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Testimonies of the popular rebellion in USA; interview with Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine New York (La Prensa Obrera, Argentina, June 7, 2020)

La Prensa Obrera, 7 de junio de 2020

“The demands of the movement will clash with the Democratic Party”

Testimonies of the popular rebellion in USA; interview with Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine New York

Por Redacción

-What has the conflict been like this week in your area?

-In New York there’s been, as throughout this country, a mass revolt. Tens of thousands of people in the street, multiracial, significantly and confronting extreme police violent as are people throughout this country and throughout the world. On the one hand the terrible brutality of George Floyd’s murder and the murder of so many other black and brown people is almost insufferable to watch. But at the same time, this rebellion that’s happening now is so inspiring. The courage and the militancy that’s out on the streets and the understanding that this is not a question of a few bad police apples or something that is unordinary, but rather something that is quite common and relates to the legacy of slavery and of capitalism in this country.

The militancy and the radicalism of the demands that have come out of the movement. To defund the police, dismantle police, abolish prisons. Not that everybody has those positions. But nonetheless the widespread demand for those changes to the system itself. And not just changes, but an end to the system in many cases. Whatever people mean by that, it’s impressive and striking.

-What reaction have you seen in the movement to Trump’s announcement of the army being on call as a means to upscale the repression?

-It’s interesting I think that there hasn’t been a retreat of the protesters in the face of that threat or of the existing mass violence that’s coming from the state. Thousands and thousands of people are out in the street. They may be more than before. The police have been able to inflict tremendous brutality on the movement, but they have not been able to back the movement down at all. If anything, the brutality that the state has inflicted against the protesters has only reinforces people’s determination to be out and to resist martial law, to resist the curfews, to resist the ongoing daily violence, and the specific violence that’s being launched against them by the police.

And, also I think it’s interesting that despite the lipservice that liberal politicians have given to the movement, they in fact are the ones who are helping to orchestrate the mass violence. So, in New York City, for example, which has a liberal democratic mayor, the violence that is being rained down on the protest is coming directly from that administration. I think that deepens everyone’s understanding, if they didn’t already know, that despite differences in rhetoric from Trump, from Biden, to in our case, mayor Di Blasio in New York City, and across the political spectrum, whatever politicians may be saying, their deeds speak for themselves.

When they send out police to brutalize protestors, as happened in New York City repeatedly, including last night (Wednesday June 3rd), that is not an aberration, that comes from the top. Those are orders that go out from the administration. Whether that’s Trump, or the governors, or mayors. This kind of violence is systemic, and it’s organized and it’s coordinated. We saw this with Occupy Wall Street almost ten years ago, when the mayors were given the order by the Obama administration to shut down Occupy. That happened everywhere, very systemically, across all political lines. And we’re seeing the same thing now in regards to repression against the movement.

The strength of the movement is also clear from the fact that the politicians, and even the former defense secretary, has to give lipservice to the movement. You see these pictures of police taking the knee. Now, that’s obviously disingenuous. That’s completely ridiculous. I mean, there may be a few police officers who actually feel that way, but when the top uniformed police chief in New York City takes the knee as he did the other day, that’s simply an attempt to confuse people about the role of the police. It’s also interesting that the former Defense Secretary James Mattis, has been criticizing Trump for calling out the troops. It’s significant because he’s thinking “are the troops going to, in fact, obey orders to attack and, if necessary, fire on the protestors?”. Because, unlike the police, the army and the national guard come from the same working class communities as the protestors do. The number of people of color in the military is over 40%. And, if you go back to the 1960’s you see that there were examples where black troops called out to repress protests in the cities refused to deploy, most notably in the case of the Fort Hood 43, a group of black troops who refused to go to  Chicago in 1968 to shoot and brutalize protestors.

I think that the ruling class is very aware that this is a concern, that the military will have absolutely no credibility with anyone if they engage in that kind of behavior. Which is not to say that they won’t. But it shows the power of the movement that they have to pay lipservice to those kinds of concerns.

-What are the most important social and political sectors that make up the demonstrations?

-I think it’s a confluence of different forces. At the heart are black youth in particular, who everywhere have been at the forefront of the rebellion, as has been the case going back to the 1960’s and even beyond.  What is different about this particular time, say from 1968 (this is the biggest mass rebellion in the states since 1968), is that though there was a large movement of radicalized whites and other sectors, against racism and against the war, black people in the rebellion were largely segregated and kept separate from the rest of society.

I think a major difference in this rebellion is that though it’s in the same scale and echoes that rebellion in 1968 following the murder of Martin Luther King, it’s drawing out huge numbers of white people, many of whom have been involved in other protests in the past, for Black Lives or Occupy, or against Trump, or any number of things that have been going on.

So when you see the images of these protests you are struck by all these forces coming together to support black people, to oppose the system, to call for radical change. Sometimes openly, explicitly anticapitalist in its expressions, and certainly against the institutional racism that the George Floyd murder reflects.

And, that’s quite a different thing than you would have seen in 1968. I remember the rebellion in 1968. I was 12 years old, I had been marching all my life with my parents.  We had seen police violence. But if you look at the newsreels from 1968 you will see a much more segmented society. And even though today’s society is totally segregated in many ways, these protests have somehow overcome that to come together on a multiracial basis against the system itself. And every time the police attack and every time the military is brought out and threatened with it only deepens the radicalization and the understanding in the movement, that these are not aberrations, this is not simply a problem of retraining police or anything like that, which we’ve heard talked of in the past sometimes. Rather there is a call to demolish and deconstruct the police, to end the police, to abolish prisons. Again, I’m not talking about everyone, but these ideas are widely circulated. They’re even reflected in the corporate media. Which is a tribute to the power of the movement. So I think there’s a growing awareness among protestors of the power of mass mobilization. And how that has immediately changed the political terrain, overnight, throughout this country. Of course that coincides and overlaps with Covid-19. The tremendous impact of Covid-19, especially on poor and working class people. Black victims of Covid-19 are grossly disproportionate to the proportion of black people in society. So on every level this is bringing together these concerns and awareness.

