Jewish and Arab women march for peace, equality and social justice

One after another, in the spirit of the social activists of the beginning of the last century, they stepped up onto the wooden crate on the side of Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and cried out for a better future.

Photos: Dotan Gur-Arieh

One after another, in the spirit of the social activists of the beginning of the last century, they stepped up onto the wooden crate on the side of Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and cried out for a better future – each from the perspective of her own struggle. Among those listening were women agricultural workers organized with the Workers Advice Center (WAC), activists from Beit Ha’am (“the people’s house”), members of the union Koach Laovdim, representatives of the political party Meretz, and Tel Aviv residents who took the chance to celebrate International Women’s Day together with Purim, and came dressed up in various strange and funny costumes.

The panel was chaired by Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, who represented the workers’ organization WAC. “We will not remain indifferent to the terrible scenes and the cries of mothers whose children have been murdered by the fascist dictator, Assad,” she declared. “The entire world ignores the plight of Palestinian women caged behind the separation wall and enforced closure, and ignores the racist legislation directed against Israel’s Arab citizens, but we will not ignore them! The Israeli government ignores the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrated against the evils of the capitalist economy and the results of privatization.

We women join the waves of uprisings and protests sweeping many parts of the world and the Arab world specifically. Israel’s prime minister prefers to ignore what is happening and establish a belligerent virtual agenda against Iran, for which he has no capability, no mandate, and no international concent. Hurray for the women struggling, for the Arab agricultural workers, for the persecuted migrant laborers, for the subcontracted kindergarten and school teachers, for the social workers, for the junior academic staff, for all women and men who struggle for their right to live in dignity.”

Tami Farber, social worker: “I have a dream”

Asma’s place was then taken by Tami Farber, a social worker and activist in the social workers’ struggle. “I have a dream,” she said. In her dream, she sees a state whose main concern is the wellbeing of all its citizens regardless of religion, age or nationality; a state which grants education, health, housing and social security to its citizens, and sees workers as a source of strength and organized labor as the basis of a firm social-economic order; a state which understands that national security is dependent on the welfare of its citizens and the narrowing of socio-economic gaps; a state which does not control its people by fostering fear of the Iranian bomb. In her dream, Jewish and Arab women have equal opportunities to exercise their rights, the subcontractors and agents disappear, men do not earn more than women for same job, and there are no subcontracted laborers. In her dream, old age is not accompanied by sickness, poverty and dependency; the state appreciates the work of the elderly, and shows this in their monthly wage slip. “For this dream to come true, we need a strong coalition of women, solidarity, the faith that it is possible,” Tami said. “We just need to rise up and do it.”

Wafa Tayara, WAC: “Unemployment causes violence”

Wafa Tayara, coordinator at WAC’s Baqa al-Gharbiyeh branch and responsible for the recruitment and placement of women, welcomed the agricultural workers who came to mark International Women’s Day after a hard day’s work. This is the sixth year they have come, and the fact that Jewish and Arab women march together expresses the solidarity between them. Wafa accused the government of causing the high unemployment among Arab women, and called for a stop to the import of migrant labor under slave conditions from which only the contractors and farmers benefit. “Unemployment is a direct cause of the rise of violence in the Arab street, and against women at home,” she said. She ended her speech with a moving call for solidarity with Syrian women, against the massacre Assad is perpetrating against his own people.

Sharon Malakhi, Koach Laovdim: “I found the courage to fight for my rights”

Sharon Malakhi is a member of Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipal council for Ir LeKulanu and a member of the commission for sexual harassment and attacks against women, for Koach Laovdim (Power to the Workers). “In the winter of 2008, Koach Laovdim offered me the opportunity to express my bitterness as a subcontractor worker for the Open University,” she said. “I found the strength to fight for my rights.” Koach Laovdim has assisted many women who worked in poor conditions to lift their heads, and it is not by chance that at least half of Koach Laovdim members are women. Organizing gives women the power to change their employment terms, to enjoy peripheral benefits and employment security, and to take their fate into their own hands, she said. They can choose when to strike and when to work, and they handle negotiations. Change in women’s status in the job market will cause a change to their status in society, and this is the significance of organizing. During the last year, Sharon worked with an inspirational group of women from Koach Laovdim who set up a center for victims of sexual harassment or attack at their place of work.

Cynthia Gabai, junior academic staff

Cynthia Gabai is a doctorate student, Latin literature teacher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and member of the junior academic staff which was in the middle of a strike on International Women’s Day. She tutors and researches, writes poetry, is the single mother of two children, and has been in academia for 13 years. She warmly greeted all the “red” (socialist) women, noting that it was their right to struggle against temporary work and other forms of employment with poor terms, and to ensure conditions worthy of academic instruction. Two-thirds of employees at the six universities in Israel are temporary workers, dismissed every few months, which effectively denies them employment security, compensation and unemployment benefits. The system is based on contempt for the work ethic, and as a result academic education is undermined. “This hurts all the people who are supposed to shape the social fabric of the future,” Cynthia said. The government’s order of priorities is warped, and education does not get the resources it needs to create a moral and self-critical society able to lead to change in political, social and cultural consciousness. “We all demand high quality education, and I hope that next year we will all be wearing red!”

