Answering Roger Waters’ questions

February 5, 2014 at 12:49 am (anti-semitism, Harry's Place, Human rights, israel, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged)

This piece by  J.S. Rasfaeli is so good that we’ve lifted it from That Place: not everything they publish is rubbish, and this article is a brilliant reply to the idiotic anti-Israel-fanatic rock “star” Waters. It also deals with a number of widely-held misconceptions about Palestinians (who are indeed, oppressed) in Israel:

Above: anti-Israel fanatic Waters’ pig drone (note Star of David)

Dear Roger Waters,

The other day you posted an open letter to Neil Young and Scarlett Johansson on your Facebook page. This letter was primarily made up of a series of questions regarding the Palestinian employees of SodaStream’s factory in Ma’ale Adumim, addressed to Ms Johansson.

I see that neither Neil Young or Scarlett Johansson has offered you any answers to these questions, so I thought I might have a go.

There are several hundred Palestinians employed at this particular factory, I don’t know each of their particular circumstances, so I have taken my lead from the people interviewed in this recent article, and this video.

Enjoy the answers Roger, I hope they shed some light:

Do they have the right to vote?

Since 1994 Palestinians have voted in Palestinian elections – presidential, parliamentary and municipal. Following disputed elections and violent power struggles in 2005/6 the Palestinian polity has been split: Gaza ruled by Hamas, and the West Bank dominated by Fatah. All the Palestinian workers at SodaStream are from the West Bank.

The last local elections in the West Bank were held in October 2012. The internecine Hamas/Fatah rivalry prevented both local elections in Gaza, as well as new presidential or parliamentary elections for Palestine as a whole, but this has nothing to do with SodaStream.

Do they have access to the roads?

In the article above several Palestinian SodaStream workers are interviewed. Four of them identify where they live: Achmed Nasser and Nabeel Besharat, from Ramallah, Ptiha Abu-Selat from Jericho, and Mohammed Yousef  from Jaba.

Ramallah and Jericho are both in Area A of the West Bank, as defined by the Oslo Accords. This area is under full control of the Palestinian Authority, thus they should access to the roads there. There are several towns called Jaba in the West Bank; it is impossible to know which one Mohammed Youssef is referring to, and thus what his road access is like.

In Area C of the West Bank some Israeli-built roads are reserved for the use of Israelis (Arabs as well as Jews) travelling between communities beyond the Green Line, often known as ‘settlements’. This leads to frequent chatter in the West about ‘Jewish only’ roads. This is nonsense. How would this be enforced? Would traffic cops stop drivers and ask them to recite the Torah from memory?

Can they travel to their work place without waiting for hours to pass through the occupying forces control barriers?

SodaStream provides a bus service to take workers to and from the factory – as seen in this video. They pass through one checkpoint. It doesn’t appear too onerous, nor have any complaints been registered around this issue.

Do they have clean drinking water?

Access to water and other resources is of course a contested issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and will be a factor in any peace deal. But, to actually answer your question, the latest figures (from 2011) indicate that 89.4% of homes in the West Bank were connected to the water network, and 70.9% of respondents in a poll rated the water quality as ‘good’.

The West Bank’s agricultural sector, though under pressure from Israeli occupation and mismanagement, is functioning. People are not dying of thirst or water-born diseases in Palestine as they are in so many other places in the MENA.

Do they have sanitation?

The figures above apply to water for sanitation as well as drinking.  One suspects that the employees of SodaStream, earning between three and five times the local average are able to afford a better standard of sanitation than their neighbours.

Do they have citizenship?

Interesting question. Until 1988 residents of the West Bank were citizens of Jordan. Jordan then stripped Palestinians of citizenship based on ethnocentric lines. Israel has not done this to its own Arab citizens.

The Palestinian Authority has been issuing its own passports since 1995. The United States recognises these as travel documents, but not as conferring citizenship, as they are not issued by a state the US recognises. However, in 2007 the Japanese government stated, “Given that the Palestinian Authority has improved itself to almost a full-fledged state and issues its own passports, we have decided to accept the Palestinian nationality”.

So the answer is yes and no. The West Bankers who work at SodaStream do however have something considerably closer to citizenship than Palestinians in Lebanon, who are denied both citizenship and residency, despite many families having been there for several generations.

Do they have the right not to have the standard issue kicking in their door in the middle of the night and taking their children away?

According B’tselem, as of the ‘end of December 2013, 4,768 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons’. This number includes petty criminals, those who have maimed and murdered Israeli civilians, and very likely some poor souls who got scooped up by a crude judicial machine.

