Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Solidarity with the Palestinians, not boycott of Israel
All individual signatories in a personal capacity unless otherwise stated.
As democrats, socialists, critics of the policies and actions of the Israeli government, advocates of Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, and supporters of the right of the Palestinians to an independent state alongside Israel, we, the undersigned members of Unison, oppose the proposals at this year's National Delegate Conference calling for a boycott against Israeli institutions.
At first glance the idea of a boycott answers the need we all feel to "do something" in response to the seemingly endless carnage. But in fact a boycott would do more harm than good.
A boycott of Israel would at best exert only the most marginal pressure on the Israeli state. The movement to boycott South Africa continued for more than three decades, with only the most marginal effects on South Africa. Apartheid did not begin to crumble until the new black-majority workers' movement and the population of the townships rose up.
Moreover, boycotts of whole nations and their institutions are the crudest political weapons. They hit opponents of the government being boycotted, those who share the viewpoint of the boycotters as well as supporters of what the boycotters object to.
This objection had far less weight for South Africa because everyone saw it as pressure towards majority rule rather than aimed at crushing the whole country.
Apartheid was the exploitation by a small white oligarchy of a black majority deprived of rights. The Israeli state in its pre-1967 borders did not depend on the exploitation of Arabs, and does not now depend for its existence on exploitation of the Occupied Territories.
A boycott would contribute to strengthening the sense of being under siege in a world of enemies which is a strong element in the power of the Israeli right, and weaken those in Israel who want a just settlement with the Palestinians.
The boycott brands all Israeli Jews (or all who do not pass some prescribed political test) as beyond talking to.
In Britain, a boycott-Israel movement would, inexorably, become an anti-Jewish movement, directed against those closely linked to Israelis, i.e. Jews.
Resolution 54 calls for a "boycott against Israeli institutions". Does that include such "Israeli institutions" as the Israeli trade union federation, the Histadrut? Or Israeli anti-occupation groups?
We understand and strongly sympathise with the desperation which has driven the Palestinian trade unions and some other civil society organisations to call for a boycott, but we do not believe it will help.
Much better, a positive labour movement campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians, with the Israeli peace movement, and with workers on both sides.
Signed by (all in a personal capacity):
Alison Brown, Yorkshire Ambulance and National Executive Committee-elect
Anita Downs, secretary, Guys & St Thomas' Hospital, London
Bobby Silby, Hull University
Bryan Edmands, Southwark Local Government
Caroline Henry, shop steward, Sheffield Local Government
Castle Morpeth Unison branch Executive
Chris Allen, Political Officer, Leicestershire Health
Chris Leary, Surrey Local Government
Corinne McCullough, Islington Local Government
Dan Nichols, London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority
Derek Muse, Deputy Branch Secretary, Newcastle City Local Government
Dion D'Silva, Wandsworth Local Government
Ed Whitby, Newcastle City Unison Campaigns Officer; Northern Regional Committee
Eleanor Steele, Islington Local Government
Erica Anatol, Islington Local Government
Heenal Rajani, Housing Convenor, Lambeth Local Government
Jacky Offord, Suffolk Local Government
James Anthony, University Hospital Birmingham; Vice Chair, National Young Members Forum
Jane Emanuel, Bristol
Jean Lane, Tower Hamlets Local Government
Jenny Bailey, Haringey Local Government
Jenny Mackley, Islington Local Government
Jill Mountford, Lewisham Local Government
Jim Kearns, Glasgow Local Government
John Gray, Finance Offer, London Region
Kate Ahrens, Leicestershire Health and NEC-elect
Laura Rogers, Westminster Local Government
Lesley Smallwood, Leeds Metropolitan University
Lynne Moffat, Islington Local Government
Mark Catterall, Lancashire County Council
Mark Nevill, Leeds
Mike Fenwick, Airedale Health
Mike Perkins, Hampshire Local Government
Monika Schwartz, Islington Local Government
Nick Brereton, Newcastle City
Nick Holden, Leicestershire Health and Health Service Group Executive
Paul McGarry, Manchester Local Government
Pete Allen, Manchester Local Government
Rob Hope, Cardiff
Ron Montgomery, Wandsworth Local Government
Ron Strong, Leeds University
Rosie Woods, Westminster Primary Care Trust
Stephen Lintott, Chair, North West Anglia Health
Steve Mitchell, Manchester City Council
Stuart Jordan, Haringey Local Government
Tina Day, Guy's and St Thomas's
Trevor Williams, Wandsworth Local Government
Valerie Higgins, Islington Local Government
Vinothan Sangarapillai, Camden Local Government
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Monday, June 04, 2007
Outlook for Unison conference
Both include the boycott call. In no.54 is it "boycott Israeli institutions". In no.53 it is an "an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott".
