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My experience engaging in boycott action with Jewish Voice for Peace

I arrived a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., as one of many social-justice interns working at the General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) this summer. During the few weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve focused on the work of GBCS with concern to Israel and Palestine. I’ve started working on a campaign to increase grassroots support for the SodaStream boycott.

As soon as I was given the task of promoting the SodaStream boycott, I knew I would need to contact Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a diverse community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. The JVP chapter in D.C. has been running a boycott campaign against SodaStream since July 2012.

There were few better folks from whom to learn boycott direct action than JVP who had been participating in the SodaStream boycott long before GBCS endorsed it

I decided if I was going to help Methodists increase grassroots support for the SodaStream boycott, there were few better folks from whom to learn boycott direct action than JVP who had been participating in the SodaStream boycott long before GBCS endorsed it.

A few phone calls with JVP leaders around the country later, and I found myself standing in front of the Columbia Heights shopping mall holding a “Boycott SodaStream” sign while two middle-aged women behind me sang protest songs, which they had written themselves. It had been a long time since I had engaged in direct action. I was undoubtedly rusty and a little bit more shy than usual.

The JVP folks were ... well-prepared for rusty folks like me.

Thankfully, the JVP folks were incredibly welcoming, and were well-prepared for rusty folks like me. They had tons of available eye-catching signs for us to hold, and they had leaflets in Spanish and English for us to hand out to passers-by. Plenty of them had been to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and could speak from firsthand experience if difficult questions arose. Because they had been participating in this direct action week after week, the JVP folks had their chants and songs ready and were eager to walk up to people to talk about the boycott.

I shouldn’t have worried about being useless or paralyzed from shyness. As long as you’re holding a sign with something like “Boycott SodaStream” written all over it, you’re bound to have people come to you. Some folks just wanted copies of the pamphlets that explained how SodaStream factories were built on illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land. Some folks would even stop by to say they were proud of the work we were doing or that they were already boycotting SodaStream.

Questions, questions, questions

I was feeling pretty good about our action until I was confronted by two young men walking out of Target with a keg of beer. They walked up to me and asked about the boycott. As I explained it to them, I saw a mocking smile creep across one of their faces. I could tell he thought the boycott was ridiculous, and that he was going to try to show me just how inane our arguments were.

He and his friend barraged me with questions faster than I could answer: “What exactly are the U.N. statutes that make the occupation illegal?” “Aren’t Israeli forces in Palestine there for security reasons?” “Aren’t there rockets coming from Gaza every day?” “What does the IDF do that is wrong?” “Doesn’t Palestine have its own security force?” “Throwing rocks at tanks sounds pretty violent to me …” And on, and on, and on.

It’s easy for me to answer these questions thoroughly while sitting here in front of the computer. For example, U.N. resolutions 242, 338, 446 and 465 make the occupation illegal, not to mention the Fourth Geneva Convention article 49, the Hague Convention article 46, and the 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice. But as a rusty protester, I was less than eloquent in my answers on the street. I could tell by the way the questions were asked, and by the mocking looks on their faces, that these two young men weren’t the least bit interested in my answers, or in understanding the reality of the occupation.

I should have known the conversation was a lost cause the moment they asked, almost simultaneously, “Are you from the West Bank? Have you been to the West Bank? Have you been to Israel?” I knew as soon as I said “no,” even though I was planning a semester abroad, my arguments in their eyes would be further undermined. In a way, that’s fair, and one of the reasons I’m planning to study abroad in the West Bank is to be able to speak from personal experience about the effects of the occupation.

The question was also a way to put me in my place, and to attempt to end a necessary conversation before it began. No, I haven’t been to the Occupied Palestinian territories or Israel. Had you been to Iraq before you formed an opinion of America’s intervention there? Had you been to South Africa before you formed an opinion of apartheid? Would my experience in the Occupied Palestinian territories, as a young woman privileged by race and nationality, be the same as the Palestinians who every day face checkpoints, land confiscation, home demolitions, administrative detentions, and violence? Not at all.

Human-rights abuses

In my opinion, anyone who has learned of the human-rights abuses perpetuated in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has a responsibility to work for justice for our Palestinian brothers and sisters. This mandate is even stronger for those of us who are American because Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. We, as Americans, have a responsibility to ensure that our tax dollars are not going to support human-rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The General Board of Church & Society has recognized this responsibility in its "Call to Boycott SodaStream." I couldn’t be prouder. Guided by United Methodist Resolutions 4011 and 6111, the Social Principles, and the command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” I encourage all Methodists, and all Americans, to learn about and reflect on the situation in Israel and Palestine and to engage in peaceful actions to end the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

Before a just peace can be created for our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters, the building of illegal Israeli settlements must end, and the occupation must cease to be profitable. Because SodaStream is one of the companies that directly profits from the occupation, I will continue to boycott their products until their profit from the occupation ends.

Will you join me?

Editor's note: Emilia Truluck is a social-justice intern in the Peace with Justice work area at the General Board of Church &Society. Originally from Rincon, Ga., she is a rising junior at Emory University pursuing a double major in Middle Eastern & South Asian Studies and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies. As a student of Arabic and Middle Eastern history, she hopes to make a career out of promoting global human rights and healthier relations between the United States and the Middle East.