Law enforcement in the Occupied Territories is rough. Israel and the Palestinians are in a state of conflict; this does not engender light touch policing. But even its critics say that Israel does maintain the separation of its Legislative and Judicial branches. One hopes that the innocent will be set free – but this has little to do with SodaStream. One would expect the company to support any of its employees who were wrongly incarcerated.

Do they have the right to appeal against arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment?

As far as I am aware there are no categories of prisoner in Israel without the right to appeal.

In cases of Administrative Detention the prisoner may be held for six months without charge. This can be appealed in the Military Court, the District Court and the Supreme Court.

I am not aware of any SodaStream employees having been put into Administrative Detention.

Do they have the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before 1948?

Do you actually know whether the workers at SodaStream vacated homes or properties during the 1948 war?

If they did, then the answer is no, at this point they do not have the right to return to those homes (assuming said homes are still standing). However the so-called ‘Right of Return’ is a questionable ‘right’ at best.  At the end of the Second World War millions of Germans were forcibly displaced from homes their families had occupied for centuries in Eastern Europe. The same happened to two million Greeks and Turks in the early 1920s, millions of Indians and Pakistanis during the Partition in 1948, and roughly 750,000 Jews from the Arab and Muslim world at roughly the same time as the Palestinian Nakba. Most of these Jewish-Arab refugees ended up in Israel, where they became citizens. None of these groups is said to possess a ‘Right of Return’, none of them have ‘the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before’.

The Palestinians are uniquely cursed with this notional ‘Right of Return’, not least because even three of four generations after the fact, the Arab states where the Palestinian refugees ended up have declined to grant them citizenship or equal rights.

Do they have the right to an ordinary, decent human family life?

This is too nebulous a question. I’m not sure anyone can answer it, least of all Scarlett Johansson. From the article and video above, one might draw the conclusion that, inasmuch as the workers at SodaStream have this right, their positions at SodaStream help them to more fully exercise it.

Do they have the right to self-determination?

The workers at SodaStream are all free to leave the factory and find other employment. Thus far it seems none have chosen to do so. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?

Do they have the right to continue to develop a cultural life that is ancient and profound?

Again, a nebulous question – there is a room set aside for use as a mosque in the Sodastream factory (it’s in the video link). Prayer times are not deducted from break times. One of the more touching sections of that video is the part about the workers seeing each other pray, and families starting to celebrate each other’s holidays. In the Middle Eat this is new, and it is very profound.


So Roger, I hope that answers some of the questions you posed to Scarlett Johansson.

Part of me does suspect that you weren’t actually looking for answers to these questions– that you posed them rhetorically. What I would say to you, Roger, is that this part of the world doesn’t need any more rhetoric. Shrill, canting rhetoric is what got the Israelis and the Palestinians into the parlous state in which they find themselves. What is needed is calm, sober analysis, hard-headed realism, a sense of perspective and some good old-fashioned deal making by the politicians. You do no one any favors by adding to the noise, least of all the Palestinians who have chosen to work at SodaStream.

One last thing, Roger. At the end of your open letter, you tell Scarlett Johansson she is ‘cute’ but hasn’t been paying attention. This sails pretty close to what might be called ‘patronizing sexist bullshit’. Johansson is a grown woman who considered the facts and made her choices. You would do well to consider that. If you want to talk politics leave out the 1970s stand-up comic routine.

Cheerio Roger – think on it.


  1. Answering Roger Waters’ questions | OzHouse said,

    […] Feb 05 2014 by admin […]

  2. bkleraggg COCMOMENMutqyteuajtr said,

    interesting Jim that you think that such nakedly pro-occupation propaganda is “so good”. If you’d ever bothered to do any research into the occupied territories (rather than just recycling hasbara crap from the rightwing vermin of Harry’s Place) you’d know that Israel’s formal commitment to the rule of law is an illusion to swindle useful idiot liberals like yourself. In reality the occupation forces murder, beat, torture and imprison Palestinians with impunity. See:

  3. Jim Denham said,

    Ah! The word “hasbara” gives me a clue as to where you’re coming from, Mr 2.bkleraggg COCMOMENMutqyteuajtr: now care to tell me what is factually incorrect in Rasfael’s replies to Waters in that post?

    • richardarmbach2 said,

      And your affinity with the racist cess pit Harrys Place gives me a clue as to where YOU are coming from Jim.

  4. Pinkie said,

    Oh deary me, for instance:

    “Do they have the right to an ordinary, decent human family life?

