? I give them time to pray every day and even provide them with water to wash their feet. Trust me, if you weren’t a journalist, my workers here would tell you that they’d rather that there not be any Palestinian state at all.”

But most of the local Jewish factory owners and operators acknowledge that it was not deep concern for the plight of local Palestinians that prompted them to set up shop in Mishor Adumim. Aside from the special tax benefits and the lower municipal taxes, there were also very basic geographic considerations.

“Because of the location, Palestinians can get to work here easily,” explains Akiva (who requested that his surname not be published), a manager at a local winery. “If they were working in Atarot [another industrial zone outside Jerusalem], they’d have to get up at 4 in the morning to make sure they could be at work by 7, because they’d have to go through checkpoints then. Here they don’t have to do that. Depending upon where they come from, it can take them less than a half hour to get to work, and that’s a big plus for people here.”

'No problems with location'

Seated at Miro’s, a popular local eatery known for its home-style cooking, are Yoram and Gilad, two brothers who run a large electronic appliances outlet store here. There was nothing ideological about their decision to set up a business over the Green Line, they insist. “We’re from Jerusalem, but there’s no available storage space in Jerusalem for an operation like this, and that’s why we had to come here,” says Gilad.
The managers of Emesh describe their factory as a model of Jewish-Arab coexistence. “About two-thirds of our workers are Palestinians,” says Eli Gelman, the production manager, who lives in the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim. “They come from all over the place. We’ve got workers here from Ramallah, from Bethlehem and even from Hebron. Trust me, if they had better options in Hebron, they wouldn’t trek all the way here.”
A team of Palestinian workers from the factory, he volunteers, is now in England, doing some carpentry work for clients there.

So nobody’s threatening to boycott you overseas?

“Not at all. Most of our clients abroad are wealthy Jews, and they have no problems whatsoever with our location.”

Gelman circulates among the workers on the production floor, giving instructions in Hebrew and in English for those who don’t speak Hebrew. He motions to Ashraf, a curly-haired man in his forties, to join him and tells him to feel free to answer a reporter’s questions.

Does Ashraf have any reservations about working in a Jewish-owned factory in occupied territory? “I could care less,” he responds. “The one thing I care about is being able to put some food on the table for my kids.”

But couldn’t he find work closer to home in Ramallah? “Yes, but the bosses there aren’t as good as the bosses here,” he responds, as Gelman smiles on encouragingly.

Osama, a 24-year-old from Bethlehem, says it was the salary that brought him to Mishor Adumim. “I couldn’t find a job that pays as well near where I live,” he says.

Not far down the road, at the huge Rami Levy supermarket, a group of Arab workers congregates outside the back of the building, where they hold their midday prayers.

About half a dozen others sit down around a picnic table near the parking lot and share a communal lunch of cooked lentils, served in a huge aluminum pot. Issa, their self-appointed spokesman, runs the fresh produce department of the supermarket.

“I’m happy to talk about anything but politics,” says the 36-year-old, who hails from the nearby village of Azzariyeh and describes his marital status as “four kids, but only one wife.”

Relations between the Jewish and Arab workers at Rami Levy are “excellent,” he says.

“We’re all friends with each other on Facebook and sometimes we even eat together.”
Does he have a problem working for a Jewish-owned establishment in the occupied territories? “It’s my livelihood,” he responds and quickly changes the subject.

A few blocks down, at Miro’s, the regular lunch crowd has settled in – with no exceptions, all Jewish.

“I tried to get Arabs to come here and even offered them a special deal, but they prefer to buy their lunch at the local supermarkets,” explains the proprietor, Miro Mizrahi, as he takes orders from his longtime assistant, Mohammed.

The apparently self-imposed segregation at lunchtime is also reflected, though in a more subtle form, in factory premises around the industrial zone. Although Jews and Arabs do spend many hours each day together here in common spaces, it is by-and-large the Arabs who are down on the production floor working the machinery and the Jews upstairs in the posh offices, at large desks behind computer screens.

The rare exception would be factories like Schweiki, where not a Jew is in sight. “It’s hard for us to hire Jews here because we’re closed on Fridays, but open on Saturday, and that wouldn’t be comfortable for them,” explains Shaloud, whose factory is right next door to Jewish-run Emesh.

Shaloud is taking a late-afternoon break, talking to a friend, Samih Owweida, who runs an aluminum factory down the road.

“As Arabs, we get it from both ends,” gripes Owweida. “I want to sell my stuff in the West Bank, and nobody will buy from me there.”

And then, with a big sigh, he throws up his hands in despair and utters a small prayer: “Let there just be peace already, so we can finish with this whole mess.”


"Palestinians living near West Bank SodaStream factory urge Scarlett Johansson to end role with occupation profiteer

Annie Robbins on January 30, 2014

A network of Palestinians living near the SodaStream factory in the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in Occupied Palestine, as well as Israeli and international grassroots activists who work with them, have issued a press release today calling on Scarlett Johansson to step down as SodaStream spokesperson.

Press Release:

Bab al Shams Village Council (in coalition with The Jahalin Association) joins the growing chorus of human rights advocates, Palestinian civil society organizations such as the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO), the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) and other conscientious citizens of the world, calling on actress Scarlett Johansson to terminate her endorsement deal with SodaStream, whose factory in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim is on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

Ma’ale Adumim, like all other Israeli settlements built on occupied land, is illegal and constitutes a war crime under international law. All companies operating in settlements directly support Israel’s illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian land by paying taxes to municipal settlement governments, employing local settlers, and providing the economic infrastructure for Israel’s settlement expansion.

