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Israeli settlement boycott may hurt Palestinians

A boycott movement against Israeli companies inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank may actually end up hurting the very people it is trying to help.

TEL AVIV: Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson was widely scorned for her Soda Stream commercial, in which the self-proclaimed "ethical" actress is seen endorsing a product that is manufactured in an Israeli West Bank settlement, deemed illegal under international law.

Israeli company Maya Foods produces all kinds of sweet treats, snacks and spices.

However, some people think that food made here leaves an unpleasant aftertaste because the factory sits behind the Green Line, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Settlements, considered illegal under international law, have inspired a growing movement -- Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) -- calling for non-violent resistance against Israel.

"It is the most effective form of solidarity today,” said Omar Barghouti, a BDS campaigner.

“Today's solidarity with Palestinian rights means BDS. It’s decentralised. It's a human rights movement. We have partners all over the world who agree on the three basic rights: ending the occupation, ending racial discrimination and the right of return for refugees".

However, the international boycott campaign has been criticised by Israel and its supporters as being 'unjust'.

"It's hard not to notice the fact that those who call for boycotting Israel are not calling for the boycott of any other country,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“They boycott only Israel. They blame only the Jewish state."

Opponents of the BDS movement argue that the boycott of Israeli settlement products hurts the very people it is trying to help.

"I think the boycott campaign is lacking a very basic understanding,” said Israeli Knesset member Shuli Moalem-Refaeli.

“The campaign first of all causes damage to the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians."

This is an argument that Udi Wertheimer, one of the co-owners of Maya Foods, believes and has invested in. He is proud of the fact that Palestinians and Israelis work side by side in his factory.

"I think this is the only place where Jews and Arabs work together -- this is the real peace,” he said.

“All the rest is for the television and cameras. But over here, we work together, we speak to each other, we help each other."

Udi admits that the reason he chose to build a factory here was because the land was cheap, but he thinks that the Palestinian workers benefit most of all and earn more than they would anywhere else.

However, Israel's detractors think that Palestinians, living under an occupation where Israel controls the lion's share of resources, have little choice in the matter.

Mujahed Alasmer, one of Maya Food's Palestinian workers, outlines the complexity of the situation.

"The BDS has a positive side and a negative side at the same time,” he said.

“There is no benefit from it, we know everything, we are not stupid. But from the other side the BDS could be good. Politically, the BDS is a card that puts pressure on Israel."

Mujahed is just one of 30,000 Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements. If the BDS movement is successful he might be out of a job. But in the long term he might be the winner in an independent Palestinian state.

As the BDS movement gains international momentum, Israel is fighting it every step of the way.

But for the thousands of Palestinians who are employed in 'illegal' Israeli settlements, it is just another working day. 

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