By Larry Gordon
Maale Adumim—A great deal of what we know about this city is a big lie interspersed with mistruth and entangled in a significant dose of deception. Some of it was made famous by actress Scarlett Johansson, who refused to succumb to BDS pressure to give up her job as a spokesperson for SodaStream. You may have one of their machines at home, seen their ads, or read about them in the news. This seemingly innocuous piece of equipment usually sits on a kitchen counter and produces seltzer and soda. It is revolutionizing the beverage business.
So is SodaStream truly unique? Well, yes and no. The company has been around for decades but has experienced exponential growth of late due in part to publicity that was meant to damage the product but has instead done the opposite. The exciting thing about the product, other than the potent beverages it serves, is that the factory is located in Maale Adumim outside of Jerusalem. Critics of Israel—including the United States—consider this area Palestinian or Arab territory occupied by Israel.
Maale Adumim is Israel’s largest city outside the so-called Green Line, with a population of 40,000. Of the 1,100 employees working at this SodaStream factory, most are Arabs who reside in these territories in and around the cities that dot the planes of Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, I walked through the entire SodaStream production plant, accompanied by its Jewish executives and some of their Palestinian management team. “This is what peace can look like,” says Yonah Lloyd, the president of the company. I’m walking through the facility with Governor Mike Huckabee and his entourage. The visit was arranged by activist Dr. Joe Frager of Queens. While SodaStream is currently opening up plants around the world, they are doing their utmost to keep pace with the demand for the product. It is selling today beyond any projections or expectations.
As we tour the different floors, we get to engage with Mohammad Barum, one of the floor managers, who has been with the company for seven years. Rows and rows of mostly Arab young men and some women are performing their assembly-line tasks that produce a finished product. There is a sprinkling of Russian women and several Ethiopians in the employ of the company as well.
The world is outraged that Israel continues to develop a section of these territories, which only diplomats with a comprehension-deficit believe will someday be an Arab city and free of Jews. Yes, it sounds wild, even crazy, but it is so very real and true. Walking alongside Mohammad for a few minutes, I learn that he resides in a nearby Arab village. I ask him his feelings about the multi-decade chatter about a two-state solution to the Arab–Israel issue. I specifically wanted to know, if a second state—Palestine—were created on this land and if his village were incorporated into that new Arab country, under which national sovereignty he would prefer to live. He doesn’t have to think about it too long. Immediately, almost reflexively, he says, “Israel—I am an Israeli, an Israeli Arab,” he says.
The blatant dishonesty being displayed out there is that Israelis—Jews and Arabs—need to live apart. No one is suggesting that every city or village needs to be integrated, mixed, or however you prefer to refer to the possibility. It’s not like that in New York either, and it’s envisioning an unrealistic utopia to think otherwise. But this place of business, this facility, demonstrates that it is possible. That is what peace between the two peoples was supposed to look like originally. But then the despotic distortions and corruption came into the picture. The world out there would prefer tension and derision instead of productivity, dignity, and peace.
So let me share with you the reason why 800 Arabs can work effectively, successfully, and even eagerly for a Jewish-managed company in a place like Maale Adumim. It is in part about money. No, not stealing or embezzling funds intended for a population but instead spirited away by an unelected president to his private European bank accounts. This place produces a first-class product the way it does because the employees are treated with respect. They are compensated well and have the opportunity for corporate advancement. The average employee at SodaStream earns about 6,000 shekel a month, which translates to about $450 per week. Some of the more specialized workers can earn as much as 9,000 shekel per month. Comparable employment under Palestinian management, if it can be found in the Arab villages, pays about 1,000 shekel, or about $300 per month, barely a living wage.
And SodaStream employment features benefits on an equitable level for all employees. For example, when holiday bonuses are distributed around the Jewish holidays, all employees—Arabs and Jews—receive identical amounts. Now, as Ramadan is about to begin this weekend, the company provides a meal for employees working the evening shifts to break their fast at the end of the day.
The so-called sophisticated or enlightened nations of the world, and even the good old USA, would prefer not to see SodaStream succeed the way that it is. And that is because they play into the whims of the corrupt, power-hungry, unelected leaders who oddly seem to flourish when there is discord and difficulty.
After the SodaStream visit, we drove over to the Maale Adumim municipal building for a meeting with the city’s mayor, Benny Kashriel. His city wants to grow, but the U.S., in cooperation with the unhealthy attitude unfortunately harbored by the Israeli government not to rock the boat, has stunted the growth of this beautiful city just outside of Jerusalem. The city planner has a vision of 100,000 Jews making their homes here, but presently, to assuage the nonsensical approach to these matters of the Obama administration, the city is not allowed to build new homes. “Even if there was an agreement signed, all agree that Maale Adumim will remain inside Israel proper,” the mayor says. Still they are prevented from building.
He adds that the Europeans were determined to boycott everything coming out of Maale Adumim a few years ago, but when they learned that would mean the loss of jobs for 3,500 Arabs from nearby villages and towns, the boycott was put on hold. As far as America is concerned, the mayor says that he has personally invited U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro out to Maale Adumim many times to see the impressive cooperative fashion in which Arabs and Jews live and work side by side, but the White House does not allow the ambassador to make the short trip over.
Indeed there is a great deal more to be written about what we saw and learned in the few hours we spent in Maale Adumim. There are trying but very good days ahead here. For now, it is fascinating to think that seltzer may play a pivotal role in the destiny of the Jewish people and Israel. v
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