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Friday, June 01, 2007
Moves in Unison to boycott Israel
From Alison Brown, Ed Whitby, Jean Lane, Kate Ahrens, Mike Fenwick, and Nick Holden.
The brutal Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to simmer. That, unless there is a settlement, it will boil-over again into widespread bloodshed, is as certain as anything in politics is. Against this background, Resolution 54 to Unison Conference proposes that Unison support a boycott of Israel.
Resolution 54 is a lamentably dishonest and evasive piece of work. But if our union conference is going to debate it, then Resolution 54 must be taken seriously and the issues raised in its proposal discussed on their merits. That is why we, Unison members, address this Open Letter to you.
Like most decent people, you are unhappy about the Middle East, about the destructive instability and the seemingly endless carnage. You think the policy of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, a Palestinian State alongside Israel, a sovereign, independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, is both a good idea and a crying necessity. You detest the continued frustration of the desire of the Palestinian people for that State.
Like us, you are disappointed that the "road map" for Middle East peace, which the European Union, the UN, the USA and Russia sponsored four years ago, has not led to progress towards a Palestinian State.
You were horrified at the Israel-Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006, which was one consequence of the failure of the US to promote the Roadmap. You, like Solidarity and Workers' Liberty, opposed that war.
A case could be made for boycotting Israel as a means of putting on it extra pressure to reach a "two-states" settlement with the Palestinians.
At its most effective, such a boycott would put small additional pressure on Israel. The movement to boycott South Africa was launched after the Sharpeville massacre in February 1960 and continued for more than three decades, with only the most marginal effect on South Africa. Apartheid did not begin to crumble until the new black-majority trade unions and the populations of the townships rose up. The South African example testifies to the marginality of boycott tactics.
Against all such boycotts there is the central argument that boycotts of whole nations and their institutions are the crudest of political weapons. They hit opponents of the government being boycotted, those who share the viewpoint of the boycotters, as well as supporters of what the boycotters object to.
That objection had less weight for South Africa because there the majority of the country's population supported the boycott, and everyone saw it as aimed at the overthrow of white-minority rule rather than at the crushing of the whole country. Even for South Africa, though, there were downsides. For a number of years the boycott was used to condemn direct links between British unions and the new black-majority trade unions in South Africa.
Boycotts are called "boycotts" after the name of the target of a boycott placed on an Irish land agent by his neighbours, in the 1880s. The policy was first called "shunning". A boycott of Israel institutions would organise an international movement to shun not only Israeli chauvinists, but also all those in Israel who support two states, or who would if they could see a way to achieve two states that would also bring them freedom from homicide-bomb and other forms of attack.
A boycott would inevitably contribute to a siege mentality in Israel, and thus put additional difficulties in the way of Israelis - Jews and Arabs - working for a two-states settlement. It would strengthen the hard core Israeli chauvinists.
It is impossible to measure which would be greater, the pressure for a settlement which an international movement of shunning would put on the Israeli establishment, or the political strengthening of intransigence which it would bring in the Israeli population.
However, the main group promoting this resolution, the SWP are people who reject a "two states" settlement. They are not interested in such calculations. What do you think they are - soggy liberals and do-gooders? Their concern is to strike a strong r-r-revolutionary stance, not to help the Palestinians.
Where boycott leads
The case of Miriam Shlesinger shows what the boycott could lead to. She and another Israeli academic, Gideon Toury, were removed from the editorial board of an international journal of translation studies by the editor, the British academic Mona Baker, for being Israeli. Yet Shlesinger is a former chair of the Israeli section of Amnesty International, a group which spends most of its time denouncing Israeli government mistreatment of Palestinians.
And, as Shlesinger herself commented: "I understand why it [her left-wing political stand] is mentioned, because it makes the boycott seem more absurd when the 'good guys' are included in the 'bad guys' category, but really it's irrelevant. Ever since third grade, I thought collective punishment was immoral and this is essentially that."
But something other than calculations about the impact a boycott might have in Israel, is involved here. It is, in our view, the decisive argument against a boycott.
