Collateral damage is still bombing
Report by Steve Zeltzer
Bombing of Palestinian Union offices: Resolution and Debate
The resolution below was introduced at the San Francisco Labor Council meeting of February 25, 2002 and referred to the Law and Legislative Committee. If you can get it introduced and passed in your local or council it would help.
Protesting Bombings of Palestinian Union Offices in Nablus, Palestine
Whereas, the right of trade unionists and worker to organize and have freedom of association is critical to democratic rights and,
Whereas, the bombing of the Palestinian trade union headquarters of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) on February 17, 2002 in Nablus city by Israeli F-16 jets has been protested by the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU), the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’s Unions (ICEM) and the Congress Of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and,
Whereas, the US supplied F-16 jets were used to bomb not only the trade union headquarters but other civilian targets and,
Whereas, this use of US military supplied equipment on civilian targets is illegal under US Arms Export Control Act,
Therefore be it resolved that this Council/local condemns the bombing of the Palestinian trade union offices in Nablus, Palestine and we call on the US government and Congress to take action to prevent the use of US supplied military weapons on civilians and,
Lastly, this council/union will send this resolution for concurrence to all affiliated bodies including the California AFL-CIO and the National AFL-CIO and will send copies to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, the Israeli government, the Histadrut trade union federation and President Bush and the members of the US Congress.
ICFTU Statement (19 Feb 2002)
ICFTU appalled by Israeli attacks on Palestinian trade union headquarters
Brussels 19 February, 2002 (ICFTU OnLine): The ICFTU has written to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressing outrage at the 17 February attacks by Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft and Apache helicopters, which destroyed nearly 40% of the headquarters of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) in Nablus City. Miraculously no trade unionists were killed.
The letter states that such attacks do not “reduce tensions in the occupied territories nor lead to any improvement in Israel’s internal security.” The letter also calls on Mr Sharon to launch a full investigation into the matter and that “full compensation be awarded by the Israeli state to the PGFTU” for all resulting damage.
In a recent interview with the ICFTU, Sharer Sae’d, General Secretary of the PGFTU, re-iterated that his organisation was searching “for a comprehensive and durable peace.” Although relations with Histadrut, the ICFTU affiliate in Israel, have been ruptured during the second intifada, the PGFTU have remained determined to work towards a common solution to the conflict.
ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder explained, “I received the news of this devastating attack with utter disbelief. The PGFTU is committed to finding peace. The ability of the trade unions to undertake their legitimate work freely is a crucial component of peace-building. Sunday’s attacks can only set back the process.”
A similar statement was issued yesterday by the international trade secretariats (now known as “Global Union Federations”) which called on Israel to “publicly investigate the circumstances behind this air attack on the PGFTU and to make appropriate compensation to the organisation for what was, we hope, accidental damage to their headquarters and property.”
To let Prime Minister Sharon know your own feelings about this attack, and to support the call for a public investigation and full compensation to the Palestinian unions so that they can rebuild their headquarters (which was built with the financial support of unions from around the globe), we suggest the following urgent actions:
1. Email Prime Minister Sharon: email@example.com
2. Send messages of solidarity to the PGFTU at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
ICEM UPDATE On Attack On Palestinian Unions
No.9/2002 20 February 2002
The following is from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM):
Global Unions Protest After Israel Bombs Palestinian Trade Union HQ
In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today, the Global Union Federations express “grave concern about the attack by the Israeli airforce which we understand took place in the early morning on February 17 on the headquarters of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, an organisation affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), our partner in the global unions family.”
The Global Union Federations are sector-by-sector worldwide trade union organisations. They include the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM). Today’s letter was sent on their behalf by David Cockroft, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
The bombed Palestinian union headquarters was “built with the support of the international labour movement,” Cockroft tells Sharon. The building “was apparently severely damaged in this attack. I am sure that you will agree that military assaults on legitimate civil institutions like trade unions have nothing to do with the fight against terrorism. Such attacks risk instead damaging the functioning of legitimate, democratic civil institutions and movements, movements that will be essential on both sides in any future lasting peace for the region.”
