Palestinian Workers Cheer SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson — Occupation or No

Good Wages and Makeshift Mosque at West Bank Plant

God on the Factory Floor: Muslim workers at SodaStream’s plant in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim get extra time off for daily prayers, held on-site on the factory’s premises.
SodaStream video, via Youtube
God on the Factory Floor: Muslim workers at SodaStream’s plant in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim get extra time off for daily prayers, held on-site on the factory’s premises.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published February 01, 2014, issue of February 07, 2014.
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Mishor Adumim, like many other settlements, is built on land originally expropriated from Palestinian villages. According to a February 2009 report by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the expropriation in this case has severely limited the ability of those nearby villages to expand and develop. But asked about the argument, heard from the P.A., that Israeli control of large parts of the West Bank is holding back Palestinian ventures that would create jobs, Besharat said, “I think we have to stop putting all our faults on the Israeli side.”

The various production rooms at the Mishor Adumim facility all feed their products to a final assembly line, where the carbonators are put together and packaged, ready for shipping together with canisters, bottles and syrups. It is a large, clean room, with a smell of traditional Arabic cardamom-flavored coffee, which is widely drunk by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The Forward visited in the final hour of a shift, and the 120 employees there didn’t appear to be working particularly hard, with many chatting animatedly. They sat on high chairs with padded backs around a long surface around which products are passed, gaining their various components as they make their way toward the conveyor belt that takes away cartons ready for shipping.

At the plant’s cafeteria, Palestinian employees also seemed at ease, though they were clearly aware of the current international controversy over Johansson’s new role at the company. During the Forward’s visit, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum took to the cafeteria floor to give some 250 Palestinian workers a kind of pep talk about the issue, urging them to ignore the political attacks. “We are making history for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,” he told them in Hebrew, followed by a translator who rendered his comments into Arabic. Birnbaum reassured the workers about their jobs and said he wanted to bring “more and more hands” into the factory as SodaStream grows.

The Palestinians applauded these comments. Birnbaum also said, with a flourish, “Scarlett Johansson would be proud of you!” And at the sound of Johansson’s name — even before the translation — applause among the assembly of mostly male, 30-something Palestinian workers burst out again, palpably louder.

Birnbaum stressed the company’s declared ethos of equality. “I want everybody here – Jew, Israeli Arab, Palestinian Arab, Russian, Ethiopian — to feel equal, with the same pay, the same benefits, the same opportunity to advance and become managers,” he said.


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