In Britain, Europe, America, etc., a boycott-Israel movement would, inexorably, become an anti-Jewish movement, directed perhaps first against Israelis, but then against those closely linked to Israelis, i.e. British, European, or American Jews.
That would do greatly more damage than any good it might conceivably do for the Palestinians. Experience has already proved that.
Many members of Unison will recall the movement in the colleges in the 1970s and 80s to "no-platform" "Zionists".
Its premise was that Jewish nationalism is "racist", but that Arab, Palestinian (or any other) nationalism is not. Israel did not have the right to exist. Its assertion of national identity was not something positive to itself, but only something negative about Arabs, i.e. "racist".
That campaign led in a number of colleges to bans (or attempts at bans) on Jewish student societies, and to the harassment and hounding of young Jews. It was a disgraceful as well as a very unpleasant experience.
In a boycott-Israel movement, the targets would inevitably come to be (or also be) the hard-core "Zionists" in Britain and elsewhere. That is, Jews.
Jews are the easily definable "Zionists" in our midst. Jews who may be critical of Israeli governments, who may want a two-states settlement, but who, quite rightly, will fight all variants of "Destroy-Israel" politics, including the cleverly spun ones like the call for a "Secular Democratic State", and will understandably resist a boycott of Israel.
They, and their enterprises and institutions, will inevitably become the targets of a Boycott Israel movement. Even if the SWPers who promote boycott do not want that, once it got under way, a boycott would not be in their control.
(And that they do not want that can not now be taken as self-evident. These are the British allies of the Muslim Brotherhood! Who knows what people as politically disorientated as they so plainly now are, will do next? Who knows what their Jihadist allies will impose on them?)
The boycott-Israel movement would in practice, whatever anyone might intend, quickly turn into an anti-Jewish movement.
That would certainly do more damage than any possible good a boycott would do for the cause of establishing a Palestinian state (the cause which, remember, the SWP promoters of the motion anyway do not share.)
Resolution 54's arguments
Let us look in more detail at how the resolution motivates a boycott, and what the resolution's main promoters, the SWP, say.
You will have noted that the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian general election pushed back further the possibility of a settlement.
You will know that a large part of the Hamas vote is believed to have been a vote against the widespread corruption in Palestinian governing circles, for the more conventionally honest Hamas and for the welfare provision which Hamas makes for some of the Palestinian needy. Nevertheless, in voting for Hamas, the electorate gave a majority to a clerical-fascist organisation, which rejects a two-states solution to the conflict - a sovereign Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
You will know that Hamas differs from the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation, which came out for a two-states arrangement twenty years ago, in 1988, in that it rejects such a settlement and continues to deny Israel's right to exist. It openly proclaims its objective to be the conquest and destruction of Israel.
In our view, two states, a sovereign Palestine besides a sovereign Israel, is the only just settlement. It is the only settlement that caters, as far as is possible, for the legitimate rights, fears, and concerns of both Jews and Arabs.
It is also the only practical, the only attainable, settlement.
All the alternative "solutions" — a "secular democratic state" for instance — imply the conquest and forcible dismantling of Israel. The "secular democratic state" formula means, to its Arab and would-be-left proponents, an Arab state in which Jews would have religious rights, but would have all their national rights, including the right to a state of their own, stripped from them.
That would be impossible to achieve without the conquest, massacre or displacement of millions of Israeli Jews, people born in Israel, most of them the children of parents, or grandparents, or great grandparents, born there.
No less than the old Arab and Islamic goal of destroying "the Zionist entity", "Secular democratic state" lies at the other side of the conquest and destruction of Israel. The carnage on both sides that that would involve, scarcely bears thinking about. Such a conquest of Israel by the surrounding Arab states, even were it possible, would not, could not, lead to equality for such Jews as were left, in a common state with the Palestinians.
Whether or not in an ideal world, and if we had the power of gods, we might choose to rearrange things so that Jews and Arabs would live peacefully in one "secular democratic state" in the territory of pre-1948 Palestine — that is of no consequence now. It is utopian nonsense. Hypocritical nonsense.
It is only a cleverly-"spun" euphemism for the conquest of Israel. It is what Yasser Arafat’s predecessor as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Ahmed Shukairi, used to express bluntly and honestly in the slogan: "Drive the Jews into the sea!"
It is both unacceptable in principle, and, for now and foreseeably, simply unattainable.
For a certainty, an independent Palestinian state is the best the Palestinians can, conceivably, win now or in the calculable future. "Militant" or "anti-imperialist" or Islamist-jihadist talk about anything else simply ignores the interests of the Palestinian people.