-What are the main slogans and demands that the movement is calling for?

-Defund police I think has become one of the most prominent single demands. Together of course, with the demands to prosecute police and to convict police. Not just these police, but all police who are committing brutality, which is to say, police as an institution. But, as far as a program, we’re seeing defund the police emerge. This is a movement where so much is decentralized, this doesn’t reflect a high level of organization and structure, the movement for Black Lives is the closest thing to a centralized voice. If you look at their website and the things they are putting up “defund the police” is the major demand that they have put out. Now, the question is, what does that mean? People have different views. Does it mean reduce funding to the police but keep the police as an institution? There are a wide range of opinions. Certainly many poor people and black people are fearful that if we abolish police they will be unprotected from daily violence within the community, or whatever. I don’t want to overstate. I’m sure many people feel that way. However, it’s significant that if we look back to before Black Lives Matter emerging out of Ferguson in 2014, and you look back to earlier movements against police abuse, even in the last 20 years. For example during the protests that took place after the murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999,a young black man who was unarmed, shot at 41 times by the police. He was killed, outright. And many of the demands in those protests were for much more limited things, for most people. Arrest, prosecute, more training for police not to be violent and things along those lines. You don’t hear any of that now. You don’t hear about training police or more community based policing, that’s all gone. And I think that’s a good thing, because even in 1999 these were not going to be meaningful demands. You were not hearing these demands to abolish or defund police in the movement as a whole.  Now you’re hearing it across the board.

It’s opened the door to a discussion. What does this really reflect? What is the point of the police as an institution? There is a widespread understanding that the police as an institution is a criminal enterprise, that it is a source of violence in our society. If the military comes out and does the same thing, the same will apply to them. That’s why the former defense secretary says “let’s not go down this road”. That’s why the current defense secretary is saying “we’re not going to mobilize troops right now, because we don’t need to do that yet”. It’s an attempt to insulate the military from being viewed also as an institution of repression and oppression, both at home and abroad. And it’s also an attempt to make sure that there’s not a breakdown in the military in the rank and file as happened during the Vietnam  years, both in Vietnam among black and other poor troops, with mass mutiny that took place and helped bring down the American war machine during the war, and made it impossible to deploy troops in the cities against urban rebellion on an ongoing basis.

-The rebellion is evidently centered on racism and police brutality, how big a role do you think the social and economic catastrophe being lived plays in it?

There is an intimate connection. Some people have called it a perfect storm. In 1968 of course there was the war, there was mass violence against black people, there was very high unemployment in black and brown communities. But there wasn’t a pandemic. So this pandemic of Covid-19, together with the underlying, ongoing pandemic of racism and anti-blackness has created the grounds for this kind of radical analysis that people are bringing to these protests, and to what they’re saying about this country.

The fact that the system has proven itself so clearly to be unable and unwilling to deal with any of these things. What Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism”. Even at the height of this pandemic, there is no pretense that the state is able or even trying to do anything meaningful to protect people. Especially in the most vulnerable sections of society. Particularly black people, who are just viewed as expendable.

It’s not hard to imagine what Trump and mucho of the ruling class are thinking. In regards to Covid-19. Something like “that’s fine, if this helps us get rid of large numbers of black and brown people, and old people of all colors and “baby boomers”  who we would have to have on social security, and so on”. So, it makes a lot of sense that they’re not terribly concerned about Covid-19. You see as much being said by the white supremacist right and that’s what’s being discussed. This reflects the same dynamics that went on during Katrina or any other natural disaster that you can think of, regarding the unwillingness and inability of the state to provide the most fundamental public health.

Of course public health in this country almost doesn’t exist. There’s not even the pretense of a national health system. So what you have is privatized, defunded healthcare, save for that which only a few have access to. So that’s part of the context in which this is happening.

And, even before these protests, there’s been growing worker activism especially among the unorganized, like in Amazon, with walkouts over lack of safety conditions regarding Covid-19. I don’t think that’s connected yet in terms of the demands of the movements. But, clearly people are bringing all that awareness, that whether it’s Covid-19 or its institutional racism and police violence, this system breeds these things. This system is not broken, it’s working just the way it’s supposed to.

Capitalism is being shown, perhaps more now than in any moment in living memory, to be completely unable and unwilling to protect even the most fundamental aspects of life, for most people.

-Are you aware of any initiatives to try to coordinate protests or discuss a common platform across the country? 

-I am not aware of a unified attempt to do that. Of course, it’s going on. There are discussions happening everywhere, from the protests, to online. Again, the movement for Black Lives is an attempt to do that, and a couple of years ago they issued a platform which is wide-ranging and essentially comes across as anti-capitalist. It includes things ranging from “abolish prisons” to  the need for healthcare and housing and employment.

Interestingly one of the key things that came out of Ferguson and the previous Black Lives Matter movement was a growing identification and solidarity with Palestine. Of course there’s solidarity in many directions and it’s not the only example.  The Black-Palestine connection has grown, it’s increasingly seen as critical, because of the great similarities of their oppression, and the fact that the perpetrators of that oppression are the same governments and the same system.

It reclaims a tradition that goes back at least to the 1960’s of black support for Palestine in this country coming from Malcolm X, coming from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, coming from the Black Panther Party, coming from the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit, who made those connections and who insisted that that connection had to be stressed. That in turn has been reflected in Palestinian support for black uprisings in this country, particularly in regards to Ferguson and the current uprisings. There’s been strong support from Palestine. The understanding is that although this country didn’t need the Israelis to teach them brutality, racism and oppression, the ties between the American and Israeli regimes are particularly clear in things like coordination between police forces in Israel and US, the increased militarization of police in US and of course the 3.2 billion dollars a year that the US government gives to the Israeli apartheid regime every year.

