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Open Letter to Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam

[A parody of Scarlett Johansson's involvement with Soda Stream. Image by Stephanie Westbrook of BDS Italia.] [A parody of Scarlett Johansson's involvement with Soda Stream. Image by Stephanie Westbrook of BDS Italia.]

Scarlett Johansson
Actor, Hollywood.

Winnie Byanyima
Executive Director, Oxfam. 

Dear Ms. Johansson and Ms. Byanyima,

We are writing to you about the involvement of Ms. Johansson as the Global Ambassador for Oxfam at the same time as she is the Brand Ambassador for Sodastream.

Sodastream, as we will show, is an Israeli company that is based on an illegal settlement, illegal according to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949). Not only are we concerned with Ms. Johansson’s involvement with this firm, but we are equally troubled by how her work erodes Oxfam’s credibility as a social justice organization.

Sodastream at Ma’aleh Adumim.

Sodastream’s factory is located in the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, in the industrial zone of Mishor Edomin. The settlements are built on land that the Israeli armed forces seized in 1967, and hold as occupied territories. Occupation law mandates that such territory be held temporarily, due to military exigency, and that its territorial and civilian character be maintained to the extent possible. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population to the land it occupies for that reason. Moreover, Article 8 of the Rome Statute enshrines this violation as a war crime. The International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, as well as Israel’s High Court have roundly rejected Israel’s contestation that the land is in dispute and not occupied.  In the context of this controversy and with U.S. diplomatic support within the UN Security Council, Israel has expanded and entrenched its settlements throughout the West Bank. While the settler population was 200,000 at the time that Oslo was signed in 1993, today that population is nearly 600,000. The lack of accountability facilitates Israel’s expansionist project, which has severely undermined the possibility of a viable peace agreement with Palestinians.  The Ma’aleh Adumim settlement is part of the attempt by the Israeli government to extend its reach into the occupied lands on the E1 parcel, which the European Union has called “a violation of international humanitarian law.” 

Ma’aleh Adumim is built on the rubble of the Palestinian villages of Abu Dis, Al Izriyyeh, Al Issawiyyeh, Al Tur, Khan al Ahmar and Anata. The construction of this settlement, and the industrial zone on which Sodastream’s factory is based displaced the Jahalin Bedouin. A 2012 Oxfam report on the Jordan Valley settlements noted, “In the early 1990s, 200 Palestinian families were relocated from the Jerusalem periphery to enable the Ma’ale Adumim settlement to be built; 85 per cent reported abandoning their traditional livelihoods.” The word that the Oxfam report used – “relocated” – is mild; we would have used a stronger word – forcibly displaced, for instance – but the point is made. Not only is Sodastream’s factory on land that is occupied (and so should not be built upon by the occupying power as per international humanitarian law), but it is also built on land from which Palestinians have been forcibily displaced. Finally, the settlements themselves are sites of gross human rights violations. The settlers enjoy three times as much water per capita as their Palestinian counterparts; they drive on Israeli-only bypass roads regulated by colored license plates; the settlements and the roads are built atop confiscated Palestinian lands; the settlers are governed by Israeli civil and criminal law while their Palestinian counterparts are governed by military law which the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination found to be in violation of Article 3 of the Convention and tantamount to apartheid; and the settlements are de jure segregated for Jewish persons only.

Oxfam and Palestine.

Oxfam has a long and distinguished role in raising awareness of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and in providing relief to Palestinians in their plight. In a note called “Oxfam’s position on the occupation of the Palestinian territory,” Oxfam takes a strong position – alongside the International Court of Justice’s 2004 ruling – that Israeli settlement building is illegal. After Oxfam argues that settlements are a road block to peace in the region, it says that all settlements must be dismantled. Furthermore,

“Settlements also significantly stunt the development of the Palestinian economy. Israeli settlements and the settler population under the protection of the Israeli army have confiscated Palestinian land for housing, roads, infrastructure and cultivation, as well as taken control of water. Many Palestinian farmers have been threatened or attacked by settlers, preventing them from farming their land or harvesting their olive trees. World leaders have repeatedly said that Israeli settlements are one of the main stumbling blocks standing in the way of progress on the peace process that ultimately, if it were to succeed, would benefit the lives and security of Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

<<>>  

Ms. Johansson and Ms. Byanyima,

On July 5, 2012, Oxfam released a briefing paper (no. 160) called “On the Brink: Israeli settlements and their impact on Palestinians in the Jordan Valley.” This powerful paper details how the Israeli occupying power has evicted Palestinians from the Jordan Valley – who only have access now to six per cent of its lands. Not only are Palestinians ejected from what had been their primary occupations – agriculture and nomadism – but they now face restrictions on their building of homes and work. “Palestinians across the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) also face systematic and discriminatory policies that restrict their freedom of movement, their access to land, water and markets, and their ability to build infrastructure to support their livelihoods.”

