Ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Meir Porush at a Jerusalem polling station in 2008. / Getty Images
A boycott of West Bank settlements is a favorite subject for discussion among Palestinian activists and Western liberals alike. Surprisingly, it’s getting some ultra-Orthodox Israelis talking too.
In fact, a Haredi lawmaker has revealed that he’s coming under “tremendous pressure” to initiate a boycott of settlement enterprises. Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism is “preventing it” for the moment but said that he doesn’t know if he can keep a lid on it. “I do not know if this matter will remain under control,” he said.
Porush made the comments on the religious Kol Berama radio station and they were reported by the pro-settler news service Arutz Sheva.
So what’s the rationale behind this Haredi boycott mindset?
Palestinian and Israeli activists at a joint protest in the occupied West Bank in 2014 / Getty Images
The Jewish and Israeli press is quick to report any and all Palestinian violence against any Jew, anywhere. Which makes sense, of course. Israelis and Palestinians are at war, Jews everywhere have a dog in the fight, violence is deplorable, et cetera and so on.
But, by contrast, there’s a marked reticence to report on events that show Palestinians actively engaged in nonviolent forms of protest, like last week’s little-noted “protest village,” Ein Hijleh, established by hundreds of activists to protest Israeli annexation plans in the Jordan Valley. This reticence speaks volumes. Really inconvenient and uncomfortable volumes.
The Jewish and Israeli narratives — the way we talk about who we are and why we’re here (and though they run parallel, these narratives are not the same) — are, like any other cultural narrative, heavy on self-promotion. Jews share a deep and disturbing history of anti-Jewish violence and hate, and we often tell ourselves that this is the only part of our story that matters when we’re looking out into the world. This is the part that tells us everything we need to know.
In this light, our enemies can only be unjustified in their hate; the use of violence defines them and reveals their truest selves; anything else is aberration and cannot be trusted.
In addition to the Scarlett Johansson Super Bowl ad, part of the reason that SodaStream has gotten so much attention — as opposed to many other products on the boycott Israel list — is because it presents an ethical conundrum for its lefty customers. SodaStream has become a symbol for health and environmentalism, but also for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
In other words, if you want to make your soda at home, but you’re also a BDS adherent — or even if you’re practicing limited, West-Bank-only BDS — you’re mostly out of luck. As a recent New York Magazine story pointed out, “Even the most fervent anti-Zionists will admit that, for seltzer addicts, SodaStream’s competitors leave something to be desired.”
But what happens if you’re a SodaStream detractor who happens to own a SodaStream — whether by dint of a gift, or a purchase made previous to a political awakening (or maybe even a guilty one-time acquisition)? Rather than toss their seltzer makers, some SodaStream owners are taking a cue from hackers who have figured out how to use the machines without continuing to support the company by buying its CO2. For the hackers, it’s all about saving money — a SodaStream CO2 cartridge, which must be replaced every two to four months, costs between $15 and $45. For the anti-occupation SodaStream owners, on the other hand, it’s political.
As counterintuitive as it may be, when you see Scarlett Johansson’s Super Bowl ad on Sunday, promoting a product that lets you make carbonated drinks at home, try to see through bubbles and think about the future of the Middle East.
There is nothing wrong with the product itself. Under normal circumstances, I would buy SodaStream and recommend it to my friends. But the circumstances under which the product is made are not normal. And because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is such an anomaly, as much as I may like Scarlett (and seltzer), I will not buy SodaStream, not until it moves its headquarters away from a West Bank settlement.
But before I discuss bubbles, a few words of clarification are in order. My organization is staunchly pro-Israel. Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of Israel’s peace movement, is a Zionist organization, proudly committed to Israel’s security and wellbeing. I love Israel and I’m worried sick about its future as a democracy and a Jewish state.
It is because of my love for Israel that I don’t buy products made by companies that are located in West Bank settlements, and that I urge the millions watching the Super Bowl on Sunday to look beyond the luminous actress and the fizz — and to consider the future of Israel and the Middle East.
Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson is taking heat for her decision to represent SodaStream, an Israeli home beverage company that operates in the occupied West Bank. Cartoonist Eli Valley offers his own unique graphic take on the controversy.
REASONS TO LOVE:
1 — It’s delicious. What Jew doesn’t like seltzer?
2 — It’s eco-friendly, saving massive amounts of otherwise virtually indestructible plastic waste.
3 — It could feasibly pay for itself.
4 — According to MSNBC, it’s the largest job provider for local Palestinian workers.
5 — It comes in invigorating Energy Drink, tipsy Happy Hour Cocktail and relaxing Diet Tea flavors.
REASONS TO HATE:
7 — It has fraudulently used the “made in Israel” label on its products when, in fact, they were made in the occupied Palestinian territories.
8 — It is also arguable that it doesn’t pay for itself unless you “regularly buy name brand can soda and pay full cost for it.”
9 — According to WhoProfits, it was guilty of worker exploitation until the workers’ rights organization Kav LaOved got involved. It also takes advantage of Israeli policies that make it cheaper for it to be across the Green Line, in occupied Palestinian territory.
10 — SodaStream is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under complete civil and military control of the IDF. That means Palestinian entrepreneurs, business owners, and industries face significant barriers that force them to turn to the settlements for employment.
11 — It also comes in Kool-Aid. And they want you to drink it.
Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers on November 10, 2013, in Rome. / Getty Images
Scarlett Johansson signed on this week as the new “global ambassador” for the West Bank-based Israeli company SodaStream and will be featured in the company’s 2014 Super Bowl advertisement. For SodaStream, this deal makes sense: Johansson is remarkably sexy, eco-friendly, loves the product, and happens to be Jewish. It makes particular sense since the company’s stock recently took a hit and its image has been tarnished by the fact that its factory is located in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in Israel’s occupied territories.
But for Johansson, who last October mentioned to Harper’s Bazaar that she might be interested in a political career, this deal makes a lot less sense. In fact, it may have forced her into her first public stance on foreign policy — one that is way outside the official American consensus.
This 29-year-old actress is no stranger to politics. Johansson campaigned for Kerry in 2004 and more heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012. She spent time boosting the youth vote in Iowa in 2008, did a short campus speaking tour, and co-hosted a fundraiser featuring pro-Obama clothing and accessories. She even appeared in the Will.I.Am song “Yes We Can” inspired by Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire primary speech. In her unpretentious 2012 DNC speech, she said that she was there to “use whatever attention” she was “fortunate enough to receive to shed the spotlight on what’s at stake for all of us.” But with SodaStream, her considerable attention-getting powers are being used for something far less admirable: to advertise for a company located in a place President Obama and Secretary Kerry and Secretary Clinton have called “illegitimate” and “an obstacle to peace” and a “cause for concern.”
A Palestinian worker passes near the Aida refugee camp on December 21, 2005. / Getty Images
A friend and I lived and volunteered in the Aida refugee camp, just outside Bethlehem, for several months after graduating high school. It was a great and memorable experience for both of us, but living in tense regions of the world has more downsides than just poor resources and facilities, which are to be expected. There is also the almost constant fear that your own friends might be suspicious of you.
One night there was a loud thump on the front door of our home, as if someone had thrown a large stone or possibly a brick. It was followed by a louder thump, another bang and then a few seconds of calm. My friend and I quickly, almost instinctively, grabbed the largest kitchen knives we could find and ran, knives in hand, to the front door.
Who will are the change agents of our world? Is it our elected officials and politicians or the ones who march in the streets in order to hold them accountable? These questions were clarified for me in profound ways during my recent trip to the West Bank as part of a delegation of Chicago-area Jews and Palestinian Americans.