The Global Union Federations therefore call on the Israeli government to “publicly investigate thecircumstances behind this air attack on the PGFTU and to make appropriate compensation to the organisation for what was, we hope, accidental damage to their headquarters and property.”
In a similar protest to Sharon, the ICFTU said it was “appalled” by the bombing.
COSATU condemns bombing of Palestine union HQ
Unfair Labor Practices
By Jerry Goodman Executive Director
Most health care workers will confess that in dealing with individuals in an unstable family situation, the absence of fairness can exacerbate existing troubled relationships. On a global basis, the Middle East has become a prime example of nations and groups locked in troubled relationships best described as dysfunctional and violent.
External interventions of varying types might facilitate progress. . In fact, rather than helping the situation, there is disturbing evidence that some institutions of the civil society are increasingly uncivil as they pillory Israel, whether or not it is justified.
Recently the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Union (ICFTU), acting upon an initiative by the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), unleashed a crescendo of criticism of Israel among some labor circles. Although it went virtually unnoticed in the print and electronic media, the extent of the imbroglio was available by surfing internet web sites representing Global Unions, a recent concept for labor unions that function on a world scale.
On January 17, at about 3:00 a. m., Israel launched a missile attack on a police installation in Nablus, in retaliation for terrorist killings in Israel. Israel has identified Nablus as a special center of terrorist activism. The timing was no accident, for at that hour the police building was empty. As a result, no injuries were reported. It seemed to be another incident in what has become an ever-widening cycle of death and destruction in the last few weeks.
According to an official account from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), elicited by the Histadrut, Israel’s General Federation of Labor, the nearby headquarters of the PGFTU admittedly suffered collateral damage. Windows were blown out and part of the outside wall was damaged, as was the frame. The IDF maintains, however, that the PGFTU building was not a target for its missiles and that the damage was minor. It was recognized, privately, that if the union headquarters had been a target it would have been destroyed.
How did a global campaign of misinformation get launched?The PGFTU, the official labor group controlled by the Palestine Authority, promptly whipped off a letter to the ICFTU claiming that Israel had bombarded its headquarters, which had been 40% damaged. The ICFTU immediately acted on the spurious claim that Israel had deliberately targeted the PGFTU and that heavy damage was incurred, in a facility funded in part by European labor unions. Fortunately the AFL-CIO in this country took a more measured view and did not rush to judgment.
Accuracy in reporting got lost in the urge to condemn Israel. The unverified claims by the PGFTU were reinforced in a letter from the ICFTU to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that was posted on the labor federation’s web site, and circulated to other global unions. A feeding frenzy began that has just reached our own shores. The San Francisco Labor Council, reacting to the earlier and incomplete information, is considering its own condemnation of Israel. .
The ICFTU, with affiliates throughout the world, never confirmed the PGFTU’s claim, nor did it ask for clarification from its own Israel affiliate, the Histadrut, before going public. Not understanding the PGFTU’s role in Palestinian affairs, during an especially volatile time, the ICFTU blandly accepted the assertion that Israel’s defense establishment had “destroyed nearly 40% of the headquarters” of the PGFTU in Nablus.
It is not incumbent upon the Israeli labor federation to monitor the actions of the country’s security or military authorities. Nevertheless, in response to the position taken by the ICFTU, the Histadrut requested and obtained a brief statement from the IDF stating that “an inquiry into the matter found that the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Union’s building (PGFTU) in Nablus was not directly hit. The building was lightly damaged by fragments” and, reflecting a decision to act in the early morning hours, no people were present. In sum as Amir Peretz, the Histadrut Chairman later stated,“the allegations that missiles were aimed at the PGFTU building and that the southern side of the building was destroyed are completely unfounded”.
In his letter to Sharon and in a public statement posted on the Internet, Guy Ryder, the ICFTU General Secretary, ignored a recent suicide bombing at Karne Shomron that had left two Israeli teenagers dead and precipitated the early morning attack on the police station. According to IDF sources, not refuted by the Palestine Authority, the suicide bombers were equipped with explosives at the station and were then given orders to launch the attack.