Mystic religious fascists like Hamas and Hezbollah who talk of destroying Israel, of course, are not concerned with progress for the Palestinians into a livable two-states relationship with their neighbouring state. They serve "Islam": they are only concerned with fighting holy wars against the infidel.
We repeat: those on the Arab side who reject a two-states arrangement and set as their goal the destruction of Israel are the enemies of the Palestinians as well as of the Israeli Jewish people.
And Israel? Israel should be condemned for not using its present great strength to secure or impose a just settlement, and for the reckless brutality with which it uses its military machine against the Palestinians.
The US should be condemned for not insisting that Israel accept, immediately, the Palestinians' right to an independent state, in deeds as well as in words, and honestly work to help set it up; Britain, for too passively going along with the USA.
Resolution 54 for Unison conference, "Sanctions Against Israel", is a different dish of couscous altogether. Its unstated starting point is support for those in the Middle East - most importantly here, Hamas and Hezbollah - who reject a two-states solution and advocate the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic Arab state.
The resolution's authors try to exploit the just and widespread sympathy with the Palestinians, while rejecting the only policy that can serve the Palestinians, the policy of the PLO - a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Their proposal that Unison should back a boycott and sanctions against Israel, and the way they advocate it, shows that plainly.
For instance, they list among the chief faults of Israel its response to the electoral victory of Hamas. Israel "withheld tax revenues from the Palestine Authority and refused dialogue with the elected Authority following the democratic elections of January 2006".
In all this, there are two things that need to be separated from each other. Firstly, do we think it is good that Israel refuses dialogue, or withholds tax revenues? For ourselves, no, we don’t. And, secondy, do we think that Israel has no right in principle to do such things in response to Hamas's election victory?
The point of view of the authors of the resolution for conference is not that it was not good that Israel did what it did; it is that Israel does not have the right to do such things. Israel, they believe, does not have the right to defend itself, on any level, with any weapons.
Think about that. Hamas proclaims in its programme that Israel must be destroyed. And Israel is obliged to forget about that just because a democratic majority of the Palestinians voted for Hamas? Doesn't have the right to do anything else?
Yet, coming under massive international pressure, the most Hamas would shift on this keystone idea was to say that it accepts Israel, de facto, "for now". Until, perhaps as the government of an independent Palestinian state, it feels strong enough, or can mobilise strong enough allies, to do something about destroying Israel.
Hamas has been the main organisation engaged in the homicide-bombings against Israeli civilians since 2001. We condemn Israel for the reckless seeming indifference to civilian casualties with which it conducts its military operations against Hamas and Hezbollah; but there is an enormous difference between that reprehensible behaviour and the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians, young people in a Tel Aviv night club for instance.
Can the fact that Hamas won a majority in Palestinian elections deny to Israel the right to treat Hamas with hostility, and to put whatever pressure it can on the Palestinians to repudiate Hamas?
Can a majority in a Palestinian election for an Islamist clerical-fascist movement override the right of Israel to defend itself against those committed to its destruction?
The idea that it can leads straight to the only logical basis on which it can be made to stand up: that Israel does not have the right to defend itself, or even to exist. The point of view of the originators of Resolution 54
All "rights" here are assumed to belong to the Palestinians, or whatever powerful allies they might find to carry through the destruction of Israel.
That is indeed the position of the main political force behind the conference resolution - SWP/Respect, which openly allies with MAB, the British offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the founder of the SWP, the late Tony Cliff, himself once rightly defined as "clerical-fascist", and with the clerical-fascist "resistance" in Iraq.
Support the Palestinians - or treat them as pawns?
The authors of the resolution attempt to use justified and necessary sympathy with the Palestinians, and justified anger with Israel, to line up people like you behind policies which reflect, and are designed to serve, their basic position (repeat: unstated in the resolution) that Israel must be destroyed and all two-states arrangements rejected.
Their "sympathy" with the Palestinians does not extend to supporting the PLO's historic advocacy of "two states", of the solution which every reasonable person knows to be the only settlement that will serve the Palestinians.
If for the Islamist-jihadists of Hamas and Hezbollah the Palestinian people are mere bomb-fodder in an Islamic Holy War, what are they for the British pseudo-left allies of the jihadists, the people who promote Resolution 54? They are pawns in a great progressive "anti-imperialist" struggle (one that exists mainly in their heads).