So there’s the intifada in Palestine and what is essentially a domestic intifada in this country now, though it’s usually not called by that name; and there’s a growing understanding that these resistances are connected, and that the right to resist is connected.

-What do you think is the perspective for this movement to defeat the Trump government and its repressive onslaught?

-Well, that remains to be seen. I’ve lived through the last six decades and have seen many movements rise and fall. Under repression and also internal divisions and the combination of the two. I don’t pretend to know where things are going to go. I do take heart from the tremendous resistance that’s going on. The fact that the police and the military are not able to put this back in the bottle, at least so far. If anything it’s causing some cracks in the ruling class’s rhetoric and that shows the power of the movement. I believe the key is to build alliances across all sections of the oppressed, of the working class.

Unions in this country are very weak, not just in their numbers but in the politics of their leadership. Although some unions have issued statements against the murder of George Floyd and against broader institutional racism and violence, you don’t see the unions as institutions or their leaders in the front of this. To the extent that they have been visible, they have not articulated radical visions of what needs to be done.

Union members are out on the streets, just by virtue of the sheer number of people out resisting. But not the unions as institutions and this will not happen from the top, it has to happen from below just like everything else. Because union leaderships are compromised.

One of the issues that comes up is the unions relationship to police unions. Police unions are among the most racist institutions in this country. The debate of whether police are simply workers and should be unionized versus those of us who feel that police are not workers, police are simply agents of the ruling class. They’ve always been that and they have their roots in the slave patrols of the 19th century and are inherently racist and violent towards the population. Nonetheless within the AFL-CIO, the main union in our country, there are unionized police officers who have been allowed to be a part of the labor movement, even if just in name. That has to end.

Police do not belong in labor. Police are not workers. They are an inherently oppressive institution. Unions need to make that clear. I think that that’s one of the demands that union members who are involved in these protests will be bringing to their unions.

-Do you see any debates regarding advancing towards independent organizations of the working class, outside the traditional bipartisan system?

-I haven’t seen much organized discussion about that. Discussion on trying to set up a Labor Party again or whatever you want to call it. An independent third party of the working class and the oppressed.

One of the big debates will be how to respond to the neoliberal leadership of the Democratic Party’s attempt to coopt the movement into the Biden campaign. Biden who on the one hand is saying he opposes the murder of George Floyd and on the other suggests police should be shooting people in the legs. Exactly what Israeli police do to cripple Palestinians protestors in Gaza, every day.

So, the major political question that’s going to arise is, should the movement essentially fold into the democrats’ campaign against Trump? That’s obviously what Biden and Hillary Clinton and so on are trying to do.

Hillary Clinton issued a great tweet the other day. “Trump has called on troops to repress peaceful protests in this country for a photo op.” It sounded great. But it ended with “Vote”.  For Biden, obviously. Last night Barack Obama was on TV and sent a similar message. These are all people who have reserved their greatest criticisms for the left, for black youths, for the Black Lives Matter movement for “not being willing to work within the system”.

There’s nothing new about these debates. This goes back in this country to the 1930’s and earlier. What relationship should mass movements have to the Democratic Party. There will be different views in the mass movement about that. There will be some who are susceptible to those arguments, who will think that it’s great that they are coming out and saying this. And I think it’s great because they’re being forced to come out and say these things in support of Black Lives.

However, it’s a two-edged sword, because they will attempt to demobilize the movement into voting. And whether people vote or not is less important than whether they demobilize the movement. Clearly some people are going to vote as a protest for anyone who is going against Trump. That’s sort of inevitable. But the real question is if the movement can give rise to new institutions, anti-capitalist institutions, independent and opposed to the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party.

I don’t see a lot of that being discussed in the protests right now. But the demands that the movement is giving rise to clearly are going to clash what the neoliberal Democratic Party wants to do. Cornell West has been talking a lot about this in his interviews about the rebellion. About the attempts by the neoliberal Democrats to coopt and demobilize the movement. That’s the discussion going forward.  

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign webinar on Uniformed Killers with Shahd Abusalama and Michael Letwin

View video here: Uniformed killers – Palestine to Minneapolis (Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign)

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign webinar on Uniformed Killers with Shahd Abusalama and Michael Letwin

George Floyd was murdered in cold blood in Minneapolis by four white cops. Rioters have burned down the building from which these and other uniformed killers emerge to brutalise and take the lives of people of colour.

Palestinians recognise the killers for they are in their midst, in Israeli army uniforms, brutalising and killing with impunity. Israelis are increasingly training US killer cops and Israeli police spokesman Rosenfeld boasted in London of ‘European’ police forces being trained in Israel.

SPSC’s Mick Napier in conversation with Palestinian Shahd Abusalama and Michael Letwin from New York Labour for Palestine.

“Between the rock of the occupation, and the hammer of coronavirus”

“Between the rock of the occupation, and the hammer of coronavirus”

ANTI-RACISM  •  April 19, 2020  •  G.N. Nithya

The Coronavirus and the Conditions of Palestinian Workers

“Colonialism is not a thinking machine,
nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties.
It is violence in its natural state…”

— Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1963).

This past month Israeli soldiers dumped a Palestinian worker at a checkpoint on the border of the West Bank, shivering from fever and barely able to breathe. According to Middle East Eye, he “had been showing signs of the coronavirus over the past four days, and was recently tested for the virus. But before the man, allegedly a resident of Nablus, could receive his test results, his Israeli employer reportedly called the authorities, who picked him up and dropped him on the other side of the Beit Sira checkpoint, which connects central Israel and the occupied West Bank.” “It’s like we are slaves to them,” says a local Palestinian, “They use us when they need us, and when they are finished, they throw us away like trash.” Since the crisis began Israeli soldiers have actively obstructed the emergency response for Palestinians by shutting down multiple clinics and continuing their practice of arbitrary house demolitions.