Forgetting the journalist’s credo concerning objectivity and accuracy, the International Federation of Journalists then chastised Israel for “military assaults on legitimate civil institutions like trade unions”. The International Metalworkers’ Federation was hardly restrained in its “protest letter” (their language) to Ariel Sharon. It was certain of the “destruction of buildings belonging to trade unions and other civil society organisations ” and “condemned the shelling”.
The ITF, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, from its London headquarters, expressed its “grave concern about the attack by the Israeli air force. . . on the headquarters of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions”. At least the ITF’s General Secretary, David Cockroft, hinted at the need for more information when he asserted that the building “was apparently severely damaged in this attack”. Nevertheless he, too, protested Israel’s actions. Among other things the powerful International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Worker’s Union (ICEM) then circulated Cockroft’s letter, which also spoke for the other member unions in the Global Union Federation.
Despite the sometime differences in tone, none of the global union members addressed the issue of terrorism or the killing of Israeli or Palestinian civilians. Rather, damages to real estate commanded their attention.
A keen observer of the armed confrontation between various Palestinian forces and Israelis could legitimately criticize current Israeli practices in the West Bank and Gaza. The policies of Prime Minister Sharon could be criticized for not helping resolve the basic issues that have led to the violence. His peace initiatives are also open to careful scrutiny. Those are matter of judgment. But, what about fairness? Are we witnessing a lamentable trend suggesting that in dealing with Israel fairness is becoming victimized, by those dedicated to justice and the rights of working people? It is to be hoped that this imbalance will be corrected before it spreads throughout the global civil society.
Letter from Histadrut Chairman Amir Peretz to ICFTU General Secretary Guy Rider
February 22, 2002
Mr. Guy Ryder, General Secretary
Regarding your letter, I want to emphasize that the Histadrut, headed by me, has been and will continue to be committed to the peace process
To our sorrow, since the outbreak of the intifada, our region has endured a grave security situation, with daily terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians – workers and pensioners, women and children, all of whom are losing hope for a better future and peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.
The Histadrut views the terrorist attacks against innocent civilians as an attempt to undermine the efforts to achieve true peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. We believe that measures for peace must be conducted through a policy of negotiations and not by means of force and terror. The efforts for peace must be made by means of operational actions and not by making tempestuous declarations and providing inaccurate data.
The Histadrut does not interfere in security considerations and does not act against the policy determined by the government of Israel
Although it is not the role of the Histadrut to do so, we have made inquiries to the IDF Spokesman and it appears that, during an IDF response to Palestinian acts of terror, light damage was caused to the PGFTU building in Nablus. However, the allegations that missiles were aimed at the PGFTU building and that the southern side of the building was destroyed are completely unfounded (a copy of the IDF response is attached hereto).
Naturally, we are sorry about any damage that takes place in a time of war and for any escalation in a conflict that is tragically killing a great number of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.
I cannot help saying my amazement at your reaction, as well as the reaction of trade unions and ITSs, in which a clearly one-sided attitude has been adopted. In these mad times, , when innocent Israeli civilians are being murdered, I have not seen or heard any condemnation or protest from global trade unions-condemnation that could have helped in eradicating the unnecessary violence and bloodshed.
The Histadrut will continue to be committed to the peace process, in general, and to strengthening its relationship with the PGFTU, in particular, as well as to solidarity among the workers, with a belief that only a return to the negotiation table and a halt to the violence will enable us to achieve a comprehensive and just peace that will yield calm, prosperity, coexistence and fraternity between the two peoples.
Amir Peretz, M. K.
Letter from ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder to Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
19 February 2002
Mr. Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
IDF attack in Nablus on 17th February 2002
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions was appalled to learn of last Sunday’s attack by Israel Defense Forces in Nablus City, which very seriously damaged the infrastructure of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). As a result of this attack, reportedly carried out by Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter aircraft, the PGFTU building, which had been erected with the support of the International labour movement, was severely damaged, with meeting rooms, computes and other infrastructure destroyed beyond repair.
