“We actually don’t have any other way to exercise international pressure except calling our friends and supporters in the trade unions around the globe to call for this Boycott and Divestment.” stated Manawel Issa Abdellal, member of the Executive Committee of the 250 thousand member Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) in a recent speech to labor movement supporters in San Francisco.
“Factories actually exist inside the settlements and their products are going to the markets in Europe and in the United States. The whole world is saying these settlements are actually illegal settlements. So why would it be wrong to boycott them?”
In a wide-ranging talk, Manawel spoke about the PGFTU’s efforts in defense of Arab workers struggling under the Israeli iron heel in occupied Palestine. He gave numerous examples of the policies employed by Histadrut and the Jewish State of Israel attempting insure the Arab majority of historic Palestine remains isolated and powerless.
Manawel described how Histadrut (the Israeli Labor Union) has used its privileged position in the Jewish State to take advantage of Palestinian workers for Histadrut’s own ends. “Histadrut has failed to represent any Palestinian workers inside Israel.”, he said, “and the PGFTU is forbidden from defending Arab workers in such areas. It is very painful. We can see, witness, and hear of Israeli brutal exploitation of Arab workers, but we cannot do anything…It can only
remind us of the Cantons of the Apartheid State of South Africa.”
In one example, there are Palestinian workers who have worked in the same East Jerusalem hospital continuously for over 30 years. The State of Israel does not allow them to leave Jerusalem to visit their families. If they were to leave Jerusalem, they would lose their
jobs because they would not be allowed to return. Just over a year ago, a worker from Gaza working at the Makassed Hospital left to visit his family in Gaza. Although he had a permit to work at the Hospital, he wasn’t allowed back in and lost his job. He was the sole breadwinner for his entire family.
In response to a direct question of whether Histadrut has shown any solidarity with Palestinian workers, Manawel answered, “Until now I have not seen any sort of solidarity. Even when Arab workers are hurt, which should be the ABC of solidarity with workers, I have never seen the Histadrut say that they condemn such an act or do something about it.”
He described instances of Histadrut’s withholding and diversion of funds belonging to the Palestinian workers. “An American Communication Union wanted to donate something to the Palestinian Unions and the Palestinian Labor Movement. Histadrut somehow obtained these funds, built a building for themselves in East Jerusalem, then leased it to the private sector, ironically, a Palestinian private sector. The contribution was meant to benefit Palestinian workers, not a private sector, Palestinian or otherwise. When confronted, Histadrut responded, “Well, we didn’t sell the place”.
Histadrut has been automatically deducting 1% of the salaries of Palestinian workers since 1970 as “trade union fees”. The PGFTU estimates between 1970 and 1994, the Histadrut pocketed NIS (New Israel Shekel) 400 million (=US$94.27 million) “for little more than
permission to enter Histadrut collective agreements along with Israeli workers”.
In 1996, right after OSLO, an agreement was signed between the PGFTU and Histadrut stipulating that from 1995 on, of the 1% Histadrut was collecting, one-half was to go to the PGFTU. Histadrut has not honored the agreement they signed. Since 1996, they have kept all
the funds they have collected from Palestinian workers.
Yet Histadrut has a strong presence in the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), having been among the leadership for many years. Instead of bringing pressure on Histadrut to implement the terms of the agreement they signed with PGFTU, the ICFTU is exerting pressure on the PGFTU to abrogate the agreement and make changes more favorable to Histadrut.
Manawel compared Israel’s disproportionate influence among international labor organizations to the political power that Israel is able to exert among western nations, regardless of legitimacy of their claims under international law. Now that the possibilities of US federal sanctions have receded even further, with the largest number of congress members having dual-Israeli citizenship (43 – 13 Senators, 30 Representatives), it is ever more imperative that rank-and-file labor rise to the task of divestment, boycott, and state and local sanctions.
One rank-and-filer in the audience related that in 1987 Histadrut had an office in San Francisco at the Service Employees Financial Union Headquarters on Golden Gate. Every year the Labor Council would give a dinner honoring Histadrut. The Labor Committee on the Middle East in San Francisco organized a picket line which received a lot of publicity. August, 1987 was the last dinner that was given for Histadrut. They closed their office soon afterward and left San Francisco.
Report written by D Leland Castleberry