    This is too nebulous a question. I’m not sure anyone can answer it, least of all Scarlett Johansson. From the article and video above, one might draw the conclusion that, inasmuch as the workers at SodaStream have this right, their positions at SodaStream help them to more fully exercise it.

    Do they have the right to self-determination?

    The workers at SodaStream are all free to leave the factory and find other employment. Thus far it seems none have chosen to do so. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?”

    Doesn’t that look a little ‘iffy’, James?

  5. bLLLeRelglg OCmOMmcenneartayut said,

    It’s a sad day when a supposed ‘communist’ requires explanation as to what might be objectionable about an article that defends an Israeli company located in an illegal settlement under a racist and apartheid military occupation. Frankly I don’t know where to begin. Try this:

    • Jim Denham said,

      Let’s just be clear, Mr .bLLLeRelglg OCmOMmcenneartayut: I am opposed to the occupation, and in favour of two states. I object, however, to demonization of Israel. I repeat my question to you: what is factually incorrect in Rasfael’s replies to Waters in that post?

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        Here’s one:

        Do they have the right to self-determination?

        The workers at SodaStream are all free to leave the factory and find other employment. Thus far it seems none have chosen to do so. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?

        This is no answer at all but a (probably) deliberate misreading of the question.

        Everyone knows that self-determination is a collective and political term which has nothing whatsoever to do with a workers right to leave employment.

        (and BTW what sort of socialist talks in such terms about workers in a society where mass unemployment is endemic).

        And this applies to other questions as well.

        Waters being an idiot is quite incapable of distinguishing between workers at Sodastream, Palestinians in general and those Palestinians who are the most direct victims of specific Israeli occupation policies – and Rasfael not being an idiot scores oh-so-easy points by talking only of the Sodastream workers.

        This isn’t ‘brilliant’ – it is just shooting fish in a barrel.

  6. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,


    The issue here is not whether Rasfael’s replies are factually accurate but whether they represent a morally and politically adequate response.

    However ignorant and biased Waters is, the fact remains that this multinational capitalist corporation is operating from a settlement in what two state supporters accept is a settlement on occupied Palestinian territory.

    And one can oppose and even boycott Sodastream without denying Israel’s right to exist or supporting a blanket boycott.

    So why is our outrage focused only on idiotic critics on Israel and seemingly never on the actual behaviour of the Israeli state?

    Why do we never reproduce or link to for instance the excellent work of the Israeli activists who produce for instance?

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Even by my standards that was garbled.

      Have you ever thought about installing a comments system like disqus that has an edit function?

  7. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Noam Sheizaf puts the opposing argument much better than I can:

    1. The difference between opposing the settlements and “opposing” the settlements. “Personally, I oppose the settlements” is a common opening line among many Israelis and American Jews. It’s like saying someone supports the two-state solution, a statement deprived of any political meaning since most Israelis and certainly most Americans are not personally required to help built a settlement or alternatively, facilitate the creation of an independent Palestine. Even elections are not decided on these issues. That is why you hear everyone from Meretz to Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman all say they “oppose the settlements.”

    Occasionally, however, one needs to take an actual stand – and what do you know? Many so-called settlement opposers rallied behind a settlement-based factory. Here is the Forward’s editor Jane Eisner explaining – believe it or not – that the occupation takes place “outside” the SodaStream factory, not in it; here is Tablet’s Stephanie Butnick congratulating Johansson for proving “herself to be more than just a glamorous face attached to a product”; and there were others, including J Street supporters like Rabbi Andy Bachman. You have to wonder what legitimate action – as opposed to words – against the occupation consists of for this crowd. Probably nothing.

    2. The latest Orwellian Newspeak is about an occupation that benefits Palestinians. In defending SodaStream, and later Johansson, there was much talk about the equal benefits Palestinian workers in the factory receive. If the factory was to suffer, the logic goes, those Palestinians will be the first to get hurt. I hope nobody who makes this argument seriously believes that equality exists when one party is completely dependent on the other’s good will. When a worker is deprived of political representation and can find himself in a military court following any controversy or problem, is he really equal? Does he get his freedom to travel along with his paycheck? His right to due process? This seems more like a “our n*****s are perfectly happy” line than serious reasoning. And this also should be said: Palestinians might very well do better or worse following the end of the occupation, but that cannot serve as an argument against giving them their rights.

