The Independent Blog: War and Peace and SodaStream

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SFI sodastream factory pic

By Tom Doran
Eagle Eye

2014 02 18 13.51.59 168×300 War and Peace and SodaStreamYesterday’s post was given over to the latest Depression Diary instalment, so I didn’t get a chance to write about our visit to the SodaStream factory. Yes, that SodaStream factory, the one inside the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

Some people will need to hear no more. We all know what those settlers are like, don’t we? Celebrity photographer Rankin summed up the conventional wisdom: Scarlett Johansson caved under the might of “Jewish zealots“.

The original Zealots were, in fact, Jewish. They are chiefly remembered today for their desperate last stand at the Siege of Masada, the closing chapter of the first great Jewish rebellion against the Romans. After besieging the city for several months, Roman soldiers finally breached the walls, only to find that the entire population had committed suicide (or drew lots to take turns killing one another, since suicide is forbidden by Jewish law).

The meaning of these events is still contested today. Some see it as a symbol of Jewish tenacity and heroism in the face of extermination, others regard the whole thing as a disgusting waste of human life. What’s clear is that to call someone a zealot invokes an extreme image, that of the die-hards who died harder than anyone.

So I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived at the factory. Human heads on pikes? Cowering Palestinians harried hither and yon with whips?

No, actually, as my leaden sarcasm will have alerted you. What we found inside the factory was… a factory. People putting things into things, taking things out of things, placing things next to things, and so on.

What we also found was an awful lot of Palestinians, who make up well over half the workforce. While they seemed half-wary, half-amused at yet another troupe of foreign journalists gawping at them, I really can’t say they came across as victimised. Instead, they came across as well-paid (they earn three times the average wage in the Palestinian Authority) and pretty content.

They also work alongside their Jewish colleagues on equal terms, entirely integrated. For one accustomed to nothing but ill omens from the Middle East, this was a heartening sight. One worker, Mohammed Barhun*, was explicit: “The peace, it start from here, from autonomy, not politic” (sic). I could fashion this into a hymn to the healing power of capitalism, but I’ve already done that one.

When we spoke to two of the managers afterwards, blood on the walls was also notable by its absence. They came across, oddly enough, like businessmen; annoyed at the disruption to productivity caused by all this attention, but happy to answer our questions and with nothing to hide. All they want is to keep making money, and outright said they’d stay exactly where they are if the land ever reverted to Palestinian hands.

Which brings us to the crunch point. Many will argue that conditions inside the factory are beside the point, that the thing is still located inside a settlement and thus beyond the pale. This argument can’t be dismissed out of hand. Settlements are indeed a real problem, a legitimate grievance for the Palestinians and a deadly threat to the future of Zionism.

But like just about everything in the Middle East, it’s more complicated than that. You see, there are settlements and there are settlements. When people outside Israel hear the word “settler”, they picture some wild-eyed bearded lunatic with a Torah in one hand and a gun in the other. Such people, broadly speaking, do exist, in settlements deep inside the West Bank, far from the Green Line. This is where the most extreme and implacable settlers live, including at the very extreme end those responsible for vandalising Palestinian property, or worse.

What too often gets omitted from media accounts of the conflict is just how small a percentage of the overall settler population these people are. The ultra-extremists, such as the Hilltop Youth, are tiny in number, almost negligible. The larger number who live in the remote settlements still only make up 20% or so of the total.

The other 80%? Their settlements, Ma’ale Adumim included, are a different story altogether. These form three large “blocs” which are contiguous with Israel proper, and are inhabited by a huge variety of people, from hardline nationalists to regular Israelis there for the economic benefits. The key point is this: everyone knows that in any plausible peace deal, these areas will end up, after land swaps, as part of Israel. Everyone knows this, the Palestinians included (those who want peace, in any case).

Not only are the anti-SodaStream campaigners barking up the wrong tree, they’re not even in the right forest. Apart from posing no threat to Palestinian nationhood and employing said Palestinians in large numbers, the reality of life in Ma’ale Adudim blows the case for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) to smithereens.

That 80% isn’t just geographically entwined with Israel, but economically too. Contrary to the assertions of many activists, boycotting just the West Bank and not Israel itself simply isn’t feasible. Beyond that, it’s morally wrong. The people who live in places like this aren’t criminals or fanatics, but Israeli citizens. As our visit demonstrated, they are quietly, and independently of the politicians, learning to co-exist with their Palestinian neighbours. This process will take a very long time and may yet fail, but it is palpably happening.

The BDSers’ studied ignorance of all this is why so many of us suspect – more than suspect – that the movement isn’t about helping the Palestinians at all. Some of its advocates may sincerely believe it is, I can’t see into their hearts. But the inescapable implication of boycotting Israel is that the state itself is illegitimate.

A boycott isn’t a tool brought to bear on friends we wish to persuade, but enemies we wish to break and buckle. When the target was South Africa’s apartheid regime, this was indeed a laudable goal. Israel is not an apartheid state, not even close, and those who insist otherwise in defiance of the facts shouldn’t be surprised when their motives are questioned.

*I’m not 100% certain I’ve spelled his last name correctly, the factory was noisy and we didn’t have time to ask him to write it down. If I’ve got it wrong, I apologise and will correct the post.