The same underlying politics in the resolution are made clear also in its contradictory attitude to the Israeli trade union federation, the Histadrut, on one side and on the other, to the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (which, incidentally, supports a Two States position).
Histadrut's opposition to a boycott of Israel is dismissed: they didn't oppose the Lebanon war, did they? The Palestine Federation's support for a boycott is cited as a strong recommendation for the policy.
The gross double standards could hardly be more plainly displayed. Instead of a socialist policy, a class policy, here - Israeli and Palestinian working-class and trade-union unity on the political basis of mutual recognition of the rights of the two nations, Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish - instead of a policy that would allow the two working classes, long chronically divided by Israeli and Arab chauvinism, to unite for a mutually-advantageous political objective (two states) - instead of that, the resolution proposes that Unison members listen to one side only, the Palestinian.
And listen selectively. We repeat: the Palestinian unions support not the policy of Hamas and the SWP for the destruction of Israel, but the PLO policy of "two states".
(And incidentally, those who call on Unison conference to condemn the Histradrut for not opposing the Lebanon war, not calling for a ceasefire - the SWP/Respect - did not themselves call for a ceasefire. They called for the victory of Hezbollah. They marched through the streets of London carrying placards proclaiming: "We are all Hezbollah now".)
The double standards are there too in the description of the 2006 war. We, and the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, condemned the Israeli government for launching all-out war. We protested and agitated against it. The authors of the resolution, however, in their one-sided presentation, "forget" that the war was triggered by Hezbollah rockets and guerrilla raids into Israel.
For all these reasons, we urge Unison members to reject this irresponsible motion, and the politics of those who promote it.
The only way forward - for the Palestinians, more than anyone else - is two states.
Two states for two peoples!
Alison Brown (Yorkshire Ambulance Branch)
Ed Whitby (Newcastle Local Government Branch)
Jean Lane (Tower Hamlets Local Government Branch)
Kate Ahrens (Leicestershire Health Branch)
Mike Fenwick (Airedale Health Branch)
Nick Holden (Leicestershire Health Branch and Health SGE)
All signatories in a personal capacity.
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Lecturers vote again for Israel boycott
The motion was carried by 159 votes to 99 with 17 abstentions. The vote on the amendment was not counted, but was similar.
The motion's wording is slippery, calling only for circulation of Palestinian calls for a boycott and "members to consider the moral implications of links with Israeli academic institutions", but the drift is clear.
UCU was formed by the merger of two unions, AUT and NATFHE. In AUT there was a major debate on this issue in 2005, and a special conference of the union on 26 May 2005 voted by an 80:20 majority to rescind the decision to boycott two Israeli universities which had been adopted on a snap vote, without debate, at its regular conference on 22 April.
In NATFHE, however, there had been much agitation for a boycott - by the SWP and others close to it - and the issue had never been fully debated out.
What's needed now is a full discussion among the membership, to do the same job in UCU as was done in AUT in May 2005.
Another sad indication on the political direction of the new, merged union was a vote to cut out from a motion on Iraq any criticism of the Islamist and neo-Ba'thist "resistance" militias.
Composite based on Brighton University motion:
Congress notes that Israel's 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.
Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.
Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.
Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.
Congress instructs the NEC to
* circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;
* encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;
* organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;
* issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action.
Amendment moved by Mark Osborn from Community Education Lewisham
Delete third paragraph.
Fourth paragraph, after 'Congress believes that', insert 'while much criticism of Israel is anti-semitic'; after 'criticism of', replace 'Israel' with 'Israeli state policy', and after 'cannot', insert 'necessarily'.
Final paragraph, after 'Congress instructs the NEC to', delete first two bullet points
In third bullet point, after 'Palestinian', add 'and Israeli'
At end of fourth bullet point, add 'in line with Policy on International Greylisting and Boycotts, and EI policy'
Add new bullet point: 'Support direct links between education workers and UCU bodies in the UK, and Israeli and Palestinian trade union organisations.'
Clause in motion from Community Education Lewisham
The various so-called resistance forces have regularly killed trade union, women's and LGBT activists. The 'resistance' groups - various types of Ba'athist-fascist and Islamist organisation - are unremittingly hostile to the new labour movement.
Amendment from University College London:
To delete all above and replace by: The 650,000+ excess civilian deaths in Iraq since 2003 and the destruction of civil society, including the attacks on trade unionists, women and LGBT people, derive directly from the presence of occupying US and UK forces - practically, morally and legally under the Geneva Conventions.