Sharon Orshalimi, Meretz Women’s Forum, improving access to health for women

Sharon Orshalimi briefly raised the issue of improving access to health services for women, especially access to the abortion committee and contraceptives so that every woman can make independent decisions regarding her own body.

Rotem Ilan, Israeli children against racism and discrimination

Roten Ilan is among the leaders of the struggle against the deportation of migrant laborers’ children and the exploitation of migrant labor. She talked about the privileges she enjoys as an Ashkenazi, Jewish women, compared to the racism experienced by those who don’t answer to this definition.

“We must not allow continued, systematic racism and discrimination,” she said, and related how the government uses migrant laborers as “machines”, forbidden to get pregnant because pregnancy makes them “illegal.” They become cheap and easily exploited labor, while Arab women in Israel are pushed out of the market because they dare to demand a fair wage. Rotem called for an end to the “revolving door” policy, and called on women to cooperate and organize, to stop being invisible, and to show society their capabilities.

Noa Savir, Beit Ha’am, cross-border struggle

Noa Savir prominent activist of Beit Ha’am, a social and cultural center established during the social protest in the summer of 2011 said: “The women’s struggle crosses all borders, thus Beit Ha’am is a place of encounters where definitions and borders fall away, which enables a public, cultural and gendered space to open up, regardless of difference, and in full equality,” she says. She called on women to struggle and organize against the injustices of capital and government, to organize as women to create a better future, a common and fair future for us and our children.

In the cool invigorating wind, the march began towards Beit Ha’am, led by the women agricultural workers. Marchers carried posters and shouted slogans in Hebrew and Arabic, calling for peace, equality and social justice, protesting against unemployment and discrimination, and in favor of the right to struggle and organize, and of course calling for an end to Netanyahu’s government – a government based on cooperation with capital and associated with war.

In Beit Ha’am, the participants split up into four discussion groups on the issues of body, home, leadership and work.

The debate on the subject of the body was led by Tal Dekel, lecturer in gender studies at Beit Berl, and Jaida Zoabi, group leader and coordinator for the WAC women’s empowerment workshops. The debate focused on women’s self-image, and awareness of her physiologic capabilities. Participants linked arms to create a single warming human chain that brought them together. Questions arose concerning women’s health for those doing hard physical work; double work – on the job and in the home; the link between a conservative society with arranged marriages which forbids previous relationships and the experience of sex as trauma; sex education and the termination of pregnancy; harmful and painful sexual relations; relating to women as property; and other issues.

Body:

This debate was led by Michal Warshavsky from Tarabut – Arab-Jewish Movement for Social and Political Change, who hosted some women whose home is not their castle: two women from Al-Araqib in the Negev, whose home was demolished 36 times and who now live with their families in the village’s cemetery; a woman from Dahamash, near Lod, who prevented the demolition of her home by locking herself inside with her children and a gas container; a mother of five children from Acre (Akko) who was issued an evacuation order; and a resident of public housing who received an evacuation order after living there for 20 years. The Al-Araqib resident told the group about the first time they demolished her home as she stood holding her 25-day-old baby, and left her without water, electricity or any basic requirements. “All I want is that my children grow up like any other children, with a warm home, a room, a computer, a future, and without fear of bulldozers,” she said.

Leadership:

Meretz member Yifat Solel led the debate on leadership, and Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka also participated. The debate focused on physiology versus agenda, whether a woman’s relative physical weakness is decisive regarding leadership, or whether the political agenda is what matters and enables women to be leaders.

Work:

Dr. Orly Binyamin, feminist and senior lecturer in sociology at Bar-Ilan University, led this discussion group. Wafa Tayara from WAC also participated, and spoke of the agricultural workers’ struggle and their exploitation by subcontractors. Orna Amos spoke of the organizational model of cleaners at Ben-Gurion University. Yael Konesh from Koach Laovdim spoke about organizing the workers in a medical services company, and the difficulties they encountered vis-à-vis the employer and the Histadrut’s workers committee. Social worker Inbal Hermoni from the social workers’ organization Atidenu spoke about how the social workers’ strike last summer did not gain anything, and how the lack of women among the leadership undermined the struggle. The question also arose regarding how to gain political achievements for the social struggle. To conclude, Binyamin emphasized the importance of establishing independent workers’ organizations like Koach Laovdim and WAC.

Translated by Jonathan Preminger

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