Two of Oxfam’s recommendations to the State of Israel are important to mention:

  1. Immediately halt the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in line with the recommendations of the 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion.
  2. End policies and practices that are illegal under international law and harm the livelihood of Palestinian civilians (including ending demolition of Palestinian infrastructure and ending confiscation of Palestinian natural resources.

Given Oxfam’s role in Palestine, it seems odd that the charity would continue its relationship with Scarlett Johansson, who is now the spokesperson for Sodastream, a firm that is built on an illegal Israeli settlement. 

Based on these facts, and the history of both Oxfam and Sodastream, we urge one of two courses of action: 

a.     Scarlett Johansson, Global Ambassador for Oxfam, break her ties with Sodastream, an Israeli firm that is built on a settlement that has been held to be illegal by international humanitarian law.

b.     Oxfam break its ties with Scarlett Johansson, the Brand Ambassador of Sodastream – an Israeli firm that is located on an illegal settlement.

It is impossible for Oxfam to retain its credibility if Scarlett Johansson remains its Global Ambassador at the same time as she is the Brand Ambassador for Sodastream.

Warm regards, 

 

Vijay Prashad                                    Elisabeth Armstrong                            Noura Erakat

Edward Said Chair                            Prof., Study of Women & Gender         Freedman Fellow,

American University of Beirut            Smith College                                      Temple University Law School

 

Endorsed by (Institutional affiliation for identification only).

1.     Adam Hanieh, Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK.

2.     Aijaz Ahmad, writer, New Delhi, India.

3.     Alan Shihadeh, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.

4.     Alex Lubin, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.

5.    Bassam Haddad, George Mason University, USA. 

6.    Bernardine Dohrn, Assoc. Clinical Law Professor (retired), Northwestern University School of Law, USA.

7.     Bill Fletcher, Jr., writer/activist, Washington, DC, USA.

8.     Dawn Peterson, Assistant Professor of History, Emory University, Atlanta, USA.

9.     Dream Hampton, writer, filmmaker, activist, USA.

10.     Elliott Colla, Georgetown University, USA.

11. Fida Adely, Associate Professor, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.

12. George Bisharat, Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, USA.

13. Issa Shivji, Professor (rtd.) of Law, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

14. J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Wesleyan University, USA.

15. Jean Said Makdisi, writer, Beirut, Lebanon.

16. Jennifer Guglielmo, Professor of History, Smith College, USA.

17. Johnny Williams, Sociology, Trinity College, USA

18. Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics at SOAS, London, UK.

19. Magid Shihade, Bir Zeit University, Ramallah, Palestine.

20. Michelle Joffroy, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Smith College, USA.

21. Mitu Sengupta, Centre for Development and Human Rights (CDHR), New Delhi, India 

22. Mona Fawaz, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.

23. Nadia Hijab, Director, Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network

24. Nadya Sbaiti, Smith College, USA

25. Nour Samaha, managing editor, al-Akhbar, Beirut, Lebanon.

26. Osama Abi-Mershed, Georgetown University, USA.

27. Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor, Columbia University, New York, USA.

28. Raymond Baker, College Professor of International Politics, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, USA and Director, International Council for Middle East Studies, Washington, DC, USA.

29. Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of History UCLA, USA.

30. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Center for Place, Culture, and Politics CUNY, New York, USA.

31. Sherene Seikaly. Assistant Professor, History/Director, Middle East Studies Center, American University in Cairo, Egypt.

32. Sujani Reddy, Amherst College, USA.

33. Sunaina Maira, University of California, Davis, USA.

34. Yasser Munif, Emerson College, Boston, USA.

[To add your name to this call, sign on to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation's petition here.]

If you prefer, email your comments to info@jadaliyya.com.

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