UCU leadership reaction
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt has responded to the boycott resolution with a statement saying: "All branches now have a responsibility to consult all of their members on the issue and I believe that every member should have the opportunity to have their say. The earlier motion [passed at this UCU conference, endorsing the report of an AUT working party set up after 2005] means that any future calls for a boycott must pass key tests before a boycott can implemented" - i.e. it would have to be called for by a trade union or similar institution within Israel, a very unlikely event.
Evidently the UCU leadership want to push the issue aside as much as possible. The job for rank and file activists is to to into the branch "consultations" and make the case against boycott and for real solidarity with the Palestinians.
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Unison: boycott before the boycott
It is a sort of "boycott before the boycott", a pre-emptive application of motion 54 to Unison conference, which proposes a boycott of all Israeli institutions.
Labourstart provides an unparalleled breadth of information on workers' struggles and workers' organisations worldwide, including in the Occupied Territories.
At the Executive no-one objected to Labourstart's coverage. The objection was to its founding editor, Eric Lee. Eric is now only one of 79 contributors world-wide toLabourstart.
But - and that was enough to damn the whole project in the eyes of the Executive - Eric is a Zionist. He has been associated with left-Zionist parties in Israel such as Mapam and Meretz.
Nobody proposed checking out the other 78 Labourstart correspondents for their views.
The basic argument is that the union cannot support projects, however worthwhile, if the people running them are Jewish. Supporters of "boycotting" Labourstart will reply that the objection is not that people like Eric Lee are Jewish, but that they are "Zionists". But to brand left Zionists like Eric as outside the range of people whom we can work with is to "boycott" almost all Jews around the world.
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Report from Unison delegation to Palestine and Israel, 2005
1. UNISON has clear policy on Palestine and the Middle East Peace Process as set out in several National Delegate Conference motions over the past few years. UNISON has also had strong bilateral relations with both the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the Histadrut but had not sent a delegation to the region for some time.
2. The aim of the delegation was twofold;
* to acquaint UNISON with the most recent developments in both the Palestinian Authority and Israel
* to make recommendations for future bilateral capacity building projects with both the PGFTU and Histadrut and for joint projects between UNISON, the PGFTU and Histadrut that would help advance civil society dialogue and advance the peace process.
The political context
3. The delegation visit took place at a time of potentially significant developments in the political life of both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Yasser Arafat died in November 2004, almost exactly a year before the visit. Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005 and elections for the Palestinian Legislative Assembly – the first in 10 years - are planned for January 2006, although there was much speculation as to whether these would be allowed to take place by the Israeli authorities given the likely participation by Hamas.
4. The delegation also took place a week before the primaries for the leadership of the Israeli Labour Party, which were eventually won by the chair of the Histadrut Trade Union organisation, Amir Peretz. His election and the subsequent decision by Labour to withdraw from the Israeli government prompted Ariel Sharon to quit the Likud Party and to call new elections for the Knesset.
The continued occupation of the West Bank
5. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in August and September 2005 with the forcible removal of Israeli settlers. However, the settler movement continues to establish new outposts in the West Bank and there is continued new construction in established settlements such as Ariel and Ma’ale Adummim. Most controversially Israel continues to build the ‘Separation Barrier’, ostensibly to secure the border between Israel and the West Bank but in the process further annexing land around Israeli settlements and isolating key Palestinian towns and villages from each other and from water supplies and agricultural land.
6. Travel between key Palestinian towns is made difficult by a combination of the ‘Separation Barrier’, regular checkpoints and ‘flying checkpoints’, and restrictions on military/settler roads and roads restricted to the different populations. The delegation witnessed at first hand how the ‘Wall’ also divides established Palestinian communities such as Ramallah and Ar-Ram. In this case the barrier/wall plays no security role for Israel as it does not separate areas of Palestinian population from Israel. Instead it is clearly part of the deliberate annexation of the greater East Jerusalem area by Israel. It is a tool of subjugation, humiliation and economic blockade.
7. Travel in and out of Nablus is controlled by two Israeli checkpoints, severely curtailing the freedom of movement for workers, students and even hospital patients who need to travel to Nablus on a daily basis. Palestinian representatives frequently talked about the ‘cantonisation’ of the West Bank by a combination of checkpoints, Israeli settlements and roads solely for the use of settlers.
8. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are classed as Israeli residents by the Israeli authorities and carry Israeli ID cards. They are currently able to travel to the West Bank, however, we were informed that they were likely to lose this right in early 2006 cutting them off from their jobs, family and friends.