The focus of our delegation was the Palestinian popular resistance movement in the West Bank, a phenomenon that is sadly unfamiliar to the majority of Americans and American Jews. In a world far removed from the images reflected in the mainstream media and the postures of political elites, we discovered a decidedly different reality: ordinary men and women struggling to live lives of dignity while actively resisting an inequitable and oppressive military occupation.
During our weeklong stay, we were hosted in Bil’in, a village that is has, along with many other villages throughout the West Bank, long been holding weekly popular demonstrations against the occupation over the past ten years. In Bil’in, as in most villages in this movement, the focus of the protests are Israel’s Separation Wall which cuts into the heart of numerous Palestinian populations centers, devastating these communities by cutting them off from their olive groves and farmland.
These weekly demonstrations have become part of the fabric of West Bank life for the past ten years, though few Americans are even aware of their existence. They have consistently been met with overwhelming military force from the IDF. Scores of Palestinians have been injured or killed in these protests, largely from high velocity tear gas canisters, coated steel bullets and live ammunition fired directly into crowds of unarmed protesters.
As we quickly came to see, the violence faced by Palestinians under occupation is a palpable and all-encompassing aspect of their lives. While the political parameters of this conflict are often characterized by Israel’s demand for Palestinian leaders to renounce and rein in Palestinian violence, the view from the ground reveals a different picture entirely: it is the Palestinians who live within a constant daily context of violence.
This is a difficult concept to grasp for those who have not visited or lived in the Occupied Territories. Every day Palestinian mothers, fathers and children experience physical violence from soldiers and settlers who attack them with impunity. Every day, moment they experience the structural violence of checkpoints, land confiscation, and home demolitions.
Our delegation experienced three violent encounters with the IDF during our short one-week stay. While touring the refugee camp of Aida, we inadvertently walked into the line of fire as the IDF shot tear gas canisters directly at local children. One morning in Bil’in we awoke to the sounds of explosions and gunshots. When we ran outside we found the entire village shrouded in thick, choking tear gas. We later learned that the IDF had chased a suspect in a bus bombing into the area and had killed him in a cave on the edge of Bil’in. Before they left, they bulldozed olive trees, shot up the elementary school and shot tear gas throughout the entire village.
It was almost a moving moment. A Palestinian child, only 6 years old, goes up to a Jewish child of Israeli settlers and offers him a handshake.
The Palestinian boy isn’t even supposed to be there. The Israel Defense Forces closed off this area of the restive West Bank a few months ago to avoid having to deal with confrontations provoked by the settlers, who often try to drive Palestinian farmers away.
The two lock hands and the Palestinian child quickly turns and walks away. His family cheers for him for the gutsy little gesture. A small aberration from the norm of occupation.
But then the Jewish child picks up a rock. Effortlessly and naturally, he throws it in the direction of the Palestinian kid; and then another one.
It’s not even like he seems concerned with actually hitting him. It’s a reflex, almost as if he was programmed to do so, he just picks up and throws. It doesn’t matter what happened just a moment earlier, or what will happen afterwards.
It’s Olive War season. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about a gourmet reality television show, but rather a several-week period of clashes where Palestinians and settlers try to hit each other in their pockets, via their olive groves.
In recent years, attacks by Palestinians on settler groves and vice-versa have increased significantly. Of course, it’s more than just a financial warfare — it’s about deflating morale, flexing muscles, and spreading fear as well.
The harvest is about to get in to full swing, and both sides are already getting defensive. The Samaria Residents’ Council, a grassroots settlers’, organization, is urging Jews in the West Bank to get cameras ready to record “provocations that are bound to come.” Among the Palestinians, there are already reports of settler vandalism, with Bethlehem-based Maan News claiming that settlers destroyed over 50 olive trees today in the south Hebron hills.
Recent months have seen the start of some ugly Palestinian-Israeli confrontations in Jerusalem, which have been calmed and contained quickly. However, out in what some commentators call the Wild West Bank, where tensions are less carefully managed, mutual olive grove attacks could conceivably spur nastier violence.
