Last week our congregation voted to support a resolution calling for support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or BDS movement, which seeks to use economic and political pressure to force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. The United Church of Christ will vote on a resolution to support this same resolution when our General Synod meets in June.
In our conversation here on May 3, members shared articulate and passionate comments. Their personal experience in the Middle East. Their feelings about the situation of the Palestinians. The use or misuse of the word “apartheid” to talk about the situation of the Palestinians in occupied territory. The need to remember the suffering inflicted on Israel. The nature of complexity. The feeling that this resolution would not do anything to support a lasting peace. Questions about the political motivations of the BDS movement. That more dialogue is needed before a vote. The need not to isolate others in our interfaith dialogue.
A good conversation and what felt like the beginning of a longer one that is needed. A ballot was taken and our congregation voted 84 in favor of supporting the resolution, 4 against, and 10 abstentions.
A couple of years ago, I bought a SodaStream. Sparkling water is my favorite drink of choice and after years of hauling plastic liter container after container home from the store and then tossing them into my recycling bin, I was intrigued by the opportunity to make my own sparkling water. No more mass accumulation of plastic bottles. Just a Co2 cartridge I took back periodically to have refilled at the local drug store. I loved my endless supply of sparkling water and felt quite virtuous and very “Seattle” because of my environmentally supportive purchase.
What I didn’t know, until the discussions on this resolution, is that SodaStream operates a factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. My virtuous purchase now not so virtuous. SodaStream, unbeknownst to this naive consumer, has in fact been the subject of a boycott by the BDS movement for years.
My quick internet search showed that supporters of SodaStream note that 500 of the 1300 plant employees are Palestinians and paid competitive wages for Palestine.
In any case, SodaStream plans to close its plant and move it to Lehavim in the southern Negev this fall.
Is the specific controversy about SodaStream over? Or for others, like me, only beginning? And what about my SodaStream that my congregation has just voted to boycott?
Liberal Christians are criticized, fairly, for not talking about sin often enough. Our congregations bear the scars of those who for one reason or another have had a run in with churches calling them “sinful” or in need of redemption because of who they are or what they “believe”. In our liberal church welcome of “whoever we are, wherever we are on life’s journey”, sin often gets downplayed.
But maybe its times like this that we need to bring back that old fashioned word again. Right here, looking at the SodaStream on my kitchen counter is where sin makes sense to me again. Not in the sense of “miserable wretch am I”, – but “unclean man am I” caught in a web of broken relationships. Immersed in a divided and complex world of competing notions of the “good” that are often up to no good.
No, there is no getting “off the grid” when it comes to opting out of injustice. I am caught in the web of it. And now, wondering what to do about it.
This is not an “abstract” or “theoretical” issue for me. The places we talked about on Sunday are places I have traveled. I have been on two study trips to Israel/Palestine. I’ve walked through refuge camps outside Bethlehem and celebrated Shabbat in Galilee. I’ve talked with Israeli settlers and Palestinians about the terrors both have witnessed. I have listened to Jewish and Arab families talk about the death of their children. I have heard story after story of suffering and seen amazing glimpses of resilience and hope. I have seen the ongoing divides of the history of hurt that cripples this land and throws it back on cycle of violence after cycle of violence.
My SodaStream on my kitchen counter, now brings it all back to me. What do I do? Post a picture of the refuge camp I visited in Beit Sahour next to my SodaStream? Get rid of the SodaStream and let someone else pick up the responsibility for owning it? Stop refilling the little Co2 cartridges? Keep supporting an industry on occupied territory that my church has supported boycotting?
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the harm has been done. I already bought my SodaStream. But maybe I can’t get off the hook so easy. Maybe this is right where I need to be. Maybe sitting here today in the not-knowing.
And if I can’t get out of the web of injustice, but how might I get further into it so I might find my way through?
The worst thing about the “resolutions” we pass is when we have our brief conversations, feel vindicated or defeated, and then move on. The possibility of these “resolutions” is when they become an opening for deeper dialogue and engagement.
Maybe the occasion to prompt another study trip to Israel and Palestine? Maybe an occasion to gather our SodaStreams on the communion table, and listen to their stories?
Maybe, to listen to our own. Our hurt and displacement. Our longing to be instruments of hope and peace. Often not knowing how. But wanting to make a difference. To bring about change. To bring some water to the desert.
Maybe talking about our SodaStreams, a good place to start.