    Nothing exists outside its political context. If Israel annexes the area in which the SodaStream factory is located as part of a peace deal, as some think it will, then the Palestinian society will benefit from land and other compensation it would get in return. Palestinian employees will have a serious representative body to fight and advocate for them, and maybe SodaStream will pay road tolls to the Palestinian state, and so on. In other words, this would be a completely different reality. Right now, the factory operates in a very specific context of the occupation, and it can only be judged in that context….

    The substantial debate these past couple of weeks wasn’t about SodaStream, it was about the occupation, and the terms and images used in that debate were unprecedented. This, for example, is the very mainstream Bloomberg News:

    ‘Johansson calls the [Sodastream] plant, in the settlement of Maale Adumim, “a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine.” But there is no Palestine yet, in large part because of Maale Adumim and the other 130 Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank (…) One can be a friend of Israel and a friend of a future Palestine, as Oxfam is. Or one can be a friend of Israel and a friend of Israeli settlements, as many right-wing Israelis are. But one cannot be a friend of Israeli settlements and a friend of a future Palestine, the role Johansson has cast herself in’.

    • richardarmbach2 said,

      Yes of all the occupation apolagist arguments ” we have the happiest blacks in Africa” is the most racist.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Roger, I am genuinely conflicted about the SodaSteam affair. I am strongly opposed to settlements (not just “opposed”), but also in favour of working class unity between Jews and Arabs/Palestinians, and I’ve heard/read no convincing argument to counter the facts of this particular case – ie that Arab/Palestinian workers and Jews in the factory are on the same pay rates, terms, conditions, etc, and that all the evidence seems to be that the Arab/Palestinian workers there very much want to keep their jobs. The BDS campaign and PSC don’t even bother to attempt to address that issue, because it’s of no interest to them – confirming the view that they’re not so much pro-Palestininan as anti-Israel.

      It is also the case that the border-line anti-Semite Waters (you’ll note I call him an “anti-Israel fanatic”), in his open letter, asks questions (and implies, by asking the questions, what he thinks the answers are) that imply answers that are simply incorrect. If we’re going to condemn Israel (as we should), we need to do it on the basis of the real facts (which are bad enough) and not falsehoods and half-truths – the suggestions, for instance that Palestinians in Israel do not have the right to vote, cannot be Israeli citizens and live under a system much the same as apartheidt.

      One further interesting point: in a Radio 4 interview I heard, Baghouti – leader of the BDS campaign – made it claer that the campaign does *not* distinguish between the settlements and Israel “proper” and is in favour of boycotting both: something I’ve not heard stated openly before, and which makes something of a nonsense of the idea that boycotts, etc, can be directed specifically against the settlements. The truth is that the BDS campaign only makes rational political sense if your objective is the total destruction of Israel.

      I repeat: there is much to be condemned in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, but the SodaStream affair is not a straightforward matter – at least for those of us who favour working class unity and a two states “solution” (in inverted commas, because it’s only, in my view, stepping-stone to a united socialist states of the Middle East). Ignorant myth-peddling like Waters’ open letter doesn’t bring us any closer to that solution.

      • richard armbach said,

        So Birnbaum, he of the big heart, employs 500 Palestinians at the Israeli minimum wage.

        These workers cannot be blamed for putting the need to feed themselves and their families at the top of their priority list. However, their interests cannot be held to be more important than the interests of 2 million other Palestinians. Birnbaum is complicit in in a colonialist enterprise that keeps several hundred thousand Palestinians unemployed.

        The talk is as if Sodastream hadn’t come along there would be nothing.. The Palestinians would have sat around sucking their thumbs. Hard to imagine just how much more racist it could get than that.

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        Although there clearly is a lot of bad faith amongst those who pay lip-service to the two states solution I don’t mean to imply that you are yourself insincere.

        And couldn’t agree more about Waters.

        But I can’t see any room for being conflicted over Sodastream at all.

        Progress towards the two states solution is only feasible if settlements are stopped and then rolled back (which does not preclude some land exchanges).

        So it is not enough to declare verbally that one is opposed to settlements while uncritically defending a burgeoning multinational corporation which situates itself in a settlement not out of philanthropy but because the Israeli state provides multiple incentives for it to do so as part of a 40-year grand strategy of what can only be called colonisation in the original narrow sense of the word.

        And did we fall for ‘don’t boycott us because we pay our blacks exactly the same and look at how happy they are’ argument in South Africa (or Rhodesia or the pre-civil rights era Deep South)?

        Marxists should have no illusions about capitalist corporations or bourgeois states and their motivations.

        And as for those jobs they will all disappear whenever a management accountant points out that they can make whatever the hell it is they make a few shekels per unit cheaper in China or Indonesia.