9. The nature of the occupation can best be illustrated by figures given to us by the Governor of Nablus for the period 2002-5
• there had been 256 days of Israeli imposed curfew on the town
• 225 buildings had been completely destroyed by the IDF and 6500 partially destroyed
• the local council was spending $224,000 a year re-housing people whose homes had been destroyed
• there have been 211 raids by the IDF on schools in Nablus. 57 students and 10 teachers had been killed whilst 475 students and 14 teachers had been injured. A further 332 students has been arrested during these raids.
• ambulances trying to pass checkpoints had been refused permission 79 times. Ambulances had been kept waiting for between 20-40 minutes at checkpoints on 266 occasions. As a consequence 7 patents had died
• revenue to the local authority from sales in Nablus market had fallen from $1.2m in 2001 to $118,439 in 2004 – a decrease of 87%
• 30% of factories had closed. A further 15% were working at below 50% capacity.
The economic and social context
10. The second Intifada has had major consequences for both the Palestinian and Israeli economies. Israel underwent significant economic growth in the late 1990s. However, the Israeli economy went into recession in 2001 and 2002 and has only just begun to grow again, although at a slower rate than in the 1990s. As a consequence per capita GDP fell from $18,000 in 2000 to $17,000 in 2004. It is estimated that up to 20% of the population lives at or below the poverty line. Until he resigned as Finance Minister over the withdrawal from Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu pursued harsh neo-liberal policies seeking to privatise key areas of the Israeli public services and to end the national collective agreements that cover most sectors of the economy. Interestingly, Amir Peretz has decided to make the link between the occupation of the West Bank and social and economic questions a key issue for the Israeli Labour Party at the forthcoming elections.
11. As a consequence of the Intifada Israel closed its borders to Palestinians working in Israel, seriously exacerbating the level of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza. Up to 100,000 Palestinians working legally in Israel lost their jobs as did up to perhaps 200,000 more illegal workers whilst a further 60,000 lost their jobs in the West Bank as a result of a subsequent fall in demand and economic downturn. Unemployment runs at 65%. The Palestinian Authority estimates that 75% of the population live under the poverty line (calculated at $2 per person per day). UNWRA estimate that 1.7 million people are in receipt of food aid in the West Bank and Gaza and that 30% of Palestinian children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition and 21% from acute malnutrition.
12. Perhaps one of the starkest contrasts experienced during the visit was between the conditions at an UNRWA clinic in the Balata refugee camp and the Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer, just outside Tel Aviv. The Sheba Hospital is the largest in Israel and is a world pioneer in the fields of paediatrics and the rehabilitation of patients suffering from psychiatric, neurological, paraplegic and geriatric related problems. A state hospital, it appeared to be incredibly well resourced with funding coming not only from the state but from charitable foundations in Israel and from the wider Jewish Diaspora. Interestingly, a third of the children in the paediatrics department come from the West Bank and Gaza and 50% of child oncology patients are Palestinian. In contrast, the UNRWA clinic appeared under-resourced and over-stretched, although we were informed that UNRWA clinics are better resourced than clinics in the Palestinian state sector. At Balata the doctors see up to 130 patients a day, mainly treating diseases resulting from the poor conditions in the refugee camp such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and anaemia.
Trade union issues
Palestine and the Occupied Territories
13. The PGFTU claims to have 290,000 members in 20 affiliated unions in the West Bank and Gaza, although this figure is probably somewhat lower given the high level of Palestinian unemployment. The PGFTU’s finances have been hit both by unemployment in the Occupied Territories and by the ending of Palestinian employment in Israel and the subsequent drying-up and freezing of remittances from the Histadrut under the 1995 agreement between the two federations. As unemployment and poverty have increased the PGFTU has increasingly taken on the role of welfare distribution. It has negotiated reduced health insurance rates for unemployed workers with the Health Ministry and was the channel for the distribution of a $100 payment by the Palestinian Authority to 500,000 unemployed workers. It has also distributed 400,000 food parcels donated by the Saudi government. This has led some to criticise the PGFTU as being too close to the Palestinian Authority.