Every olive harvest puts the West Bank on edge, but this one in particular, with both settlers and Palestinians feeling frustrated with the international community, their own leaders, and the other side, will prove particularly challenging.
Two years after the Tel Aviv social protest movement was born out of anger at high property prices, Israelis have been told that they’ve misunderstood the problem all along. It is, the new Housing Minister insists, that there’s too little settlement activity.
“The key to immediately stopping the rise in home prices is massive building in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria,” Uri Ariel, who represents the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, claimed in a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday.
In his view, measures that are underway to ease the housing crisis will yield results in one to two years, “whereas in Judea and Samaria, we can immediately market tens of thousands of housing units.”
There’s a pie-in-the-sky optimism in his suggestion that current measures will yield results within a couple of years — even if they are far weaker than anything that the protest movement had in mind. But more importantly, his mixing up of Israel’s deep social problems with jingoistic policy statements relating to the West Bank raises important questions about the direction of the Housing Ministry.
Firstly, there’s the matter of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Having a Housing Minister with such zeal to build the West Bank obviously increases tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and her international allies. If he manages to realize his plans the reaction would be strong — but even if he doesn’t the statements reverberate around the Arab and international media.
But secondly there are the less obvious internal ramifications for Israel. With Ariel so set on a West Bank agenda, the main and most challenging task of the Housing Minister, namely easing the housing crisis within Israel’s 1967 borders, where the vast majority of the population lives, could play second fiddle, and suffer as a result.
In the long term, if Ariel succeeds in settling settlement building as a solution to the housing crisis, it could prove an expensive exercise. After all, if the homes are one day evacuated in a peace deal, it’ll be the state that foots the bill.
Ramadan has just started, and an estimated 1 million Muslims from the West Bank will enter Israel to spend part of the holiday with relations here. The defense establishment has become more confident about giving access to Israel for Arab holidays — and for the main part things have been smooth.
The opening of the checkpoints for mass travel underscores one of the interesting contrasts in the Israeli-Palestinian situation at the moment. While diplomatic channel between Jerusalem and Ramallah is sluggish and while there’s much friction and little movement on the peace process, on some day-to-day issues Israel is making significant efforts.
Of course, Jerusalem’s ability to do so reflects another fact of Israeli-Palestinian relations — political connections may be poor, but security cooperation is still strong.
Yet despite the upbeat attitude of security forces and the good level of cooperation, Ramadan this year poses a unique challenge. Not only does it fall at the height of summer (unlike Jewish festivals Ramadan isn’t fixed in a particular season).
There is also an unfortunate coincidence between Ramadan and the Fast of Av in the Jewish calendar.
Why unfortunate? Because during Ramadan Muslims converge on Temple Mount, and given that the Fast of Av is the holiday when Jews commemorate the destruction of the ancient Jerusalem Temples, a larger-than-normal contingency of Jews will head to Temple Mount.
Of course, if the observance of different religious holidays can happen in parallel and peacefully, it would be a boon to coexistence. Yet there is a real danger that the groups could clash.
The religious-Zionist right is becoming increasingly focused on the idea of asserting itself on Temple Mount, and the Fast of Av gives particularly strong expression to this desire. And Palestinians are especially sensitive at the moment to any violations of what they see as their rightful control of the Mount.
Add in the significance of the time-of-year consideration — people from both religions depriving themselves of food and water for an extremely long day in the sweltering sun and you get a potentially explosive situation.
A calm Tuesday could well point to a calm summer in Jerusalem, but if conflict is on the cards for this summer, Tuesday could well be the day that it beaks out.
Israelis awoke this morning to hear that four Palestinian rockets were launched towards Israel from Gaza and two had slammed in to the town of Sderot, without causing injuries. After months of quiet on the border following Israel’s Gaza operation in November, the Gaza militants who launched the rockets clearly intended to send a strong message to Obama.
It goes something like this. You may arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, talk at length with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the American-Israeli security partnership, and inspect the Iron Dome missile defense system that you have funded. But it can’t completely seal the Israeli south from attacks – you can’t ignore us.
