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Sonia Nettnin: 1st Labor For Palestine Conference

First Labor For Palestine Conference


By Sonia Nettnin

(Chicago) – The Labor For Palestine campaign network held its first convention for Palestinian labor rights and unionizing efforts.

Union representatives traveled across the U.S. to meet fellow union workers who support Palestinian workers’ rights and representatives from Palestinian human rights organizations.

The LFP emerged in response to Palestinian workers’ conditions in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. For the past, eighteen months international delegations met with Palestinian union leadership and workers. They heard firsthand accounts of racism and human rights violations.

In June 2005, LFP Co-Founder Zachary Wales met with leaders of the Palestinian General Confederation of Trade Unions. PGFTU accepted LFP’s invitation to attend the July conference, scheduled on the eve of U.S. organized labor’s AFL-CIO Convention in Chicago this week.

The LFP Convention’s keynote speaker, Atef Saad, director of PGFTU’s media and information department, cancelled his speech about the current situation of workers in Palestine.

According to an LFP conference delegate, Saad called off his conference address via phone. The message he allegedly conveyed was described as “cryptic,” but it regarded scheduling conflicts with the AFL-CIO.

The PGFTU could not be reached for comment.

Although an LFP representative said she asked Saad if his attendance at the LFP Conference and the AFL-CIO Convention may pose a conflict of interest, he allegedly raised no concern in the days prior to the event. Over the years, U.S. unions invested millions of dollars in Israel bonds through the Development Corporation to Israel/State of Israel Bonds.

Israel Bonds in Brief – How Much?

According to DCI’s web site, the firm sold Israel bonds in excess of $25 billion, with $19 billion redeemed on time and in full. Moreover, DCI sold more than $1.25 billion in bonds worldwide every year for the last, three years. Israel’s Finance of Ministry uses the sales of Israel bonds for projects in areas such as agriculture, water resources and immigrant absorption.

Most individual and organization’s pension and retirement plans have bonds in their portfolios. When labor organizations purchase notes from DCI, it provides funding for Israel’s future projects, such as “Jerusalem’s light-rail system,” and “commercial and residential development of the Galilee and Negev,” as noted by DCI.

An article posted on the firm’s web site reveals that last year top Bond leaders met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who said: “We need you more than ever.”

Members of Bond’s Task Force posed for pictures with Israel’s Border Police at Beit Horon training base. Another photo shows Israeli children waving Israel’s flags.

PGFTU and HISTADRUT

In 2004, LFP delegates met with PGFTU leadership. They reported that the union consists of 13 national union organizations, with an estimated 270,000 members.

Within Israel the main union is Histadrut, whose members are Israelis. In Jerry Goodman and Avital Shapira’s article, “In the Wake of Violence,” published on the National Committee for Labor Israel’s web site, the committee explained that unions, such as Histadrut, adhere to the principles of international labor solidarity.

In section three, “Assisting Palestinian Workers,” they report that from 1995-2001, 50 per cent of organizational dues from Palestinian workers in Israel transferred to Histadrut. The article notes PGFTU received 50 per cent also, which totaled U.S. $2,287,518. The article inferred Histadrut received the same amount of money for the same time period, but it did not report the monetary figure.

A question that comes to mind is: if Histadrut’s union members are Israelis, why does it receive Palestinian workers’ organization dues?

Bitterlemons

In a recent interview with bitterlemons.org (June 20, 2005), Saad expressed: “there are about 20,000 Palestinian workers in Israel with permits and another 20-25,000 workers without permits.”

These figures combined are 25 per cent of the total figure reported six years ago. Moreover, Saad explained that Palestinian workers without permits risk their lives when they travel inside the Green Line for work.

A recent article by Jonathan Ben Efrat and Asma Agbarieh investigated the death of Ali Abu Rob, a Palestinian worker found dead in Israel’s Rosh Pina jail in June 2005.

During their investigation, they discovered that Israeli soldiers at the Barta’a Checkpoint in the West Bank arrested Abu Rob for not having a worker’s permit. They transferred him to the Jalameh Prison. Why his body turned up in Rosh Pina is unclear. His brother identified the body two days later, which he noticed was swollen and covered with bruises.

When Efrat and Agbarieh interviewed Palestinians workers, they heard firsthand Palestinian workers’ experiences with violence at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Reports of travel restrictions and violence at checkpoints and border crossings force many Palestinian workers to sleep near work sites for weeks at a time.

When the investigative reporters visited some workers’ makeshift beds under an unfinished shopping mall, workers confessed they slept with fleas, worms and rats in dirty mattresses. The daily-commute-alternative means risking life, limb and administrative detention.

After an Israeli incursion of Nablus in April 2002, Israeli Forces damaged PGFTU’s offices. The destruction was so extensive that PGFTU set up temporary offices in Ramallah (Source: LFP).

In spring 2005, the General Director of the Democracy and Workers Rights Center in Palestine and General Secretary of the International Federation of Workers Education Association in Arab Countries (IFWEA/AC) Mr. Hasan Barghouthi experienced harassment by Israeli Intelligent Services at border crossings while he was en route to international union conferences (Source: LabourStart).

Whether Israeli Forces ceased these practices since then is unknown.

Palestinian Labor in Perspective

At the LFP conference, The Palestine Aid Society’s Hakim Husien provided a detailed, historical and political overview of Palestinian refugees and workers.

Although Israel outlawed Palestinians from labor organizations in the past, people mobilized for their rights and for social justice. Israel confiscated Palestinian land and then hired Palestinians as cheap labor to build Israeli settlements or to work menial jobs. Israel’s colonization policy continues today.

Despite violent conditions, death, administrative detention, beatings, home demolitions, and the economic strangulation of Israel’s wall on Palestinian society, the Palestinians are still here.

How they survive is another investigation.

*************

Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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