Protesters target Target

Palestinian-rights advocates say product is made on stolen land

A local man shows off his SodaStream purchase to irk demonstrators at Chico’s Target store.

A local man shows off his SodaStream purchase to irk demonstrators at Chico’s Target store.

Photo By ken smith

About two dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Chico Target store on East 20th Street on Dec. 8 to protest the retailer’s sale of SodaStream, a home-carbonation product they say is made on “illegal” Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Though the gathering was mostly without incident, protesters encountered some angry Target customers, and at one point police were summoned by store employees.

The Chico Palestine Action Group has been holding regular demonstrations at the location every weekend since last June, according to organizer Emily Alma. Sunday’s turnout was particularly large as it was part of a “National Day of Action” organized by the Interfaith Boycott Coalition, a group composed of several nationwide, faith-based, pro-Palestinian-rights groups including Jewish Voice for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine.

“The Palestinians are terribly oppressed in many ways,” Alma said. “Their free passage is greatly controlled, their homes are demolished to make way for new settlements, and young boys who get angry and throw stones are regularly jailed, tortured and held without being charged.”

Alma said that 80 percent of water in the disputed region—located on the west bank of the Jordan River—is used for Israeli settlements, while Palestinians are subjected to strict water rationing. She said she saw this firsthand during an October 2011 visit to an area where a lack of water had nearly destroyed an olive orchard.

“So many Americans have bought the myth that the Israelis are the victims and the Palestinians are terrorists, so we’re trying to break that myth and let people know what’s really happening,” she said.

The protesters separated into small groups across several grass islands in the store’s parking lot in order to reach Target customers entering or exiting the store. They distributed literature with information about the Palestinian struggle and suggested customers ask Target to stop carrying the SodaStream carbonation device. Most customers cordially accepted a handout outlining the controversy and continued on their way. A few stopped to express their support for the activists’ efforts.

A few others were obviously offended.

As the demonstrators gathered for a photograph near the store’s entryway, a man carrying a SodaStream box stood in front of them. After a short confrontation with some of the protesters, he agreed to be interviewed but would not provide his name.

“They convinced me to buy it today,” the man said, nodding toward the anti-SodaStream contingent. “I already have the product at home, but saw them and decided it was a good time to pick up a refill canister.

“To me it, it’s a matter of property rights,” he continued, seemingly unaware of the irony in confronting people protesting Israeli seizure of Palestinian land. “I understand people have the right to protest, but not on the store’s property.”

He spoke on the greater issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

“It’s a difficult problem, because you have people who are extreme on both sides who just want to kill each other,” he said.

Minutes after the man left, a Chico police officer arrived and met with a Target employee in front of the store. The officer informed the visibly angry worker that the protesters were within their rights, as long as they weren’t blocking traffic, harassing customers or “causing a scene.”

Alma said past SodaStream protests at Target have resulted in two other police visits, with the most recent last summer. She said the police have agreed the protesters “were in compliance with legal requirements and were respectful of Target customers.”

The employee who spoke to the police officer refused to give his name, saying that Target employees aren’t allowed to give out their personal information, and instead provided a number to the corporation’s media-relations department in Minneapolis, Minn.

As part of the nationwide effort, SodaStream protesters delivered a petition with 8,000 signatures to Target headquarters in Minneapolis last week, asking that the retailer de-shelve the product. Similar demonstrations to the one in Chico took place in about 50 cities across the nation, according to several news reports.

In an email, Molly Snyder, Target’s public-relations manager, acknowledged the company was aware of the protests.

“At Target, we always hold ourselves, along with our suppliers, to the highest ethical standards,” Snyder wrote in an email. “We recognize there are differing views regarding Soda-Stream and we respect the personal choices our guests make when shopping with us.”