The curious case of SOS – “Scarlet, Oxfam and Sodastream” – has enabled us to hear something almost totally inaudible most of the time – the voice of ordinary Palestinians. And what they are saying doesn’t match the much louder voice of the boycott campaign groups, one of which it seems Oxfam has become.
Instead of backing international NGO calls for a boycott of settlement goods, workers at the Sodastream factory in the West Bank have come out overwhelmingly in favour of Scarlet Johannsen’s opposition to BDS. So why are ordinary Palestinians so at odds with the groups that claim to support them?
One of the biggest traps of the whole international BDS campaign is that it depersonalises the lives of ordinary people, both Israelis and Palestinians. The campaigners, including Christian NGOs and churches, simply do not care about the circumstances, hopes and dreams of ordinary people.
A Palestinian state might exist one day, but in the meantime how are poor Palestinian families to earn a living in an economy dominated by corruption and nepotism at every level. An economy that would be much more productive if its leaders were not stealing international aid to the tune of millions of dollars and Euros.
The legality of Israeli settlements is not the most pressing issue for work-starved Palestinians. They are only too happy to be paid more than their compatriots to work alongside Jewish and Arab Israelis. This too, sounds at odds with what other people are telling us Palestinians want.
Here are many false myths about the Palestinians. One of the biggest is that Palestinians and Israelis are sworn enemies and can never exist together. What follows is drawn from the personal experiences of Palestinians. I know many of these people personally, but can’t name them for their own safety.
After Israel took the West Bank from its Jordanian occupiers in the 1967 defensive war, there was no security barrier and the old 1948 armistice linen longer had any meaning. The result? Israelis and ex-Jordanian Palestinian Arabs began to get to know one another.
In the words of one Israeli, Israelis and Arabs visited each others’ markets, went to each others’ weddings, ate in each others’ restaurants and made friends.
Even today, there are some living on both sides of the Israeli security barrier in both Gaza and the West Bank who recall with sadness the friendships broken up by conflict and political decisions.
In such a complex cross-cultural conflict, nothing is ever clean-cut. While Palestinian political leaders incite their people to hatred of everything Israeli, over 20,000 ordinary Palestinian men and women work in so-called “illegal settlements” in the West Bank.
In a society where unemployment runs at around 17% (and 28% in Gaza), men needing to feed their families need jobs. With millions of dollars and Euros wasted through corruption and greed, the Palestinian economy can’t supply employment for its people. But Israeli settlements can, often paying many times the rates obtainable from Palestinian employers.
Labour organisations complain of a lack of workers’ rights for Palestinian labourers but, Hey, a job’s a job when you have hungry mouths to feed!
And it’s not as if Jews and Arabs sit at work glaring at each other in resentment. At Sodastream in Mishor Adumim they work side-by-side and share a canteen together. And in the Barkan industrial zone, also in the West Bank, working relationships between the two cultures are cordial and friendly.
Incidentally, neither Mishor Adumim nor Barkan are settlements. They are the kind of industrial investment and labour venture that would be welcomed by any other underdeveloped region in the world – apart from the disputed Palestinian-governed territories.
If anyone reading this has visited Jerusalem, have you noticed how many of your hotel staff, taxi drivers and others serving you are not Jews but Palestinians? Where do they come from and why would they want to work in an “apartheid” state that so hates them (apparently)?
The answer to the first part of the question is that they come from either East Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Ramallah. They probably got up at the crack of dawn to queue at the checkpoints at either the North or South end of Jerusalem. Alternatively, if they are fortunate enough to be East Jerusalem Arabs, they have permanent residence status and can work freely in Israel proper.
What strange behaviour for a nation that is reported to have apartheid policies in place preventing Arabs from living and working among them.
Maybe this behaviour by Israel is why 54% of East Jerusalemites would prefer Israeli to Palestinian rule and why those in the territories are prepared to queue for so long for a better job than they could ever get in their own towns.
The vast majority of Palestinians working in Israel or the settlements appreciate having a job there. Sure, they might complain about taxes in Jerusalem, but they are the same taxes Israelis pay. In fact those working in the settlements pay their taxes to the PA, who ought to welcome this extra economic input.
Yes, checkpoints are a pain, particularly the busy ones into Jerusalem. But most workers allow more time (up to two or three hours at busy times) to process through into Jerusalem and the queues are generally quiet and patient.
Of course, the anti-Israel boycotters and demonisers don’t actually care about the opinions of these hard-working men and women. Nor do they take any notice of their preference for who they want to govern them. Ordinary Palestinians are just pawns in the big game of destroying Israel’s credibility in the world’s eyes.
None of the Palestinians I have met working in West Jerusalem is looking for the opportunity to blow him or herself up in their workplace or shoot their Jewish employer. I’m sure they exist somewhere, but they are a very small percentage of those who welcome a well-paid Jewish job.
Imagine if the PA ceased their incessant incitement of their own people, including children, to hate Israelis and Jews! The security barrier could come down, the checkpoints could close and everyone could get on with life without an imaginary, redundant and largely meaningless “border” that was erased in 1967.
Israelis and Palestinians can get on together, they don’t all hate each other and should be left alone to “normalise” relationships between the two communities. That is the way to peace; a peace between ordinary people, not a peace forced on them by others in a way that only serves to increase tension and which tries to impose solutions neither side can accept.