Checkpoint in Bethlehem. [Photo: Anne Paq]

Praise for “battle-ready” Israel’s militarized response to the coronavirus pandemic has turned a blind eye to the manner in which it has also weaponized the coronavirus pandemonium against Palestinians. While Gaza has been strangled by a 13-year blockade and repeated military invasions, which renders its two million inhabitants vulnerable to pandemics, in the West Bank Palestinians struggle with a brutal occupation that seeks to deny them the most basic and necessary means to survive and care for themselves. As of April 9, 2020, the West Bank is reported to have 250 cases of the coronavirus. However, these numbers are set to increase significantly in the coming period due to the return of many Palestinian workers from Israel following Passover and for Ramadan. While people in Italy and UK take to their balconies applauding the “essential sector” workers, Palestinians who work in Israel’s “essential industries” find themselves crushed “between the rock of the occupation and the hammer of coronavirus.”1

Palestinian civil society organizations are calling for an immediate international intervention. Though the COVID crisis may be an “exceptional” moment in recent world history, the conditions to which Palestinians are subjected reminds us that the Nakba (النكبة) – the expulsion, dispossession, and dehumanization of Palestinians in 1948 – is not a fact of the past, but is ongoing. Palestinian workers bear the brunt of this violence. It is imperative that the international left recognize the exceptional setting of the pandemic confronting Palestinians, and take political actions in support of immediate relief to the medical emergency and an end to the Israeli occupation.

The Occupation and the Pandemic

Many Palestinians are denied access to basic health services by Israeli land confiscations and checkpoints. Palestinian communities in Area C, which comprises approximately 60 per cent of the West Bank, are particularly in jeopardy.2 In the area of the Naqab (Negev), for example, over 80,000 Palestinians have no access to emergency healthcare. Coronavirus cases are rapidly spreading in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians are subject to Israel’s discriminatory “residency” criteria and severe underfunding of public services.3 Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem only have 22 ventilators for nearly 350,000 people. Many working class and poor Palestinians’ access to health services in the West Bank has been on the decline because their public health infrastructure has been undermined by Israel’s withholding of clearance revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA), cuts in US funding under the Trump administration, as well as austerity measures imposed on the PA by the World Bank and IMF. In the West Bank, only 256 adult ventilators are available for a population of three million Palestinians, of which 90 per cent are already in use. Spread of the virus will have catastrophic consequences for Palestinians.

Yet efforts by Palestinians to develop communal systems of support are systematically sabotaged by the Israeli occupation. In March, Palestinians involved in disinfecting public spaces and distributing aid packages in the Old City of Jerusalem were arrested. In early April, the Israeli army arrested the Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem Affairs Minister Fadi Hidmi as he sought to assist Palestinians in Jerusalem with the COVID pandemic.4 On April 15, despite forty confirmed cases in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, the Israeli army raided the coronavirus testing clinic in the local mosque and arrested its organizers. Palestinian residents of Silwan have been repeatedly the target of evictions and expulsions, as have Palestinians throughout Area C. In the Jordan Valley hamlet of Khirbet Ibziq, similarly, the Israeli army is sabotaging coronavirus relief attempts by confiscating equipment for the construction of a field clinic and emergency housing for its residents, some of whom have been subject to house demolitions.5 Even as the United Nations has called for ceasefire in all conflict zones and populations world over are told to stay indoors, Israel throws Palestinians out of their homes.

On a daily basis, Palestinians confront institutionalized segregation through Israel’s control over their water, access to which is a basic necessity under this pandemic. Israel’s appropriation and exploitation of water in Palestine’s coastal and mountain aquifers and in the Jordan Valley has been one of its main weapons of war. After the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities issued military orders to consolidate their control over underground water basins and water-related infrastructure, a control which they safeguarded under the terms of the 1994 Oslo Accords. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are forced to purchase water (trucked or from the Israeli state-owned water company, Mekorot) at exorbitant prices. According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 180 rural communities in the West Bank have no access to running water. In the “unrecognized” villages of the West Bank, over 56,000 people are in the same situation. According to Amnesty International, water expenses can amount to one-half of the family’s monthly income in some of the poorest communities. The outcome is a manifestly racialized discrimination; the average Israeli settler living in the West Bank consumes three to eight times the amount of water than Palestinians.6 This system of “water apartheid” makes it impossible for Palestinians, especially working class and poor, to maintain the most basic hygiene conditions that are necessary to survive this pandemic. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel as an occupying power must at a minimum ensure the basic conditions of health and hygiene, including conditions of water and sanitation.

This moment of the COVID pandemic is being exploited by the Israeli authorities to further intensify military actions, electronic and other mechanisms of surveillance, and to create new “facts on the ground” in a process of annexation of Palestinian land that has been normalized by the Trump administration, recent Israeli Knesset decisions, and the “unity deal” being negotiated between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz.7 In the last month, major Israeli settlement blocs such as Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem are being expanded, further cutting the territorial contiguity of the West Bank.8 Apartheid road infrastructure for settlers only are being extended in major settlements like Ma’ale Adumim.9 While the Palestinian Authority has imposed lockdowns in the West Bank, the Israeli army has intensified night raids, arrests, home demolitions, and house evictions in the West Bank and Jerusalem.10 In a two week period during the pandemic in March alone, according to Mondoweiss, “Israeli forces injured 200 Palestinians, detained 100, demolished 16 structures.” Israeli violations in the West Bank have intensified meanwhile, with recent news reports that attacks by settlers have risen by 78 per cent with Palestinians being brutally assaulted,11 kidnapped, their olive trees uprooted, and their property spat on by Israeli soldiers and attacked by settler-youths who are under coronavirus quarantine.