The ICFTU, on behalf of its 1576 million members around the orld, including in Israel, expresses its strongest concern at the destruction of buildings belonging to trade unions and other civil society organisations. That no trade unionists were killed in this most recent attack is nothing less than miraculous. Beyond that, however, and whether the destruction of the PGFTU building was intentional or whether it occurred as “collateral damage” in an IDF attack against the Palestinian authority, we strongly believe that Israel’s bombin campaign against the Palestinians’ infrastructure and public authorities will in no manner reduce tension in the occupied territories nor lead to any improvement in Israel’s internal security situation. Nor can such attacks contribute in any meaningful way to the search for a lasting peace and solution to the Middle East crisis acceptable to all sides involved.
The ICFTU is convinced that the ability of Palestinian trade unions to undertake their legitimate work freely is a crucial component in the process of peace building, that those responsible for this operation are brought to account and that proper and full compensatioon be awarded by the Israeli state to the PGFTU for property lost in the above-mentioned attack.
Looking forward to your reply on this matter,
Guy Ryder, General Secretary
cc: Mr. Shimon Peres, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Spotlight on Shaher Sae’d of the PGFTU
Struggling for daily bread
ICFTU,21 January, 2002: The Israeli-Palestine conflict is constantly in the headlines, but what is the reality for the Palestinian people trying to live their daily lives amidst the conflict and hatred? Shaher Sae’d, General Secretary of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) talks to James Lorenz and Anne Renaut for the ICFTU ‘spotlight interview. ‘
How has the situation in Palestine deteriorated since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000?
In short, for the people of Palestine, the situation has deteriorated dramatically.400,000 workers have been unemployed for over a year, out of a working population of 845,000 people. Palestinians with jobs in Israel do not have the right to go to work, because since September 2000, the Israelis have hermetically sealed off the towns and villages and have partitioned them into what they call tiger skin. In essence, they have divided the West Bank into 63 separate zones and the Gaza strip into six zones. This is reinforced by 10,000 military checkpoints.
7000 homes and buildings have been destroyed, even including the airport, and the infrastructure of the Palestinian State has been ruined. Palestinians live inside prisons, and these prisons are the cities and villages in which they live.
What has been the effect on industry, and which sectors have been worst affected?
Over 14 months, the situation has cost the workers alone $1 billion, and perhaps $6 billion to the Palestinian State. The most seriously affected sectors have been tourism and construction. In the year 2000, tourism had drawn large amounts of capital into the West Bank, which is an important pilgrimage destination. All development projects have been interrupted. The textile sector has collapsed. In the construction sector, nearly 150,000 people are unable to work because there are no more projects and in total,85% of it has been destroyed. We cannot import cement and we do not have any stones.
Fishing has been equally affected since fishermen can no longer reach the coast. November was the olive season in the West Bank. However, we are no longer able to ship olive oil to the Gaza Strip. As for agriculture, although there are plenty of crops of fruit, vegetables and flowers in the Gaza Strip, all of these flowers are fed to the animals because we cannot ship them out of the territory. In the transport sector,100,000 buses and taxis are stranded inside the town.
You were recently detained by Israeli guards at a check point, could you explain what is happening at these crossings?
Last year, over 15,600 workers were arrested for trying to earn a living to feed their families. They were detained for one to three months and then required to pay a fine of 100 to 500 dollars. The PGFTU has filed lawsuit for the deaths of 23 workers who were killed without reason on their way back from work in the evening. The Palestinian trade union centre will try to obtain compensation for the families of the victims.
As you say, I was also stopped arbitrarily at a checkpoint recently when I was on my way to the ceremony for the new Palestinian Labour Code. I showed my identity card, the guard said to me ‘don’t move!’ and left me to sit in my car for four and a half hours. When you know that anyone who moves is killed, you just have to sit there. I have been put in detention 6 times without good reason, I have even had a bullet shot through my hand and yet still, all I say is that I want a comprehensive and lasting peace.
