We reproduce here the first of a monthly report from the Workers Advice Centre in Israel.
1. The hidden part of Israel’s Disengagement plan: No Palestinian Workers by 2008
In June 2004, in tandem with the decision to disengage, the government of Ariel Sharon took two crucial decisions concerning the Palestinians. First, as an immediate measure, it decided to close the industrial area at Erez, where 4500 Gazans worked. These suddenly found themselves with no source of livelihood. According to Gaza’s branch of the PGFTU, most received no compensation.The second decision was of longer-range: to rid Israel of Palestinian workers by the year 2008. See the full text of the article in WAC’s site: (after the article: “They always Return”)
On the same subject see: “One Big Sweatshop” By Amiram Gil Ha’aretz 7.7.05
2. They Always Return – On the situation of undocumented Palestinian workers inside Israel
On June 10th a Palestinian worker from Jenin was found dead in the Israeli Police Station in Rosh Pina (Upper Galillee). Ali Abu Rub was on his way to get his unpaid salary from his former Israeli employer when he was jailed just for entering Israel illegally. The Police rejects the accusations that it killed him. However a friend who testified saw the Policemen beating Abu Rub severely. WAC followed the case and compiled this report on the plight of undocumented Palestinian workers who have no other choice but to take the risk and go to work inside Israel.
Full report is in WAC’s site:
3. WAC takes active role in Barcelona’s FSMed
From June 16 until June 19, 2005, social organizations and labor unions met in Barcelona within the framework of FSMed, the Mediterranean Social Forum. Several thousand took part. There were hundreds of workshops and activities. It was the first official occasion on which Mediterranean organizations met to exchange information concerning the economic, environmental and social problems that neo-liberal economics has created.
The Social Form in Israel organized a panel concerning the economic effects of globalization on the Middle East. The panel members were Dani Ben Simhon of WAC and Ephraim Davidi, a representative of Hadash (which includes the Communist Party) in the Histadrut (Israel’s National Federation of Labor). Davidi warned against the emergency regulations in Israel that make it difficult to organize workers. He claimed that the Right and the Left share a consensus favoring the government’s neo-liberal policies. Ben Simhon presented WAC’s activities in protecting the rights of Arab workers. He cautioned that the Disengagement Plan will prove disastrous for the Palestinian people, because it will perpetuate the separation between Gaza and the West Bank.
The first to pay the price of disengagement, he said, are the Palestinian workers. He called on the trade unions taking part in the convention to support the demand that Palestinians from the Territories be allowed to work in Israel.Together with the Spanish NGO, ACSUR La Segovias, WAC screened Video 48′s documentary, “Breaking Walls” to a full house of 60. The film follows three people whose paths intersect at a mural in an Israeli Arab village. One is painter and activist Mike Alewitz. Another is Dani Ben Simhon, who gave up a promising art career to organize workers. The third is construction worker Mus’ab Salameh. Their story exhibits the tangled connection between Israeli and Palestinian societies.Magali Thill, an ACSUR Representative, introduced the film. Yonatan Ben Efrat, its director, spoke about the way in which Video 48 combines art and social change. After a general discussion, WAC then screened a new short film by Video 48 called The Thirst to Work. It presents, in their own words, the dilemma of Arab women in Israel, caught between official discrimination that prevents them from getting jobs, on the one hand, and, on the other, the conservative Arab society, which frowns on a married woman who works outside the home.
The convention concluded with a colorful demonstration on the streets of Barcelona. In looking back, however, the representatives of WAC and Video 48 expressed regret at the lack of substance. The convention did not relate in any significant way to the major questions that today face the Middle East, such as the war in Iraq and the Disengagement Plan. Networking for its own sake is no match for the region’s harsh realities. The global, European and Mediterranean forums are drifting into a routine of hobnobbing and backslapping that does not meet the challenges that confront us.
By Challenge staff: www.hanitzotz.com/challenge
4. Screening of “Breaking Walls” in Laborfest
San Francisco’s International Working Class Film & Video Festival July 22 (Friday) 7:00 PM $5.00
Breaking Walls By Yonatan Ben Efrat – Video 48, Israel, 47 minutes
Video 48 is a group of alternative filmmakers focusing on the situation of Arabs inside Israel. When Israel began walling itself off from the Palestinians of the West Bank, Mike Alewitz, who paints colorful murals, from L.A. to Baghdad, asked the Workers Advice Center (WAC) to help him find a site in an Arab village. WAC chose Kufr Qara, where workers picked a promising wall at the football stadium. They told Alewitz that they wanted “a mural that would help them explain to other workers why joining a union is important.”
Text of the LaborFest site: http://www.laborfest.net/2005schedule.htm
5. WAC’s East Jerusalem branch to organize a meeting of Unemployed workers – Wednesday July 20th – to discuss ways to fight the implementation of “Wisconsin Plan”.
On August 1st the new Government plan called “Mehalev” (From Subsistence Benefits to Secured Jobs) modeled on the Wisconsin Workfare program will start to be implemented in Israel.
“…The project, initiated by the Finance Ministry’s budget department, seeks to bring chronically unemployed welfare recipients into the work force. The companies that won the tender to operate private unemployment offices in different parts of the country in partnership with local firms are UK-based A4E Work; Maximus, Inc. of Reston, Virginia; and Alexander Calder; and Agens, both based in the Netherlands.
A4E Work will operate a center in Jerusalem with Israeli firm Aman, Maximus will work with human resources company ORS in Ashkelon, Calder has joined Marmanet in Nazareth, and Agens will work with Yeud Human Resources in Hadera. Each office will also be active in the surrounding region as well.
The government plans to invest some NIS 80 million in the experimental phase of the project, which will run for 2 years. The companies will also receive revenues based on the government’s savings on welfare payments resulting from the project, compensation being based on the project’s performance in terms of the number of welfare recipients successfully integrated into the work force.
Maximus has come under fire in the US in recent years for problematic practices and other faults. In one incident, the company accidentally canceled welfare of 105 families. The Wisconsin Works program, which Maximus is largely responsible for implementing, has also been the subject of investigations regarding its operation, practices and costs, most notably by the states legislative audit bureau (LAB)”.
[Doubts cast on winners of Wisconsin plan tender: By Daniel Kennemer, The Jerusalem Post .Dec. 16, 2004]
As mentioned, one of the 4 centers chosen as a pilot is Jerusalem. Out of 3,500 unemployed workers who are scheduled to participate there will be more than 1,000 Palestinians. WAC has a branch in East Jerusalem and is very concerned about the plan. It is part of the Neo Liberal attack on workers’ rights and a direct attempt to pressure unemployed workers. The end result will be that they will have no job and also lose their benefits.
On July 20th – WAC will hold a public meeting for East Jerusalemite Unemployed workers to discuss ways to fight this new scheme. WAC has initiated similar actions in Nazareth and the Triangle (Ara’ra and Kufr Qara) where the plan will affect local unemployed workers.