The settlements have always been labelled a problem for peace by successive U.S. administrations, the United Nations and peace negotiators. Recent European Union guidelines state that no settlements should benefit from European Union taxpayers’ money; President Obama has repeated that Ma’ale Adumim’s “E1 Development Plan” is a red line for his Administration.

While Johansson and company officials claim to be advancing the cause of peace and to support the two-state solution, they are in fact supporting a nearly half-century old Israeli military regime that brutally represses Palestinian rights, illegally exploits Palestinian resources, and denies millions of people the most fundamental of freedoms. Palestinian families, in particular Bedouins, are being forcibly displaced so settlements like Ma’ale Adumim can grow. Currently, some 3,000 Bedouin face expulsion from Palestinian lands, so that the massive colony of Ma’ale Adumim can expand further.

For Palestinians to enjoy genuine and lasting economic prosperity, they require freedom from Israeli domination, and an end to occupation and colonization of their land as supported by SodaStream. If Ms. Johansson truly wants to contribute to a more peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians, she should begin by ending her endorsement of a company that profits from Israeli human rights abuses.

“Israel has been saying it’s serious about peace for over 20 years. Those words have proved empty when you see how settlements have massively expanded in that time. Or when you see how indigenous Palestinians have been displaced as a result of settlement expansionism,” said Bab al Shams village mayor, Jamil Barghouti. “How can you be talking peace when war crimes and colonialism are being committed under the guise of that talk? And how can someone like Scarlett Johansson be part of that deception? She should now withdraw for the sake of her own integrity.”


Bab al Shams Village Council (in coalition with The Jahalin Association) is a network of Palestinian popular committees, international and Israeli grassroots activists, working non-violently together to protect Palestinian rights to Jerusalem as a shared capital, with especial focus on preventing the eastern entry (the E1 area) to Jerusalem from being colonized by Ma’ale Adumim expansion."


"Ministers split on strategic plan over how to counter boycott threats

Yuval Steinitz advocates PR counteroffensive, but Avigdor Lieberman says this would play into activists' hands.

By Barak Ravid | Jan. 31, 2014 | 1:11 AM

Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz (L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (R) at government meeting January 26, 2014. Photo by Emil Salman

Government ministries are sharply divided on how to handle the increasing threat of international boycotts and sanctions against Israel over the West Bank occupation and settlements. The Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Ministry, headed by Yuval Steinitz, advocates a public relations counter-offensive, but the Foreign Ministry, led by Avigdor Lieberman, argues that this would play into the hands of boycott activists.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Ministry of Finance announced yesterday that it will exclude Israeli firms Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus from its Government Pension Fund - Global, a vast fund that invests the country’s oil and gas wealth in foreign stocks and bonds.

According to the announcement, the Norwegian ministry received a recommendation on November 1 from the nation’s Council of Ethics to exclude the two companies from the fund “due to contribution to serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict through the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem.”

A discussion on how to deal with the boycott challenge had been scheduled for Wednesday in the Prime Minister’s Office. But due to the crisis between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, it was put off to next week. The discussion is also meant to set anti-boycott strategy and policy for the government as a whole.

However, senior officials said the ministries are divided over how to handle the threat and even about its severity. Other obstacles to setting strategy are the lack of coordination within the cabinet, turf wars, insufficient information about the boycott organizers and a shortage of funds.

On June 23 of last year, Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet session that he had put the Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Ministry in charge of dealing with the boycott threat, including “the coordination of efforts with the organizations in Israel and the world to deal with the phenomenon directed against Israel and the Jewish people.”
Netanyahu had said the ministry would get all the 
authority and means required for the campaign.

But that meant transferring authority from Lieberman’s office to Steinitz’s, and at the time there was no full-time foreign minister as Lieberman was still embroiled in the criminal proceedings against him, of which he was ultimately acquitted.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said Netanyahu’s decision at the time grew out of a scheme by Steinitz, his ministry’s director-general Yossi Kuperwasser and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who had appointed Kuperwasser during his, Ya’alon’s, term as strategic affairs minister in the previous government.

Steinitz and Kuperwasser contend that what they call Israel’s “delegitimization” is a grave, widespread trend, and they are in favor of an aggressive public campaign against the boycott organizers. The two maintain that the campaign requires considerable resources.

In recent weeks Steinitz and Kuperwasser have drafted a plan for the campaign, which they intend to submit for approval at the discussion Netanyahu plans to hold next week.
Steinitz is demanding 100 million shekels (about $28.5 million) to implement the plan, which consists mainly of public diplomacy as well as legal measures against the groups encouraging the boycotts.

Steinitz’s aides said that in keeping with the prime minister’s instructions, “the minister is putting together an overall plan to fight the delegitimization. He has no intention of commenting on the figures since the plan is still being drafted.”

Diplomats in the Foreign Ministry, however, have a completely different approach. They believe Steinitz and Kuperwasser have overblown the threat and branded as “delegitimization” the legitimate criticism from foreign governments and NGOs of Israel’s policy in the territories, especially settlement construction.

Regarding the Norwegian decision, the government’s pension fund had excluded the Israeli companies from August 2010 to August 2013 for settlement-related similar reasons. “The Ministry of Finance has decided to follow the Council’s recommendation,” the ministry stated.

The pension fund holds more than 1 percent of all global stocks. It owned shares worth 7.2 million Norwegian kroner (‏$1.16 million) in Africa Israel Investments as of the end of 2009.

Netanyahu told Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg during a meeting with her in Davos last week that the Oslo government had become more balanced in its relations with Israel since the latest election.

Last month The Netherlands’ largest pension fund management company decided to withdraw all its investments from Israel’s five largest banks because they have branches in the West Bank, or are involved in financing construction in the settlements.

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