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Arabic general manager at Israeli firm’s factory in occupied West Bank tells Mirror.co.uk: “There is no discrimination”
By Lee Harpin Daily Mirror
“Come here and you see the Palestinian with the Jew, altogether,” explains Mohamed Barhum, the Arabic general manager at Israeli firm Sodastream’s controversial factory in the occupied West Bank.
“There is no discrimination,” he tells mirror.co.uk. “Peace is starting from here – I believe this. Peace is starting from autonomy, not from the political.”
Last month Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson dramatically quit her role as an ambassador for Oxfam as the row over her decision to sign as a face for Sodastream escalated.
The fizzy soft drink firm, who have a store in the UK in Brighton, Sussex and an annual net income of £32 million, have faced mounting criticism for operating their main production plant in the disputed settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
Oxfam, along with other fiece critics of Israeli settlement policy, claim Sodastream exploits Palestinian workers, denying them basic rights, and keeps them trapped in poverty.
But Mohamed Barhum – along with the other Palestinian and Israeli Arab employees mirror.co.uk spoke to during a visit to the plant – did not seem to agree with the company’s outspoken critics.
We were allowed to freely walk around the factory, which employs nearly 500 Palestinians, and 250 Israeli Arabs in a workforce totalling 1300.
The average worker is paid around £1000 a month – three times more than Palestinian workers earn elsewhere in the West Bank.
Nasser, 29, said he had been with the company for two years, and revealed he worked a 12 hour shift in which he was given 90 minutes break time – and that bosses did not deduct time from breaks during Muslim prayer breaks.
Another worker seemed critical of the campaign groups around the Palestinan BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement – who call for a worldwide boycott of goods manufactured in the Israeli settlements.
“We are here peacefully and we have no problems,” said Mohammed Youseff, 22. “Everyone is complaining about settlements here and everywhere, but SodaStream is different.
“We get paid well here. More than three times what other Palestinians do. Some of other go on to buy houses and make a future for our families. I don’t want this to end.”
Sodastream Chief Operating Officer Yossi Azarzar and his advisor Maurice Silber spoke proudly of the company’s commitment to equality.
“Israeli workers and Palestinian workers are paid the same wage for the same jobs,” confirmed Silber. “We work together, we eat together, and we pray together.
“I believe everyone should feel equal here, whether they are Jew, Palestinian or Israeli Arab, Russian or Ethiopian.
“As you can see it is not just Israeli Jews who can go on and become managers and progress in the company. Anyone can.”
The decision to locate Sodastream’s main plant inside the controversial West Bank settlement was made by the company’s previous owner during the 1990’s.
Azarzar said the location had actually turned out to be a “pain in the ass.”
He insisted if the site became part of a new Palestinian state they would be happy to pay taxes in the new nation.
Azarzar added: “Everyone is against the (Israeli) occupation – but just because Sodastream operates here does not mean we violate human rights.
“Who knows, Sodastream could become the future seed of the Palestinian economy.”
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