A group of 74 Palestinian employees will be returning to work at SodaStream, after the government rescinded their work permits more than a year ago.
“SodaStream is our second home,” Ali Jafar, 42, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
“When you have the opportunity to return home, you return.”
After years of loyal work at the company – and hours of daily travel – Jafar and his Jerusalem-area Palestinians colleagues received notice in February 2016 that the government would no longer be renewing their entry permits. Last week, however, they learned that their permits were finally being renewed – and that they would likely be able to return to the company’s Negev Desert factory within just a few weeks.
“If you like someone, you have to go to him wherever he lives,” said Jafar, who worked for SodaStream for three years.
The Palestinian employees had originally worked at the company’s former headquarters in the West Bank industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, near Ma’aleh Adumim.
In 2015, SodaStream moved from Mishor Adumim to an expansive campus at the Idan Negev industrial area, a joint work zone for the Beduin town of Rahat, the Jewish community of Lehavim and the Bnei Shalom Regional Council.
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While 500 Palestinian employees lost their jobs after the Mishor Adumim plant closed, 74 of them, including Jafar, were able to continue working at the firm’s new plant in the Negev until the government eventually revoked their permits.
“We are delighted to welcome back our 74 devoted Palestinian employees, who are able to join their 1,500 friends at our Rahat facility in the Negev,” Daniel Birnbaum, global CEO of SodaStream, said on Sunday.
“The Israeli government did the moral and honorable thing to grant work permits to our employees, who can now provide for their families and also prove that coexistence is possible.”
In particular, Birnbaum expressed his thanks to the interior, finance and economy ministers, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office and Ruby Ginel and Shraga Brosh from the Manufacturers Association of Israel, for their help in facilitating the process.
“At SodaStream we are committed to revolutionizing the beverage industry while proving that coexistence and peace are possible even in our troubled region,” he said.
SodaStream has earned global prominence not only for its popular soda-making machines, but also for being targeted by the BDS movement over the former Mishor Adumim plant. However, Birnbaum has long insisted the firm only closed down these facilities due to a need to expand, and not because of pressures from BDS.
As far as the Palestinian workers are concerned, Jafar and his colleagues expressed their eagerness to return to work, despite the long and tiresome commute to Negev.
“We are waiting for the permits to come,” Yasin Abu Atik, 30, told the Post.
Like Jafar, Atik is from Sawahera al-Sharqiya, a Palestinian town in the Jerusalem region. After working for one year in Mishor Adumim, Atik said he transferred to the Rahat site for five months before losing his work permit. To get to Rahat, he said he crossed the border at 4:30 a.m.
every day to board a 5 a.m. bus, reaching the factory by around 7 a.m. After a 12-hour shift, he took another bus back home, arriving at around 9 p.m.
“I like the work – the work there does not involve great pressure,” Atik said. “You work slowly. There are good hours.
“I also need the money,” he added.
“There are children, school – there is a lot.”
After losing his work permit, Atik faced many difficulties finding fitting jobs to replace his position at SodaStream. Supermarkets were not an option, because he could not be around alcohol as a religious man, and most of the factories in the Mishor Adumim region were not paying their Palestinian workers properly regulated salaries, he explained.
“They called me on Thursday from SodaStream’s manpower, and they said now we need you to work,” Atik continued.
“I said ‘yes.’” Similar to Atik, Jafar said he is keen to return to work at SodaStream as soon as possible, describing the company’s CEO in particular as “a man of peace.”
“If you like a place, you need to return to that place,” he said.David Brinn contributed to this report.
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