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Weekly pickets target Israeli fizzy-water maker

Product of illegal settlements finds home at upscale Organic Earth

by Miles Howe

Amidst the organic, locally-sourced and fairly traded are SodaStream products. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Amidst the organic, locally-sourced and fairly traded are SodaStream products. [Photo: Miles Howe]

K'JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – Every Friday afternoon, a small but committed group of activists sets up their signs outside of Organic Earth on Quinpool road.

Initially, Organic Earth might not appear as a hotbed of political activity. It's the type of upmarket shop that charges a premium for items meant to make you feel respectful – or at least cognisant – of the planet in your consumerism. Many things are locally sourced, or organic, or labelled as fairly traded and 'green'.

Organic Earth, along with other larger scale chain stores, has decided to market SodaStream products. And it is these products that are the focus of the weekly pickets. According to a case study prepared by 'Who Profits from the Occupation', SodaStream International, the manufacturer of home water carbonation systems, is produced in a factory in the Mishor Edomim industrial park in the occupied West Bank.

According to the report, industrial parks in settlement areas – such as Mishor Edomim - are given deep tax breaks and incentives in comparison to similarly zoned areas closer to Israeli urban centres.

The industrial park, and the settlement community of Ma'aleh Adumim which it serves, are both deep on the West Bank side of the 'Green Line', the name generally given to the demarcation line that serves as a make-shift border between 'Israel' and the West Bank. The geographic positioning of Ma'aleh Adumim also serves the purpose of cutting the north-south axis between Ramallah and Bethlehem, rendering Palestinian traffic between the urban centres extremely difficult.

“SodaStream is the product of illegal settlements, made on settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, in violation of international law and the fourth Geneva convention,” says Dr. Ismail Zaid, clutching a sign outside Organic Earth that reads: 'Boycott Israeli Settlement Products. Don't Buy SodaStream. Zaid is himself a forcefully displaced Palestinian whose familial village was razed to make way for the Jewish National Fund-funded 'Canada Park'.

“These borders are defined by international law. All these acts are war crimes. And we should not support war crimes.”

SodaStream International, in a nod to the publicity that its duplicitous factory has garnered, has released a feel-good video that promotes the notion that it employs Palestinian workers at above-average salaries. The factory is thus spun as a bridge-builder between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit one where the master and profit maker remains the largely Israeli shareholders and the servants – ably employed and thus free from concern – are the Palestinians upon whose land the factory sits.

Dr. Zaid, for one, doesn't buy the hype.

“The Palestinians who are unemployed, it's because their land is stolen from them, and this is where SodaStream products are made,” says Zaid. “These people should be allowed to work their land and retain their land. You can't just come and steal someone's land and then say 'Here, I'll give you a loaf of bread and that will make up for it.' It does not. It's a crime to steal the land and to occupy territory illegally, and that's what must be condemned and must be opposed.”

Famously, and perhaps to the education of those upwardly mobile enough to own a SodaStream without the foreknowledge of where their fizzy water maker came from, former Oxfam goodwill ambassador Scarlett Johansson parted ways with the international anti-poverty organization over her ongoing stint as a SodaStream spokesperson.

The media attention paid to Johansson's subsequent 'I'm no expert in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I like SodaStream' stance catapulted the Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign into the mainstream limelight. Minister of Employment and Social Development and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney appeared on Suns News, noting that he had ceased donating to Oxfam as he didn't know it engaged in “crazy politics.” Kenney also noted that he would be rushing out to purchase a SodaStream unit at his earliest convenience.

“I think the whole issue with Scartlet Johansson was absolutely fantastic, because her whole ignorance meant that she had to fired by Oxfam, which meant that there was a tremendous amount of publicity around the issue,” says longtime Halifax activist Jackie Barkley.

“What economic boycotts have the capacity to do is change the politics. That's why, when many of us who have been to Palestine, civil society groups have asked repeatedly for international boycott activities because they have very few non-violent resources available to them other than economic boycotts or political boycotts, which is a lesson from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”

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