Mishor Adumim, West Bank — “I can bring a million people who want to work here,” boasted Ahmed Nasser, taking a break from his job as a SodaStream assembly line worker.
Nasser spoke to the Forward from SodaStream’s main production plant, which is located in the Mishor Adumim industrial park within the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the occupied West Bank. Controversy over the plant’s location was reignited by the company’s recent decision to sign actress Scarlett Johansson, who will debut as a company spokesperson in a high-profile commercial to be broadcast on Super Bowl Sunday. Critics have also alleged that SodaStream is guilty of mistreating its workers.
But Nasser, a 28-year-old who has been with the company for two years, said that employees receive “the best conditions there are” and “everything according to the law.” He added that he receives an hour-and-a-half worth of breaks in a standard 12-hour shift, and that prayer times are not deducted from break allowances.
Nasser lives in Ramallah, the power base of the Palestinian political elite that is opposed to settlement employment. But he said that he does not feel antagonism from the local population because of his work at SodaStream. He was happy to be photographed. Asked whether he changes out of his SodaStream shirt before returning home, he said no. “It’s my job — I’m not shy about it,” he commented.
When the Forward visited an assembly line for gas canister valves earlier in the day, it found the normal settlement power dynamic turned on its head. Nadia Safaf, a 50-year-old settler from Ma’ale Adumim, was working, supervised by shift manager Nabeel Besharat, a Palestinian from Ramallah who started at the company four years ago — three years after she did. Besharat’s line manager is an East Jerusalem Palestinian.
Safaf said that the work is hard, but she has no complaints about the mixing of cultures. The Arabs she works under and alongside are “very good people.” Her colleagues include Ptiha Abu-Selat, a 30-year-old woman from Jericho, who said she is happy in her job and that in her city the factory is “famous” for good employment. These interviews, like others at the plant, were conducted out of earshot of Israeli managers and did not involve on-record or off-record complaints of labor abuses, or of receiving pay below the Israeli minimum wage.
When Besharat was questioned about working in a settlement, he replied: “This is the big question, but for us it’s not a problem. We didn’t build settlements here — we’re working in a factory. I used to work in East Jerusalem, and I think it’s the same thing.”
What does he think about the Palestinian Authority’s declared desire to stop Palestinians from working in settlements? “If they make other opportunities in the Palestinian areas, they can, but they need to make jobs and ensure good pay for workers.”