There’s more. The second part of the message refers to internal Palestinian politics, and goes like this. You’re going to Ramallah today to talk to the Palestinian Authority. Don’t imagine that you can reach an agreement with the PA and ignore us and our opposition – we’re here, and ready and willing to unleash violence.
The rockets followed demonstrations against the visit in Gaza, which involved the burning of photographs of Obama and American flags. “We are out here today to say enough to the ongoing pressure on the Palestinian people and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority seeking to impose a unilateral settlement, and US preconditions forcing the PA to make more concessions,” declared Khalid al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader. Hamas voiced similar views.
With news of the rocket attack, Obama began the second day of his trip. After a day yesterday of back patting and banter with Bibi, and competition with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres to see which president could be more complimentary to the other, he ventured in to stormy Palestinian politics. (First he visited the Israel Museum INSERT LINK). The demonstrations that awaited him yesterday in Jerusalem were relatively sedate affairs calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, who is in a US prison as punishment for spying for Israel. But in the West Bank, more than 100 Palestinians dug in their heels at a camp in E1, a 4.6-square-mile piece of the West Bank just outside Jerusalem where Netanyahu wants to build, protesting the occupation and Israeli policies.
There was also anger in Hebron, where around two-dozen minors were arrested by the Israeli military. Palestinians alleged that some were under the minimum age for detention, 12, and said that the arrests were unjustified. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said in a statement that the arrests were unjustified. However, Israeli military spokesman Eytan Buchman told the Forward: “There was rioting in the area and they were involved in rioting.”
In central Ramallah, as Obama arrived, around 250 people protested against his visit and push towards peace with Israel. Some held shoes, a sign that they wanted him to leave Palestinian territory. Slogans included the claim that the U.S. “voted for occupation” when it opposed the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations in November.
Even as Obama was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after being greeted by a Palestinian guard of honor, Hamas was trying to grab the Palestinian headlines. Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, declared: “We believe American policies perpetuate the Israeli occupation and settlements in Palestine under a slogan of peace,” adding: “The PA must realize that they have to abide by national principles and reconciliation.”
The story about Nabi Saleh was framed in the context of a Palestinian village testing “the limits of unarmed resistance.” Those were the words Times’ editors placed on the cover of the Sunday magazine (yeah, I’m old-fashioned, and still read in print) and it was the concept that undergirded Ehrenreich’s story. I questioned that because, to me, regularly throwing stones at other people is not unarmed resistance. Stone-throwers may be at a disadvantage when faced with guns and tanks, but they can still inflict harm and still commit acts of violence.
If the villagers of Nabi Saleh were able to stand up to the Israeli occupation without arms, and if Palestinians across the West Bank were to do the same, I believe that they would change the conversation entirely, and shame both Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a real negotiated settlement. But that’s not what is happening.
Evidently what really galled Gharib, though, was the way I questioned Ehrenreich’s credibility because of a strongly anti-Zionist opinion piece he published a few years ago. Gharib said I should say why. I thought that was obvious.
My husband has long argued that if the Palestinians really wanted a state side-by-side with Israel, all they would have to do is adopt a nationwide, non-violent strategy. Peaceful demonstrations up and down the West Bank, continuously, steadfastly, would prick the world’s consciousness and give Israeli and Palestinian leaders no choice but to negotiate and do what they needed to do to end the occupation and secure Israel’s democratic future.
My husband may be engaging in wishful thinking, but it’s a powerful and attractive idea. The same thought may have occurred to whoever commissioned, edited and published Ben Ehrenreich’s cover story in the Sunday New York Times, lauding the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh and what the Times called its “path of unarmed resistance.”
Just a couple of problems. Ehrenreich is hardly a disinterested observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Nabi Saleh’s protests are hardly non-violent.
