Palestinian workers: In spite of impoverishment and exploitation we dare claim our rights

<p> 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.</p>

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.”

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