Did you have any difficulties getting to Brussels?
The roads and the airport have been dug up by the Israeli forces, so if you need to go somewhere, the only choice is to travel by donkey. To get to Brussels, that is how I left Palestine, on a donkey. There was no other way.
What is happening to alleviate the situation for workers in the Palestine State?
As I just mentioned, a new Palestinian Labour Code has recently been drawn up. Before we had a Lebanese code, an Egyptian code, even a British code, now we have our own. We now are guaranteed rights such as maternity leave, social assurance and a 42 hour working week. This is an important step as it is the first of its kind for us.
The PGFTU also meets with Yasser Arafat once a month. Partly through our discussions together, monthly stipends are paid to 21,000 unemployed workers and through government officials donating one day’s pay, we were able to provide assistance to 220 000 workers. Other than that we provide health care to 300 000 workers who are unemployed.
How are your relations with the Israeli trade union, Histadrut?
The are no relations any more. Since the beginning of the intifada, maintaining links has become an impossibility. Histadrut have not obliged the agreement that we signed together, it was broken off from their side.
What do you hope to achieve in your relationship with the ICFTU?
The ICFTU is important to us for many reasons, because as you can imagine in the current situation, we are in need of help. We need help in education and training- especially bearing in mind the introduction of the new labour code- in job creation, in many areas. We certainly need the ICFTU to support us at European and International levels, but above all, what we need is solidarity.
Bush won’t challenge Israel on weapons use
Law says U. S. -supplied arms can be used only for defense
Norman Kempster, Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times
Saturday, September 8, 2001 San Francisco Chronicle
Washington – The Bush administration has decided not to invoke against Israel a U. S. law that bars military aid to countries that use American arm for purposes other than self-defense, despite controversy over dozens of “targeted killings” of Palestinian militants.
Under the U. S. Arms Export Control Act, countries that obtain weapons from the United States are allowed to use them only for defense. Parallel language is written into sales contracts. The law requires the State Department to assess compliance.
Israel says its policy of killing Palestinians suspected of planning or carrying out terrorist attacks falls within the definition of legitimate defense. State Department lawyers say the act is sufficiently ambiguous that it is impossible to make a clear-cut legal determination to the contrary.
However, a prominent Arab-American organization is considering a court challenge.
By Palestinians’ count,50 to 60 people have died in targeted killings by Israel, many using missiles fired from U. S. -made helicopters. Most were militants suspected in terrorist acts, but Palestinians say about 10 were bystanders, including women and children.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher made clear this week that the administration will not try to enforce the statute. He chided critics for “pushing this into a legalistic discussion of U. S. law.”
But he said Washington has other ways of expressing its opposition to what amounts to extrajudicial execution. “We have made quite clear that we are opposed to the policy of targeted killings,” he said. “We have made quite clear that we are opposed to the use of heavy weaponry. . . in these circumstances, particularly in populated areas where the risk of innocent casualties is very high. We have made clear that we think that the process of escalation and response needs to be broken.”
Ziad Asali, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said his group is considering a lawsuit to enforce the statute. In the meantime, he said, the organization is appealing to President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to rein in Israel’s use of U. S. weaponry.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government said it has not received a single formal complaint from the Bush administration about the use of U. S. weapons. But in any case, Israel maintains that its use of Apache gunships and F-16 fighter jets is well within the terms of the law.
“We use these weapons only for self-defense purposes,” said Sharon’s spokesman, Raanan Gissin. “We are very careful. We try to kill only those who are coming to kill us. We try to avoid collateral damage. But, there’s a war going on,” Gissin said. “We are not enthusiastic about using these weapons, but we are left with no choice.”
Although the arms export act is little known in the United States, it has become a hot-button topic across the Arab world, where it is cited as proof that Israel’s military response to the 11-month-old Palestinian uprising would be impossible without U. S. help. “The administration ought to be worried about Arab opinion,” said Edward Walker, the State Department’s top Middle East specialist at the end of the Clinton administration and the start of the Bush administration.