Palestinians Crossing the Green Line and the Apartheid of Virus Containment

Palestinians who work in Israel and the settlements are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. Having stripped Palestinians of their land, Israeli colonization has worked to transform them under military rule into dependent, subordinate, and exploitable wage-workers incorporated into the Israeli economy. A systematic policy of de-development suppressed Palestinian industrial development after 1967, and, accompanied by the expropriation of cultivable land and water in the Occupied Territories, forced many Palestinians to work as daily wage labourers in Israel and on the very settlements built on their confiscated lands. This policy remains in place today. Given the high levels of unemployment as a result of Israel’s strangulation of their economy, Palestinians now working in Israel and the settlements are estimated to number over 133,000,12 while their wages support a population of over half a million.13

Even before the pandemic, these thousands of workers were subject to multiple tools of racial discrimination by the Israeli authorities. These include subjection to the checkpoints’ permits system, which is a primary tool of blackmail to politically discipline Palestinians and force collaboration; inhumane conditions in the checkpoints as thousands cross in the early morning hours; humiliation and harassment by soldiers; and discrimination in law and exploitation in practice by Israeli employers. Palestinian workers have minimal to no legal protections, are paid far less than their Jewish Israeli co-workers, without the benefits of health insurance, and yet they are forced to pay social security contributions and union fees to the Israeli labour syndicate Histadrut without representation. They are exploited by Israeli and Palestinian intermediaries – mafias who force them to pay exorbitant fees (at over $800 (US) monthly) to acquire black market permits to simply cross the Green Line but without any guarantee of actual employment.

The Israelis have been lauded for their “military style” effectiveness in response to COVID, tightening internal lockdowns. However, in order to keep key sectors of the Israeli economy running in the midst of the pandemic, which stood to lose $1.8-billion a month from the cessation of construction alone,14 the Israeli government allowed continued entry of Palestinian workers into Israel. In doing so, Israeli authorities have used the pandemic to intensify surveillance and repression of these workers. Palestinians who require permits to stay in Israel are now “advised” to download a smartphone app called “Al Munasiq” (“The Coordinator”) which allows the Israeli military to track users’ location, and access their personal files as well as the phone’s camera.

The frontiers of Israeli apartheid not only segregate Palestinians from Jewish Israelis, but also the Palestinian bodies themselves. Israel has privileged able-bodied young Palestinian workers to the exclusion of older ones. On March 11, the Israeli authorities announced new regulations barring Palestinian workers over 50 years of age from crossing effective March 12; On March 17, they announced that effective March 18, those Palestinian workers under 50 were obliged to remain in Israel for a one- to two-month period if they wished to continue employment. It is estimated that between forty and fifty thousand Palestinian workers entered Israel in this scramble. However, on March 25, the Palestinian Prime Minister issued a call for Palestinian workers to return to the West Bank following public outcries over their racist and inhumane treatment. Workers are being forced to live in squalid conditions at their places of work in Israel, which are reportedly “not appropriate for humans” while Israel has failed to test workers for coronavirus. Rather than being cared for, workers who develop symptoms or who have been suspected of being sick have been have been dumped back into the West Bank at checkpoints along the Green Line, “like trash,” often without coordination with Palestinian authorities.

A potential uncontrolled spread of coronavirus is feared in the West Bank due to the return of over 40,000 workers after the start of Passover and Ramadan. Moreover, the Israeli government has announced that workers who return to the West Bank during this holiday period will be denied entry back into Israel for employment.15 These workers are highly reliant on their wages in Israel as the only source of income and many still owe debts for the permits they purchased to cross the checkpoints.16 Meanwhile they risk direct exposure to the virus in Israel and are simultaneously unable to access healthcare or testing. Upon their return to the West Bank, these workers are still unable to get tested and face backlash with the recent surge of cases.17

International Labour Solidarity with Palestinians

This moment of crisis offers a historical opportunity to galvanize solidarity movements with Palestinians and other indigenous people and workers around the world. On April 7, a coalition of Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations issued a new call for international solidarity, demanding that Israel allow access to critical civilian health infrastructure, and release Palestinian political prisoners who have been illegally detained and risk exposure to the virus in Israeli prisons. They have also called for the siege of Gaza to be broken with another Freedom Flotilla, and the escalation of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign.18 Coalitions between civil society organizations have issued a Palestinian Civil Society Joint Statement on COVID. Regular systems of reporting have been established by Al-Haq, the long-time legal advocacy group, to monitor the violence to which Palestinians are being subject in the current pandemic, as well as, on basic conditions of water, health, and medical equipment. Most recently on April 14, 2020, a coalition of human rights organizations issued an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures. They are calling on the UN to denounce Israel’s systematic practices of racial discrimination and exploitation of Palestinian labour, who are forced to risk their health and life under this crisis. Beyond COVID, initiatives to bring Israel to trial on war crimes in the International Criminal Court have direct bearing on current realities.

One of the questions for the international left is how to urgently mobilize support for the campaigns and coalitions being advanced in/from Palestine. Nakba Day on May 15, 2020 will mark the 72nd year of the unconscionable injustices against which the Palestinian people continue to struggle. It is imperative for left forces to link the specific conditions of colonialism and apartheid facing Palestinians with neoliberal attacks on working classes the world over. The struggle of Palestinian workers cannot be interpreted only as a national struggle for self-determination. COVID-19 comes at a time of intensified capitalist crisis, in which the working class has been under systematic attack from decades of neoliberalism, commodification of most areas of social life, dispossession of land base, and indebtedness. Palestinian workers are fully incorporated in these processes of global finance capital, in the particular context of the ongoing Israeli settler-colonial rule. Thus, struggle of workers in Palestine with COVID-19 needs to be understood as a struggle also against capitalism. Calls for unified global action by labour have been made by the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggle, among others, demanding solidarity with Palestinians and all colonized people in this pandemic.19 We need to urgently act in solidarity, understood, in the words of Mozambican revolutionary Samora Machel, not as “an act of charity but an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objectives.”20 •


