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FREE SPEECH ZONE | SodaStream is outside the mainstream
SodaStream, a new product that turns tap water into seltzer water, has been showing up on the shelves of Twin Cities’ department stores. The circumstances under which SodaStream products are made is anything but refreshing.
SodaStream is an Israeli company with its main factory in the industrial park of Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest Israeli Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
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According to research by the Israeli group Coalition of Women for Peace, being in the settlements provides SodaStream structural advantages – low rent, a labor force that is easily exploited, special tax incentives, and lax enforcement of regulations.
For over 40 years, Israel has occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. The Occupation means that the Israeli military has total authority over every aspect of Palestinian life in these areas.
Numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have condemned the Occupation for violating international humanitarian law and Palestinians’ human rights through the construction of hundreds of settlements in the West Bank. The Israeli government offered substantial benefits to encourage hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews to relocate to these settlements.
Similarly, SodaStream built its factory in the settlement in order to receive financial incentives from the Israeli government, and like all businesses in the settlements’ industrial parks, SodaStream qualifies for ongoing tax deductions.
As with the Maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexican border, the high unemployment rate means that many Palestinians are forced to try to earn a living through jobs in the settlements, despite the low pay and harsh working conditions.
Palestinian workers in the settlements do not enjoy the full protection of Israeli labor laws. They must get special permits and security clearance just to be able to enter these factories. Involvement in a labor dispute constitutes a security risk and can result in the loss of not only a worker’s current job but their ability to work in settlements in the future. Thus, many Palestinian workers do not demand their legal employment rights due to fear of losing their work permit.
At the SodaStream factory, when workers protested that they were being paid less than half of the minimum wage and were forced to work 12 hour days, they were fired. On another occasion, when workers who were fired and were still owed a month’s wages went to the factory to request their pay, SodaStream had them removed from the factory and banned from the entire industrial park.
As with all business in the illegal settlements, SodaStream pays taxes to Israel, not to the Palestinian Authority. The municipal taxes that SodaStream pays are used exclusively to support the growth and development of the settlement through things such as roads, education, and sewage treatment.
Many people view buying products such as SodaStream that are manufactured in the settlements as contributing to sustaining the illegal settlements. That is why a number of organizations, Meretz USA, Americans for Peace Now, and Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as the Presbyterian and Methodist churches, have endorsed a boycott of SodaStream and other products made in the illegal settlements.
Boycotts have long been used as a way for individuals and communities to act on their values and influence policies. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Farmworkers’ grape boycott to boycotts of companies doing business in apartheid South Africa to an Israeli boycott of cottage cheese in the summer of 2011 as a protest against the continuing rise in food prices.
The settlements are illegal. They are a major obstacle to a just peace and are an impediment to Palestinian economic and social development. Boycotting SodaStream and other settlement products is a way for us to stand up for human rights and say that we do not support the Occupation.
Jordan Ash of St. Paul is a member of Mount Zion synagogue and on the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace.