PARTICPANTS IN A roundtable discussion gather this week at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, June 21, 2018. .
(photo credit: ROCKY BAIER)
What effect does denormalization and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction campaign actually have on Palestinian society? That was the question discussed by Palestinians and Israelis who gathered for a roundtable discussion on Monday, to talk about building “bottom-up peace” through economic cooperation in Area C of the West Bank.
The forum at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs was centered around its new book, Defeating Denormalization: Shared Palestinian and Israeli Perspectives on a New Path to Peace.
In the book, nine of the book’s contributors share their opinions and stories.
For Nabil Basherat, a factory manager for the Israeli company SodaStream, the BDS movement caused hundreds of factory workers to be laid off.
“The BDS movement has threatened my job security and livelihood,” Basherat wrote in his chapter of the book. “It damaged the livelihoods of hundreds of SodaStream factory workers, who were laid off as SodaStream left its Mishor Adumim facility in the West Bank.”
According to Basherat, the factory closed due to BDS protests in the US and Europe.
Workers then had to find new jobs or emigrate. Some workers chose to commute to a different SodaStream factory that was farther away, choosing it over working for Palestinian companies that were closer.
Nadia Aloush, a Palestinian employed for 13 years at the Israeli supermarket chain Rami Levi and another contributor to the book, lamented that BDS has done nothing for her.
“I am against the BDS,” Aloush said. “What are they doing for us? They have a lot of money for themselves… we have not seen one penny. All that money that they have, they spend it on themselves.”
In her chapter, Aloush wrote how people worldwide donate aid money to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
“I do not understand how the entire world can donate aid money to the PA when its bureaucrats refuse to create jobs for their own people,” she said.
The PA also gets money from taxes. Palestinian workers in an Israeli industrial zone must pay 1,000 NIS a month to the PA, according to Basherat.
“The PA takes this tax money while supporting the BDS movement domestically and abroad,” Basherat wrote. “Logically speaking, they should be supporting a company like SodaStream for employing Palestinians who pay local taxes – but instead they just tried to punish us, allowing us to lose our jobs without understand how the ramifications of their actions also hurt PA economic interests.”
According to the Palestinian workers in the book, Israeli companies provide better insurance and benefits than most Palestinian companies. They also provide economic stability, which, while not a complete solution to the conflict, is believed to be part of the path to peace.
“The industrial zones were made for everyone,” Col. (res.) Dr. Danny Tirza said. “They are in the hands of the Israeli authorities, but they are giving workplaces for everyone. More and more Palestinians are coming these days to open a business in the industrial zones.”
The diversely-staffed factories provide an environment for Palestinians and Israelis to build relationships with each other and start breaking down stereotypes.
“It helps Palestinians to work with Israelis on an equal level and it gets them to know one another,” Professor and peace activist Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi said. “It also helps start a dialogue on the human level,” he said.
SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum agreed.
“I witnessed far more than simply ‘experiments’ or ‘exercises’ in coexistence and tolerance, but actual peaceful and harmonious relations between Israeli and Palestinian employees,” Birnbaum wrote.
For Dajani, who was expelled from his job at Al-Quds University after his life was threatened for taking a group of its students to Auschwitz, education is another path to peace. “That’s what’s missing in that puzzle: peace builders,” Dajani said.
“But to have peace builders, you have to teach them.”
The workers who face this economic reality just want stability.
“I hope one day to have work [in all of] the sides,” Aloush said. “I don’t care with who.”