  1. Mahmoud Zawahreh, Palestinian activist, in “Coronavirus: Israeli settlers exploit lockdown to annex Palestinian land.”
  2. Joint statement, “Israeli Apartheid Undermines Palestinian Right to Health Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic,” 7 April 2020; World Health Organization, “Overcoming barriers to healthcare access in the West Bank with mobile clinics.”
  3. Nir Hasson, “After Weeks of Warning, Coronavirus Spreading Among Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” 14 April 2020; J. Ahmad, “Falling between the cracks in Jerusalem,” 30 March 2020.
  4. Daoud Kuttab, “Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him,” 4 April 2020; Dr. Ashrawi, “Israel deliberately undermining Palestinian efforts to combat COVID19 pandemic,” 3 April 2020.
  5. B’Tselem, “During the Coronavirus crisis, Israel confiscates tents designated for clinic in the Northern West Bank,” 26 March 2020; The New Arab, “Coronavirus under occupation: Israeli forces demolish emergency health clinic for Palestinians,” 27 March 2020.
  6. Adri Nieuwhof, “Israeli settlers use six times more water than Palestinians,” 8 April 2013; Al-Haq, “On World Water Day, Al-Haq Recalls Israeli Water-Apartheid Amidst a Global Pandemic,” 23 March 2020.
  7. Chaim Levinson, Jonathan Lis, “Netanyahu, Gantz Agree on West Bank Annexation Proposal as Unity Deal Nears,” 6 April 2020; Yaser Alashqar, “From Covid-19 to the ‘Deal of the Century’ – Palestine and international law,” 8 April 2020.
  8. Israel exploiting coronavirus for settlement expansion,” 12 March 2020; Akram Al-Waara, “Coronavirus: Israeli settlers exploit lockdown to annex Palestinian land,” 27 March 2020.
  9. Haaretz editorial, “Israel’s Latest Highway to Apartheid,” 11 March 2020; for background: “The E1 plan and its implications for human rights in the West Bank,” 27 Nov. 2013.
  10. Ali Abunimah, “Israel attacks Palestinians as they fight COVID-19,” 31 March 2020; “Israel demolishes Palestinian homes amid coronavirus crisis,” 28 March 2020; “Since coronavirus pandemic outbreak: Israel kidnapped 292 Palestinian,” 3 April 2020.
  11. Tamara Nassar, “Settler attacks rise by 78 percent amid pandemic,” 11 April 2020; “Jewish Settlers Attack Palestinian Family Homes in Hebron,” 6 April 2020.
  12. Estimates includes West Bank and Gaza, “The Labour Force Survey Results 2019,” Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
  13. In a recent interview with Al-Jazeera, director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Jerusalem estimated these figures at 200,000 Palestinian workers, implying their wages support a population of over one million (assuming each worker supports at least five dependents) (“Palestinian labourers fear loss of income as well as coronavirus”).
  14. On March 6, 2020, the Israeli financial newspaper, Calcalist, estimated significant losses at $1.8-billion monthly for the construction sector if Palestinian workers were not allowed in, see Ahmad Melhem, “Israel tightens grip on Palestinian workers to limit COVID-19,” 20 March 2020; Adam Rasgon, “PA urges Palestinian workers to return to West Bank as Israel’s virus cases grow,” 25 March 2020.
  15. Jack Khoury and Hagar Shezaf, “Palestinians fear coronavirus surge as workers return from Israel over passover,” 4 April 2020; Rania Zabaneh, “Palestinians brace coronavirus outbreak workers return,” 6 April 2020.
  16. Zeina Amro, “A Glimpse into the COVID-19 Crisis in the Context of Palestine,” 2 April 2020; Alex Lederman, “Palestinian labourers fear loss of income as well as coronavirus,” 28 March 2020.
  17. Palestinians brace for influx of workers as Covid-19 cases continue to risesee video.
  18. Al-Haq, “In the face of potential COVID-19 outbreak in the Gaza Strip, Israel is obliged to take measures to save lives,” 7 April 2020; Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council press release, “PHROC Calls the International Community & ICRC for an Urgent Intervention,” 23 March 2020; Samidoun, “Virtual call to action for Palestine: COVID-19, Gaza and the Struggle for Justice,” 16 March 2020; also see, internationally: Michael Arria, “Warren, Van Hollen lead Senators in demanding Trump admin send aid to Palestine amid COVID-19 crisis,” 27 March 2020; IfNotNow, “Demand Israel Protect Palestinians in Gaza.”
  19. Solidaires (CM), “Coronavirus: colonialism worsens the situation too,” 1 April 2020; Solidaires (CM), “Palestine in the Time of Covid-19,” 9 April 2020.
  20. Salim Vally, “From South Africa to Palestine, Lessons for the New Anti‐Apartheid Movement,” Left Turn, Notes from the Global Intifada, April 2008.

G.N. Nithya is a Ph.D. candidate at York University.

Labor for Palestine Statement at NYC May Day 2019

Presented by Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine

From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!

On May Day 2019, I first want to remember Bud Korotzer, who was present at NYC May Days for some 70 years through 2018, and who is very much here today in spirit. To his lifelong partner, Fran, and their family, please join me in saying: Bud Korotzer, presente!

There are many organizations and struggles represented here. That’s how it should be, because the whole meaning of May Day is to show unity between all struggles for justice, to reaffirm, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that “justice is indivisible.”

Today, from Jim Crow to Jerusalem, from the Mexican border to Gaza, Palestine is on the cutting edge of such justice movements. And Palestine is a workers’ issue!

At the forefront of that intersectionality are Dr. Angela Y. Davis, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Michelle Alexander, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Black for Palestine, and other Black supporters of Palestinian liberation.