We have Chemi Shalev, based in New York for Haaretz, to credit for pointing out Ehrenreich’s recent troubling opinions about Israel. As Shalev wrote in his Sunday column:
“In 2009, Ehrenreich published a direct attack on Zionism in the Los Angeles Times entitled ‘Zionism is the Problem’. In the article, Ehrenreich castigates not only the ‘deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and the West Bank’ but ‘the Zionist tenets on which the state was founded’ as well.”
President Obama’s itinerary for his upcoming visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank contains messages both direct and subtle. And one of the subtler messages seems to be embedded in his decision to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit in Jerusalem.
In case the intended message passes you by: When President Obama spoke to the Arab world in his June 2009 Cairo speech, Jewish leaders watched warily, and then issued their complaints. Most had to do with the fact that Obama chose to give his first major international speech in Egypt and did not make a stop in Jerusalem while in the region. Others took issue with the President’s strong language against Israel’s settlement activity, and some were bothered by what they saw as Obama’s attempt to ignore Jewish historical ties to the Holy Land.
This argument was based on Obama’s reference, in his speech, to U.S.-Israel ties being cultural and historical in nature and on Obama’s recognition “that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”
By invoking the Holocaust as the root rationale for Israel’s creation, argued Obama’s critics, the president ignored the claims of the Jewish people to the land as something going back to the time of Abraham. Some even claimed that by not mentioning this historical tie, Obama was, in fact, supporting the anti-Zionist narrative, which views the Jews as outsiders who came to Palestine after being chased out of Europe only to make the Palestinians pay for the crimes of the Nazis.
With barely two weeks to go before President Obama’s scheduled visit to Jerusalem, the Israeli right seems to be gearing up to prepare as hostile a welcome as possible.
Round one is a dubious claim that received considerable coverage Monday in the Israeli media, according to which Obama is demanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu give him a detailed “timetable for Israel withdrawal from the West Bank” when he arrives March 20.
The claim was first reported in a right-wing Washington news outlet, the World Tribune, which based it on anonymous “sources” in Jerusalem. The Tribune report was then widely re-reported in the Israeli media, including such mainstream outlets as the Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post and Ynet.
The World Tribune quoted its sources as saying that the Israeli plan “would be considered in what could be an imminent U.S. initiative to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2014.” The report said Obama had indicated to Netanyahu (given an “implication,” the report said) that “if Israel won’t give him something he can work with, then he’ll act on his own.”
Is it “Palestine” yet?
Following the November 29 United Nations vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, the Palestinian Authority reportedly decided to officially change its name, and from now on to be referred to simply as “Palestine.” The term Palestinian Authority is a product of the 1993 Oslo Accords in which Israel and the PLO agreed to establish an entity which would rule the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
It is one of many monikers used by the international community to describe the Palestinians. The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is widely used by the U.N. and other international organizations. The Palestinian Territories is commonly used by the United States and European countries. The media, including the Forward, usually strives to simply refer to the Palestinians. Some Israelis call the West Bank by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria, which ignore the Palestinians and refers only to the area.
Should the U.N. vote put an end to this discussion? After all, if an overwhelming majority of nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, then one could deduce that it is a state, the state of Palestine.
Eight years after Israel promised America to start removing outposts and six years since the activist group Peace Now petitioned the courts to compel the government to evacuate the oldest outposts, it looks set to actually happen.
Settlers have tried to save the outpost and the government has tried to give it a stay of execution, but this week the High Court said that there’s no longer any wiggle room, and it must be evacuated by Tuesday.
Migron is the iconic outpost, meaning a settlement that is viewed as illegal by Israeli law as well as international law (which regards all settlements as illegal). Migron was build without the necessary government permits and licenses, and according to an official Israeli report stands on privately-owned Palestinian land. Its evacuation is a major victory to Peace Now and the Israeli left, and a huge blow to the settler right.
The key question today is, presuming that neither settlers nor the government manages to avert the evacuation at the last minute, what the West Bank look like on Wednesday.