How 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians are working together in the Holy Land – by Ola Adebayo
By Ola Adebayo
“Every SodaStream box has a sticker on it with an Israeli flag that says this product was made by Jews and Arabs, working side by side in peace and harmony.” Rena Nickerson, SodaStream GM, The Island of Peace documentary
Many people around the world have a SodaStream – that incredible little machine that turns regular water into flavourful, sparkling bubbles.
But few know that SodaStream, which was created in 1903 by Guy Hugh Gilbey of the London gin distillers, has made a huge comeback in of all places Israel, and is now sold in 45 countries around the world.
As war between Israelis and Palestinians erupted again, most recently during the 11 days of fighting in April, 2021, where more than 275 people were killed. SodaStream’s Lehavim Rahat facility, where Jewish and Arab people work side by side, continued to operate through this conflict and still does.
“I know that some people were asked not to come to work. All the Israelis and the Palestinians that work in the plant have been coming in every day,” Nickerson told Context contributor Ola Adebayo.
It’s a model of working together that SodaStream, headquartered in Israel, is intentionally fostering.
“We are operating like normal. We didn’t stop, we continued working shoulder to shoulder.” SodaStream’s CEO Eyal Shohat says, “For us, coexistence is a real agenda.”
Nickerson says the company strives for equality and friendship:
“Every employee is treated equally and fairly, irrespective of their religion, nationality, race, or where they’re from around the world. We’re not a political organization and we keep politics out of our plants and offices. Although people are free to express how they feel, what we do is create an environment where people can make friends that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Despite efforts to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians, in a long and complicated history, SodaStream was a target of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in 2015, saying the company was an illegal occupant at their Mishor Adumim factory located in the West Bank region. SodaStream was then forced to close their factory, resulting in the loss of 470 Palestinian jobs.
SodaStream sought to transfer all of the Palestinian workers to the new Israeli plant, but most were unable to do so because of the very long commute from the West Bank region and the difficulty obtaining work permits from the Israeli government.
Though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over, the eleven day conflict left an uneasy storm in Jerusalem and a $150m housing deficit in Gaza. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is arguably fighting the biggest political battle of his life amidst plans to unseat him. While in Gaza, plans are in place to rebuild the ruins of the largest city in Palestine.
Ola Adebayo is the executive director of African News Centre and host of “I can tell you about Africa” podcast.