Their leadership, in turn, reflects more than half a century of Black solidarity with Palestine, as exemplified by Malcolm X, SNCC, the Black Panther Party, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. And that is why those leaders are being smeared by Zionists with charges of anti-Semitism, and even being cynically blamed for recent attacks on Jewish synagogues in this country.

To the contrary: blame for those attacks lies squarely with Trump and his mob of  anti-Semites, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and rightwing politicians—all of them openly allied with Israel—who have whipped up and/or tolerated a frenzy of racist violence against Muslims, People of Color, Jews, and others.

These alliances echo Israel’s long-standing and well-documented complicity with rightwing dictatorships and apartheid South Africa.

Let’s be clear: none of this started with Netanyahu. It is rooted in Zionism, a settler-colonial ideology that has practiced “ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid, and death” against Palestinians, an ongoing Nakba (Catastrophe) has been carried out since 1948 by an Israeli apartheid regime that veteran South African freedom fighters have called “worse than apartheid.”

Nowhere is this clearer than at the Gaza fence, where for the past year, Palestinians have demanded an end to the siege, and their right to return to their homes throughout historic Palestine. In response, Israeli snipers have killed hundreds, and maimed thousands, using $3.8 billion each year in U.S. weapons. In exchange,  Israel serves as watchdog for imperialism throughout the region and beyond.

But none of this can stop the Palestinian freedom struggle and the mushrooming Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which call for (1) ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; (2) recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and (3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Together, we will win.

From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!

30+ NYU Student Groups Pledge Non-cooperation with NYU Tel Aviv (Mondoweiss)

30+ NYU Student Groups Pledge Non-cooperation with NYU Tel Aviv

We, the undersigned student clubs, pledge to not participate in or apply to study abroad programs hosted at NYU Tel Aviv. Our participation would render us complicit in the state of Israel’s targeted discrimination against activists and Palestinian and Muslim students. In January 2018, Israel released a list of twenty organizations whose members are denied entry into the country because of their endorsement of the Palestinian call for BDS (Boycotting, Divesting from, and Sanctioning Israel).

The University, as an adoptee of AAUP principles of academic freedom, has the duty to uphold these standards throughout the Global Network University (GNU) and be proactive in addressing any violations of these principles. NYU must upgrade its commitment to ensure equal access to GNU sites and to appeal decisions of entry within the Global Network. Until then, the members of our clubs will not study away and/or visit NYU Tel Aviv.

In the Spring of 2018, the NYU Student Government Assembly passed a resolution expressing concern over the lack of global mobility and cited NYU Tel Aviv as a case study. Citing the U.S. Department of State’s website, the resolution cites the fact that “upon arrival at any of the ports of entry, Palestinians, including Palestinian-Americans, may wish to confirm with Israeli immigration authorities from what location they will be required to depart. Some have been allowed to enter Israel or visit Jerusalem but told they cannot depart Israel via Ben Gurion Airport without special permission, which is rarely granted. Some families have been separated as a result, and other travelers have forfeited airline tickets.”

Recently, we have been seriously troubled by the case of University of Michigan Associate Professor John Cheney-Lippold, in which after refusing to write a recommendation for a student’s study in Israel application, has been arbitrarily punished through a freezing of his pay and a cancellation of all sabbaticals for the next two years. This sets a dangerous precedent, in which departments have the ability to unjustly penalize faculty simply for their support of Palestinian human rights. As a department, we stand within solidarity with Cheney-Lippold and any faculty and students that support the Israeli academic boycott for Palestinian human rights.

We, the undersigned student clubs, pledge to not participate in or apply to study abroad programs hosted at NYU Tel Aviv.


  1. African Students Union
  2. Aftab
  3. Asian American Political Activism Coalition
  4. Bella Quisqueya
  5. Black and Brown Coalition
  6. Black Student Union
  7. Brownstone Publication
  8. CampGrrl
  9. Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc
  10. Incarceration to Education Coalition
  11. International Socialist Organization
  12. Jewish Voice for Peace at NYU
  13. La HerenciaLatina
  14. LUCHA – Latinos Unidos Con Honor y Amistad
  15. Muslim Graduate Student Group
  16. Muslim Students Association
  17. NYU Against Fascism
  18. NYU Disorient
  19. NYU Dream Team
  20. NYU GSOC UAW Local 2110
  21. NYU Law Students for Justice in Palestine
  23. Pakistani Students Association
  24. Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
  25. PorColombia
  26. Sanctuary
  27. SHADES
  28. Students for Justice in Palestine
  29. Student Labor Action Movement, United Students Against Sweatshops Local #44
  30. T Party
  31. The Incarceration Education Coalition
  32. Young Democratic Socialists of America

Letter to the University of Michigan President Regarding John Cheney-Lippold (AAUP)

Letter to the University of Michigan President Regarding John Cheney-Lippold

The AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance has sent a letter to the president of the University of Michigan responding to the university’s statement that it will discipline professor John Cheney-Lippold for his decision not to write a letter of recommendation for a student. Cheney-Lippold was sent a letter by the interim dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, notifying him of actions that she had taken as a result of her determination that his “conduct ha[d] fallen far short of the University’s and College’s expectation for how LSA faculty interact and treat students.”

From AAUP’s letter:

The Association’s interest in the case of Professor Cheney-Lippold stems from our longstanding commitment to academic freedom and tenure, the basic tenets of which are set forth in the enclosed 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.That document, a joint formulation of the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, has received the endorsement of more than 250 educational and professional organizations. . . .

. . . [c]harges that may lead to the imposition of severe sanctions are to be preceded by an informal inquiry conducted by a duly constituted faculty committee charged with determining whether proceedings for imposing sanctions should be undertaken. Following such a determination, AAUP-supported standards require an administration to demonstrate adequate cause for imposing a severe sanction in a hearing of record before an elected faculty body.