14. However, the PGFTU does have political differences with the Palestinian Authority over industrial relations issues. Although the PGFTU has welcomed the adoption of a new Palestinian Labour Code (workers in the West Bank were previously subject to the Jordanian Labour Code whilst those in Gaza came under the Egyptian code) it has been critical of the failure to set up specific Labour Courts to settle matters – industrial relations issues are still resolved through the civil court system and are subject to major delays. The PGFTU has also been campaigning for the implementation of the new law on Social Security Insurance which has been adopted by the PLA but has not yet come into force. The PGFTU is also extremely critical of the draft Trade Union Law which would allow the Palestinian Authorities to interfere directly in internal trade union affairs.
15. The Histadrut underwent a major process of change in the mid 1990s, divesting itself of many of the companies run by the organisation and losing responsibility for running Israel’s health insurance system. These changes led to a significant fall in membership (from 1.5 million to approximately 700,000 today) and the organisation is still facing financial difficulties. Nevertheless, under the leadership of Amir Peretz, Histadrut has concentrated on developing its primary role as a trade union and has focussed on core issues such as pay and conditions, pensions and methods of public service delivery. It has also highlighted the social and economic consequences of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
16. UCAPSE, the Union of Clerical Administrative and Public Service Employees and the largest Histadrut affiliate, reported that many Israeli local authorities are facing financial problems and as a consequence local government workers have seen delays in the payment of salaries and dismissals. They are also having to deal with privatisation. In fact they were in dispute over the privatisation of the second largest bank, Bank Leumi, during the delegation’s visit. As a union their strategy was not to oppose privatisation but to maintain the national collective bargaining arrangements and therefore their members’ terms and conditions after privatisation.
17. The Union of Government Employees had recently been out on strike for over 100 days against changes to a national collective agreement following privatisation. They had managed to win the fight despite the fact that Histadrut does not have a strike fund with which to pay striking workers. However, the government was now resorting to the increased use of employing workers on temporary contracts to avoid them fully benefiting from the collective agreement.
18. Following the Oslo Accords in 1993 the Histadrut and the PGFTU signed a co-operation agreement in 1995. This included the provision for the remittance of membership fees paid by Palestinian workers employed in Israel from the Histadrut to the PGFTU. There is a question of outstanding remittances from the Histadrut to the PGFTU, although this currently being mediated through the ICFTU. Since the second Intifada contacts between the two organisations have become harder, mainly due to travel restrictions.
19. There is a question concerning the rights Palestinian workers in East Jerusalem to join a trade union of their choice. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967, although this has not been recognised by the International Community. Palestinian residents are therefore classed as Israeli citizens and the Israeli authorities do not recognise the right of the PGFTU to recruit and represent them. If they want to join a trade union they are required to join the Histadrut. The PGFTU offices in East Jerusalem have been subject to regular harassment by the Israeli authorities. The PGFTU also argues that these workers should be subject to the newly adopted Palestinian Labour Code, not the Israeli Labour Code.
Recommendations for future action
20. There was a clear wish from both the PGFTU and Histadrut for UNISON to facilitate meetings between the two organisations outside Israel and Palestine. There are precedents for this: the TUC, through Amicus, has hosted such a meeting and the French CGT has held a couple of such meetings, one for the public service unions in Lyon and a youth camp. The International Committee should agree to the idea in principle. However, a lot more work needs to be done to determine:
* the clear aims and objectives of such an activity.
* should UNISON work with the PGFTU and Histadrut or solely with their respective public service unions, including government workers.
* the possibility of working with different actors within the Palestinian and Israeli unions: the leaderships, women, young people. On this point there was an interesting contrast between the high level of representation of women and young people within the PGFTU compared to Histadrut.
* whether there is a need to bring in outside experts in conflict resolution
* the possibilities for external funding for what is potentially a major project .
21. UCAPSE requested support for a series of seminars it is proposing to organise which would involve Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian trade unionists.
22. UCAPSE also proposed twinning between local government branches in Israel and the UK.
22. There was a request from the PGFTU in East Jerusalem to support a project on the legal situation and the relevant legal codes of Palestinian workers in East Jerusalem and the right for the PGFTU to recruit and represent them. However, the problem is essentially a political one relating to the illegal Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and it is unlikely that such a study would resolve the issue.
23. An Najah University in Nablus, the largest university in the West Bank, is keen to strengthen its international links. There is also a possibility for co-operation on the education and training of nurses. UNISON higher education branches could be encouraged to take this up.
24. Na’Amat, the women’s organisation of the Histadrut, is seeking to promote family-friendly employment legislation, especially in relation to flexible working and child-care provision. UNISON should provide information about successful local agreements that we have negotiated in this area.
UNISON Delegation to Palestine and Israel
29 October – 4 November 2005
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