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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since February 2013

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SodaStream: Set the Bubbles Free? First, Set Palestinians Free

February 5, 2013 ·

Lyndi Borne is a media intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Among many of the usual suspects airing ads during the Super Bowl, one small company shook up some conversation with an ad that was banned by CBS. The company, SodaStream, acts like it's doing the world a favor by selling home carbonation machines, and its ads jab at Coca-Cola and Pepsi for wasting bottles. They originally wanted to air a commercial during America’s most-watched television event that explicitly attacked the two largest makers of sugary cola, but were bullied into airing a softer version of the ad imploring viewers to buy their product and "free the bubbles." As controversy on CBS's ban bubbled over, marketers everywhere had their say. A website devoted to Super Bowl ads actually wrote an article about them entitled “SodaStream: A David and Goliath Story?” Marketers are buying the story that SodaStream is a do-gooder because their customers buy fewer bottles.

Boycott SodaStreamBut SodaStream is no do-gooder. Their headquarters and manufacturing facilities, located in an Israeli settlement in the center of the West Bank, are built upon the blood and tears of the Palestinian people. I’ve seen the devastation of these settlements, and when I saw the SodaStream commercial on Sunday night, I went flat.

SodaStream is part and parcel of the continued illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. If we’re talking David and Goliath, SodaStream is more aptly viewed on the Goliath side of the metaphor. In reality, it is a profit-making enterprise built on land illegally seized by Israel, with the help of a military that is an industrial, high-tech monster that seeks to slowly strangle the Palestinian people to death.

What most people don’t understand about the settlements is that they not only push people off of the land, but they then also take regional resources for themselves. Water, for example, is often stolen from people whose ancestors long ago learned to adapt to the desert. The Israeli goal, it seems, is to make Palestinian life so unbearable that people leave, or die.

I’ve witnessed the destructive force of settlements. From the first time I set foot on a West Bank settlement in 2000 to the last time I was there in 2010, the effect and the number of settlements had noticeably increased. In the Palestinian West Bank, I saw more checkpoints, longer lines in traffic, more roadblocks, and diversions to make way for Jewish-only settler roads. Even water pressure lowered as the settlements demanded more water diverted to them. And — at least in Hebron — more settlers were throwing rocks at Palestinian women, men, and children.

SodaStream has been singled out by Jewish Voice for Peace and others for its explicit, egregious involvement in settlement activity. Israeli settlement policy is opposed by many Israeli citizens and the United States, and is now deemed unlawful by a United Nations panel.

SodaStream is headquartered on Ma'aleh Adumim, the third largest settlement in the West Bank, built on land that belonged to the Palestinian towns of Abu Dis, Azarya, Atur, Issauya, Han El Akhmar, Anata, and Nebi Mussa up into the 1970s. Israel continues to expand and solidify such settlements around Jerusalem until Palestinians cannot any more access the city.

As with most Israeli public relations campaigns, SodaStream is clever at attaching itself to so-called “liberal” values of environmentalism, peace, justice, and freedom. However, as with most Israeli PR campaigns, the truth of human rights violations will eventually come out.

So, no matter how you feel about their commercials, don’t buy SodaStream. The faster we as consumers can send a message to companies complicit in the Israeli occupation, the faster Palestinians can achieve freedom.

“Free the bubbles?” How about, stop operating on stolen Palestinian land, and “free Palestine.”

In El Salvador, a Rose in the Concrete

February 1, 2013 ·

In recent years, El Salvador, like many of its Latin American counterparts, has witnessed an explosion in violence. The contentious fighting between two of the country’s biggest gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, is largely responsible for fueling much of the carnage.

Armed with an arsenal of weapons like assault rifles and grenades and saddled with a lack of economic opportunity, these gang members proceeded to slaughter each other over arbitrarily designated chunks of territory. That is, they did until last spring, when the gang leaders met in their dungeon-like prisons and decided to enact a truce.

The results of the truce have been nothing short of miraculous. Homicides in the country have decreased by 40 percent, kidnappings have been slashed in half, and extortions have fallen by 10 percent. Hardened gang members, who at times appear to don more ink than skin, accomplished in a matter of weeks what the government failed to do in the past decade — deliver a modicum of peace to El Salvador.

Inspired by the unprecedented events in El Salvador, the Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGPPES) — a coalition of experts in the fields of gang intervention, human rights, post conflict work, and economic development — traveled to the Central American country to better understand the roots of the largely unexpected peace agreement.

Photo of LuOn January 16, two members of the Coalition, Steve Vigil and Luis Cardona, were present in Washington DC in to discuss and screen a 20-minute film on the Salvadorian gang truce. Luis Cardona is former gang member who turned his life around after being shot five times and overcoming several stints in prison. Luis currently works as a youth violence prevention coordinator.  Steve Vigil has over 20 years experience working in conflict mitigation with communities that have been torn apart by gang violence.

During their trip in El Salvador, the two men found that despite the strong animosity that existed between the gangs, the yearning for some sense of peaceful normality — the ability to take their kids to school without the fear of getting shot — was stronger.event turnout

The group also visited the prisons where some of the gang leaders who brokered the peace were held. The gang leaders, the two coalition members reported to a room filled to capacity, were often troubled men who had experienced and done terrible things. Their families and friends had been vanquished by the gang war. Many of them had killed, kidnapped, and even tortured their rivals. To many onlookers, the gang leaders appeared devoid of any humanity, which is what made the peace agreement even more remarkable.

But they weren’t devoid of their humanity at all. Despite the darkness of their past and the horrid conditions of their prison cells, the gang leaders still held on to redeeming qualities that shone through their hardened exterior. They wanted a better life for their children and they wanted the opportunity to right some of their wrongs.

“I know I’ve done terrible things,” said one of the gang leaders in the film. “I know I’ve thrown my life away. I’m not asking for mercy. I’ll pay for my crimes. All I want is a better life for my children. That is why I agreed to the peace agreement. If I can secure a better future for them, then at least I’ll know my life was not a complete waste.”

As the poignant film ended, and the event turned into a conversation with the audience, one young woman sheepishly raised her hand and asked about sustainability of the truce. "Even as the homicide rates continue to decrease, the number of arrests has skyrocketed," she said. “In essence," she added, "the government is trying to take credit for the reduction in crime by saying violence is down because we have arrested more people. This poses a direct threat to the truce because it shows that even if the gang members do the right thing, they will nevertheless be punished.”

The rest of the audience had been singing the praises of the peace agreement, this audience member reminded us that any peace, especially at its infancy, is extremely fragile and can be easily undone by careless actions.

Tupac Shakur, who coincidentally is one of the best-known “gangster” rappers, once wrote a short poem entitled The Rose that Grew from Concrete. The poem is worth quoting at length:

"Did you hear about the rose that grew / from a crack in the concrete? / Proving nature's law is wrong / it learned to walk without having feet. / Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, / it learned to breathe fresh air. / Long live the rose that grew from concrete / when no one else ever cared."

If a rose can grow from concrete, then surely peace can emerge from the depths of a dark Salvadorian prison. Hopefully, this peace won’t succumb to the actions of a zealous few who never cared about the peace agreement and the people who brokered it.

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