Jerusalem—The last of 500 West Bank Palestinians who had been employed by the beverage firm SodaStream were let go on Monday as a result of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israeli economic activity in the West Bank.
The firm had relocated its main plant from the West Bank industrial zone of Mishor Adumim last year to the Negev, inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, after it became the target of a BDS campaign organized by pro-Palestinian groups in Europe and the United States. The campaign also targeted actress Scarlett Johansson, who was publicizing the company. The plant owners argued at the time that BDS was in effect harming the interests of Palestinians by depriving 500 Palestinian workers of their jobs in the West Bank, an area where jobs are difficult to find.
At the time of the October move, the management received permission from Israeli authorities for 74 experienced Palestinian employees to commute to the new plant inside Israel until the end of February. That deadline was today.
SodaStream, which produces a pressurized cylinder to create carbonated drinks, employed 1,300 workers at its West Bank plant. Of these, 350 were Israeli Jews, 450 Israeli Arabs and 500 West Bank Palestinians. The Israeli media reported that pay and benefits were identical for all in comparable jobs.
Palestinian workers leaving the plant in Israel for the last time today were emotional. "We were one family," Anas Abdul Wadad Ghayth, 25, told Agence France-Presse, as he boarded a bus for the West Bank. "I am sad because I am leaving friends I have worked with for a long time."
The company’s CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, said he hoped to eventually be able to move some operations back to the West Bank. "If the government does not allow the Palestinians to get to their jobs, I will bring those jobs to the Palestinians," Birnbaum said. "This is not a threat. It is a fact."
An official for the Defense Ministry agency which coordinates government activity in the West Bank said that 58,000 Palestinians hold permits to work in Israel and another 27,000 work for Israeli businesses and factories in the West Bank. To increase that number, the official said, would require a government decision.
The new plant in the Negev has begun employing Bedouin Arabs from the nearby town of Rahat.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel cited the relocation of the SodaStream plant as a success for the BDS movement.