        As for boycotts it is not a something of a nonsense to suggest that you can distinguish between settlements and Israel proper.

        I can right now vow to never buy a Sodastream product while quite happily consuming anything else that originates in Israel proper.

        Never buying anything from any settlement would be more of a challenge but given that most settlements are commuter dormitories rather than industrial centres it would not be impossible.

        And if this shows insufficient zeal for the BDS campaigners that is the whole point.

  8. bkleraggg COCMOMENMutqyteuajtr said,

    Spot on Roger.

  9. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Haven’t addressed Waters’ dragging of poor Neil Young into this.

    Johansson’s love of money has led her to choose shilling for Sodastream over continuing whatever actually useful work she may have been doing for Oxfam

    Neil’s crime is to plan a gig not in any settlement but Tel Aviv – following in the footsteps of Roger Waters who played in Israel to an audience of 50,000 as recently as 2006.

    One of these things is really not like the other,

    If Waters, Johansson and those who rally behind each of them understood that distinction there might actually be some small glimmer of hope for Israel and Palestine.

  10. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Another piece by Matthew Duss in The American Prospect (a rather centrist US liberal magazine):

    It seems to me that there’s a sort of symmetry between the arguments of many BDS advocates and hardline pro-Israel supporters, with the former advocating pressure tactics without endorsing any particular outcome and the latter insisting that they favor a particular outcome (a two-state solution) while opposing all pressure to reach it. But I think for those who want a particular policy to succeed, we need to be specific about what that policy goal is.

    I’m not trying to draw a moral equivalence here. There’s no moral equivalence between those trying to end the occupation and those seeking to justify it. But I think people should put their cards on the table. Here are mine: I think the two-state solution, while considerably difficult to achieve at this point, is the least-worst option available right now. Even if we grant that a single secular, democratic bi-national state is a more just outcome (Harry Truman believed it was, as The New Republic’s John Judis shows in his new book) the possibility of achieving such an outcome is almost nil. And I cannot get behind a policy that would almost certainly consign both peoples, Jews and Palestinians, to an interim of violence in the hope that we’ll come out at the other end with a new single state.

    To this end, I think it’s entirely defensible and necessary to support efforts to create economic pressure against the occupation and the settlements enterprise that it facilitates. The U.S. government itself regularly declares the settlements “illegitimate,” so I see no problem with affirming that through collective, non-violent action. As Israeli journalist Bernie Avishai recently wrote, “Boycotting companies operating in the settlements is not the same as boycotting ‘Israel.’” This is a distinction that cannot be made enough.

  11. Jim Denham said,

    A question: if SodaStream threatened to close down the factory, and the workers occupied in protest: where would we stand?

    I think this represents a fairly fundamental disagreement between those who put class politics first, as opposed to those who put nationalism first.

    Like Roger, I don’t accuse everyone who disagrees with me on this issue of bad faith: I think it’s a genuine dilemma, especially for Marxists, for whom the class struggle must take priority over all other considerations.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      I can’t see that.

      Such an occupation for purely class reasons would present no problem at all.

      The issue would arise if the strike was racist or sectarian – the classic example being the white South African miners strikes (supported by the nascent SACP) or the Ulster Workers Council.

      And its not as if we have to re-invent the theoretical wheel here – leftists have been talking about boycotts as a tactic since the Irish Land League invented it as an instrument of agrarian class warfare.

      Even before that Marx vociferously argued for what was in effect the boycott of the Confederacy even though this caused mass unemployment amongst the English working class whose cotton mills relied on the raw materials provided by slave labour,

      My own recollection is that every far left group and most of the Labour Party and trade unions supported South African boycotts in full awareness that these cost black jobs in South Africa (as well as jobs in Britain – our arms trade with SA being a significant factor in our balance of payments in the 1960s).

      And Marxists at least have to take a utilitarian long view – should action against Sodastream cause it to close those workers lose their jobs (which under globalisation are no more secure than any other job anyway – indeed even less so as Israel can at any point withdraw these workers right to enter the settlement on a whim) but that would also represent a significant blow against the settlement program which might benefit them and the whole oppressed Palestinian people by bringing their liberation from Israeli rule with all its daily humiliations closer.

      None of which justifies a general blanket boycott of Israel – unlike apartheid where the whole state was the enemy here it is specifically the settlement program.

  12. RUBATO AL SIG. YOSSARIAN | Topgonzo's Blog said,

    […] proprio Shiraz Socialist (uno di quei blog di sinistra che mi piacciono insieme al mitico Harry’s Place) ha […]

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