In a unique assembly organized by WAC-MAAN in East Jerusalem, the independent union stressed its commitment to build a union of workers who are not indifferent to the suffering of others, who fight to topple the walls of prejudice.
At an assembly held by the independent trade union Center WAC-MAAN in Jerusalem, on June 1st, 2015, impressive testimonies were given by employed and unemployed Palestinians from Jerusalem and the settlement industrial zones, describing an unbearably reality, alongside the ongoing struggle for change and achievement of their rights.
Over 120 women and men attended the panel “Employed and unemployed Palestinian workers and jobless battling for survival in East Jerusalem and Area C”, organized by WAC at Notre Dame Hotel, on the ‘seam-line’ in Jerusalem. In the audience, dozens of Palestinian workers from East Jerusalem, workers from the PA areas employed at the Mishor Adumim settlement industrial zone, including workers from the Zarfati Garage, a group of workers of the Israel Antiquities Authority in East
Jerusalem, workers from the industrial zones of Nitzanei Shalom, Tul Karm, Arab female agricultural workers, and activists and friends of WAC MAAN – were all present. This was an impressive show of force which, more than anything, proved that Palestinian workers in Jerusalem and the settlements are not willing to accept their exploitation and are determined to struggle for their rights and human dignity.
The assembly was held a few days after Israel marked the 48th anniversary of “Unified Jerusalem”. However, in the words of the event’s moderator and director of WAC’s office in East Jerusalem, Erez Wagner, “this ‘unification’ has wrought only suffering and impoverishment upon over 300,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, living under an occupying regime. The high rate of poverty, and the very small number of Palestinian families who actually receive welfare, indicate the intentional policy of pushing Palestinians out of Jerusalem by placing obstacles and exacerbating their dire poverty”. Wagner remarked that residents of the PA employed in the settlements are brutally exploited and oppressed – a condition which WAC has taken upon itself to confront.
Field activists and worker leaders stood out at this event. One of the powerful speakers was Rania Salah Abu Diab, an East Jerusalem resident who until recently served as a one-woman task force volunteering to help people approach the Employment Bureau and National Insurance Institute, withstand the long waiting lines, the out-of-order machinery, standing in sun and rain and crowding at the doors. Abu Diab, who recently joined WAC’s staff in East Jerusalem, described all that the union has already achieved for welfare-seekers.
Chairperson of the Zarfati Garage workers’ committee – Hatem Abu Ziadeh – was applauded by the audience, including several dozens of his colleagues who arrived there after a tedious work day in Mishor Adumim. Abu Ziadeh, who has led the organizing attempt at Zarfati Garage and paid a heavy price with the loss of his job, said: “The situation of my family and myself is no different than that of any other Palestinian family”. He told us about the difficult working conditions and the illegally low salary, how, in the name of his colleagues, he had turned to no less than 15 lawyers and to the Histadrut (Israel’s large workers’ union) and how no one helped them, until he finally discovered WAC MAAN through a friend. He described the organizing process, how, after nearly reaching a collective agreement, the Zarfati bosses decided to fire him and get rid of the union’s intervention, and about his own determination to carry on the struggle for rights of the Palestinian workers at the Garage and all of Mishor Adumim industrial zone. He concluded by calling upon all Mishor Adumim workers, and all workers at large, to join WAC MAAN.
Abed Al Kareem Shareef, presently employed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, described the hardships he and others experienced at the Authority’s excavations, and how they were fired each year until they appealed with WAC to the Labour Court demanding to be employed directly by the Antiquities Authority. They appeal became a precedential ruling which forced the Authority to include no less than 30 workers in their permanent basis.
Ahmad Shayab of the Yamit Filtering plant at the Nitzanei Shalom industrial zone spoke about the working conditions in the area that is located near Tul Karm, where Israeli employers insist on paying them on the basis of the Jordanian law of 1965. This absurd reality, when an Israeli company that gets all services and logistics from Israel hides behind the Jordanian law, and refuses to pay the workers what they are entitled to, prompted Shayab and several other coworkers to file an appeal against the plant where they worked. He is now awaiting the court session which will take place soon at the National Labor Court and discuss the legal status of the area.
Participating in the event were representatives of human rights and workers’ rights organizations and activists. Yehudit Oppenheimer, chairwoman of Ir Amim Association, (Ir Amim shares with WAC a joint project that concentrates on helping Palestinians in the neighborhoods beyond the separation wall in Jerusalem), explained the importance of the socio-economic aspect of the struggle against expulsion of Palestinian residents from Jerusalem: “Not only the settlements, separation wall and checkpoints work to empty Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents. There is also exploitation and impossible working conditions”, she said. Attorney Moran Savorai of the Benny Cohen law firm, who together with Amir Basha represent the workers of Zarfati Garage emphasized the importance of the National Labor Court’s ruling to recognize WAC MAAN’s status, and made special mention of Hatem Abu Ziadeh’s courageous stand, generating the only chance to bring him back to work and create a reality of worker’s unionization and a potentially unprecedented collective contract even in a place such as Mishor Adumim.
Mossi Raz, chairperson of the Peace Organizations Forum, spoke of the lack of legal and judicial supervision and management in the settlement regions, which enables the exploitation of cheap Palestinian labor. Haaretz reporter Nir Hasson explained the social and economic causes for the outbreak of the Intifada in Jerusalem about a year ago. Hasson explained that contrary to common opinion, not only East Jerusalem needs help from the West part of the city. The opposite is no less true. Israeli businesses need Palestinian customers. He said that in spite of the harsh picture of disconnection, oppression and racism, East Jerusalem is not only about weakness and despair, and is undergoing a considerable cultural flourish, as well as numerous economic initiatives.
The last to speak was WAC MAAN’s National Director, Assaf Adiv, who said: “We believe that we must not merely be an insurance company of sorts, looking out only for its members. We have a broader mission, which is to educate the working public in Israel to show solidarity and oppose racism and discrimination of every kind. We are building a union of workers who are not indifferent to the suffering of others, who fight to topple the walls of prejudice. WAC MAAN has a leading role in defending Palestinian workers rights in the settlement areas, where no Israeli labor union has acted so far. We cooperate with movements and organizations that promote an agenda of human rights and workers’ and residents’ rights, and welcome the broadest collaboration with anyone seeking a vision of true peace with the Palestinian people. Such peace will also be based upon change from the bottom up. Cosmetic arrangements such as were reached over twenty years ago in Oslo will not suffice.”
The assembly was concluded by a worker of one of the garages at Mishor Adumim, who is obviously very familiar with the situation on the ground after 15 years of employment at the various plants in the area. He called upon workers to join WAC MAAN which he described as the best way to claim the rights of workers in a collective way.
Translation – Tal Haran