Muslim, Jewish employees of SodaStream break bread as Ramadan draws to close
On the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, worshipers broke the fast with an Iftar dinner at the most unlikely of places. Some 2,000 employees of different faiths gathered at the SoadaStream headquarters near the southern Israeli Bedouin city of Rahat, for an evening of food, drinks, spirituality and music.
SodaStream's "Ramadan Peace Festival" -- the largest Ramadan event in Israel -- drew more than 1,000 participants including employees of the plant, heads of local authorities and ambassadors of the countries in which Sudastream operates worldwide, including Canada, Austria, Colombia, Ecuador, Ireland, Panama and more.
The CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, told i24NEWS that his factory produces a lot more than just sparkling water and bubbles.
"We are located only 20 kilometers from Gaza," Birnbaum said. "So our employees, especially our Muslim employees, asked to send a message to their brothers on the other side of that fence and say 'hey folks, life can be different. Let's figure our how to work together instead of fight together. Let's figure out how to work together because what we're doing here at SodaStream should be replicated in other parts of Israel, of Palestine, the West Bank and the Middle East.'"
At the event, guests constructed kites with the word "peace" in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English and sent to the Gaza border, where the launch of flaming kites and balloons into Israeli territory has become an ubiquitous new tactic in weekly protests and have torched swathes of agricultural lands.
Nabeel Bsharat, a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Ramallah, has been working for SodaStream for eight years. Basharat says working together with Israelis has benefits that go beyond making fizzy drinks.
"It's good for everything, you can learn from the other. And you accept the other. And you can give your message to the other also. So it makes people closer to each other also," Basharat said.
Rachel Sorek, a Jewish employee at SodaStream said she was honored to join her Muslim coworkers in celebrating this year.
"It makes me very happy to be at this kind of event, I see and hear unity with the people of Israel when we celebrate here together with the Muslims. The same way they are celebrating our holidays with us, " Sorek said.
For Muslims, the month of Ramadan is a time for self-reflection and prayer — and fasting from sunrise to sunset. As the sun sets, employees, along with their families and co-workers, broke bread together.
SodaStream management asserted that events like these build positive relations between Jews and Muslims in a region that seems to be locked in a perpetual cycle of tension and violence.
In 2015, Sodastream closed down its main factory at a West Bank settlement east of Jerusalem following a heated campaign by the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for a boycotts of Israeli products, in order to boycott the company for operating beyond the Green Line.
The debate over SodaStream gained even greater attention when Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson became the face of the company, appearing in a SodaStream ad during the Super Bowl and defended the company's policies. The fight failed and the company moved its operations to the Israeli desert.
Now, the factory has become a place where Arabs and Jews continue to work side by side, and, according to Birnbaum, it is time for politicians to look ahead.
"I'm demanding that our leaders on both sides," Birnbaum said, "on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to stop focusing on managing the conflict and start focusing on managing the future."
Mohammad Al-Kassim is i24NEWS' Senior Middle East correspondent.
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