Employees work at the new SodaStream factory built deep in Israel's Negev Desert next to the city of Rahat, Israel, that replaces the West Bank facility.

Employees work at the new SodaStream factory built deep in Israel’s Negev Desert next to the city of Rahat, Israel, that replaces the West Bank facility.

By Lisa Sanders

Hundreds of Sodastream workers, Jews and Bedouins, gathered at noon on Monday to form the “peace” sign outside the drinks company’s factory near Beersheva, as they bid a tearful farewell to their Palestinian colleagues.

Sodastream’s Palestinian employees have been forced to leave their jobs after Israel refused to extend their work permits, despite ongoing pressure from Sodastream’s management.

In September the factory relocated from Ma’aleh Adumim in the West Bank to its present site in Lehavim in the Negev desert following an eight-year campaign by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

But the Palestinian staff, most of whom have worked at the company for six years, found themselves in a bureaucratic battle between the firm and Israeli authorities. This week the Israeli government announced its decision not to renew the Palestinians’ work permits.

“These workers served as ambassadors for peace,” said Sodastream CEO Daniel Birnbaum, who insists his company has always embodied coexistence. “Sodastream is the best propaganda against the false claims of BDS. But The government of Israel somehow couldn’t overcome their own red tape or hard-headedness and figure out the tremendous challenge of enabling 74 good people to carry on doing what they have been doing.”

“Up until the last minute I didn’t believe this day would come,” said Sodastream worker Nabil Basharat from Ramallah.

“Today we’re leaving but the time we spent together won’t have been for nothing. We believe that the day will come when we’ll come back and we’ll be together. I want the whole world to come here and see what we’ve built here and they’ll know what they’re losing.”

An anti-Israel protester in Brighton holds a 'Boycott SodaStream' banner.

An anti-Israel protester in Brighton holds a ‘Boycott SodaStream’ banner.

Jericho resident Hanadi Algrof, 38, was in tears as she hugged her friends goodbye. “I want to carry on working here,” she said. “They told us that they’re trying everything but today I got my termination letter. It’s really hard. I love the factory and I love everyone here without any exceptions.”

Her colleague, an electronics worker from the Bedouin city of Rahat, added, “Saying goodbye is really hard. We’ve all been crying since yesterday; we’re upset and angry. She just wants to work here and support her family.”

As the buses pulled up to take the Palestinian workers away, their fellow workers gave them bouquets of flowers.

Boss Daniel Birnbaum told them: “What we’ve built here at Sodastream – it’s an island of peace. We’ve proven that we can live together. Take this with you to your towns and villages…tell your family and your friends that it’s possible to live together. That there’s a different way. That it’s possible to love and you don’t need to hate.”