Click here to download the full letter to the University of Michigan


Publication Date:
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

AAUP, AFT, Rutgers Faculty Union Oppose DOE Investigation

AAUP, AFT and Rutgers Faculty Union Oppose Education Department Investigation 

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, American Association of University Professors President Rudy Fichtenbaum and Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Deepa Kumar issued the following joint statement in response to the Trump administration’s probe into anti-Semitism at Rutgers University:

“We are currently living in a period when racist and xenophobic hatred is being seen more and more on college campuses. The events in Charlottesville, Va., during the summer of 2017 are seared in our memory, but the issue remains: Earlier week, anti-Semitic fliers were plastered around the campus of University of California, Davis; Sacramento City College was defaced with swastikas; and the president of the United States continues to claim that George Soros is funding his opposition. In light of that, we would expect this administration—particularly the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights—to use its limited resources to investigate serious offenses that threaten the safety and civil rights of students on these campuses. 

“Instead, the department has chosen to reopen a 7-year-old case and investigate in particular an allegation that only certain students were charged fees to attend an event organized by a pro-Palestinian group called Never Again for Anyone. This event brought together people of all religions and activists from both sides, including Holocaust survivors, to discuss the nuances of a complicated issue. It is exactly the type of open dialogue we should be encouraging on our college campuses. The initial claim that any criticism of Israel and its policies toward Palestinians—at this event or any other—is anti-Semitic, was mistaken, and the initial investigation of the incident by the Department of Education under the Obama administration said just that.

“Now, years later, the DeVos Education Department is trying to use the Office for Civil Rights to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. This is a very dangerous move, as what happened on the Rutgers campus seven years ago was a free exchange of ideas, expressly allowed by the First Amendment, and such an exchange of ideas should be welcomed on our campuses—even when they’re ideas with which we disagree. Religious bias is far different than a discussion of a nation-state’s policies. 

“We are very concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in America. What we cannot countenance, however, is the Trump and DeVos administration attempting to equate advocacy for Palestinians with anti-Semitism. That is dead wrong. Our unions are committed to both the free expression of ideas and to challenging racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism on our campuses. The fight against hate is undermined when Trump administration officials attempt to equate political debate with racial, ethnic or religious intolerance. If our institutions of higher learning cannot provide space for open political debate, then democracy will wither even more under this administration.”



UK Labour Party must reject biased antisemitism definition that stifles advocacy for Palestinian rights (Palestinian Unions)

UK Labour Party must reject biased antisemitism definition that stifles advocacy for Palestinian rights


Welcoming the significant growth in recent years of progressive politics centred on social justice and internationalism in the UK, especially within the labour movement, we, Palestinian trade unions, mass organisations and networks, representing the majority in Palestinian civil society, call on the British Labour party, trade unions, city councils, universities and civil society at large to reject the IHRA’s false, anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism.

This non-legally binding definition attempts to erase Palestinian history, demonise solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, suppress freedom of expression, and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid from effective measures of accountability in accordance to international law.

The discredited IHRA guidelines deliberately conflate hostility to or prejudice or discrimination against Jews on the one hand with legitimate critiques of Israel’s policies and system of injustice on the other.

Palestinians last year marked 100 years of the Balfour Declaration, which played a significant role in supporting and entrenching the Zionist colonisation of Palestine. This typically colonial British declaration constituted a declaration of war against our people. It facilitated the birth of the exclusionary state of Israel that maintains a regime of apartheid and systematically oppresses the indigenous Palestinian people, stripping us of our fundamental and UN-recognised rights, including the rights to equality and self- determination and our refugees’ right to return to their homes of origin.

We concur with British Palestinian personalities who have asserted that:

[A]ny use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on antisemitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of [Israeli] settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.

We recognise the severe pressure being placed on public bodies in the UK, and globally, to adopt this politicised and fraudulent definition of antisemitism. We would assert that those in the UK have a particular moral, political and arguably legal obligation to atone for historic and current British crimes against the Palestinian people and complicity in maintaining Israel’s regime of oppression. We appeal to them to:

1.     Consistently uphold the UK Human Rights Act, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the right to freedom of expression, including in narrating Palestine’s well-documented colonial history, advocating for Palestinian rights, describing Israel’s regime of oppression as racist or as constituting apartheid, and calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as nonviolent measures of accountability to bring about its compliance with its obligations under international law and its respect for Palestinian rights.

2.     Unequivocally uphold the UN-stipulated rights of the people of Palestine,particularly:

●     The right to live free of military occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem;

●     The right to full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel who currently suffer under a system of legalised and institutionalised racial discrimination;

●     The inherent and legally upheld right of Palestine refugees to return to their homes of origin from which they have been ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and ever since.

3.     Officially endorse a military embargo on Israel, as called for by Palestinian civil society, Socialist International, UK political parties (including Liberal DemocratsGreens, and Scottish National Party), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), many development NGOs (including Oxfam and Christian Aid), dozens of British MPs, cities across Europe, Amnesty International, globalfigures, among others. In 2017 alone, the UK arms exports to Israel reached $284m, setting a record.

4.     Unambiguously condemn all forms of racism and bigotry, including Israel’s more than 60 racist laws, especially its latest constitutional law, the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, that effectively “enshrines Jewish supremacy” and apartheid, as defined by the UN.

Adopting the IHRA definition (with its examples) would not only demonise our present struggle for liberation and self-determination. It would also “silence a public discussion [in the UK] of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in 1948”, as over 100 Black, Asian and other minority ethnicities (BAME) groups in the UK have cautioned. It would also chill advocacy for Palestinian rights, including by vilifying and maligning our nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

Anchored in our own decades-long heritage of popular resistance and inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and the US Civil Rights movement, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated BDS movement is supported by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society. It is also endorsed by progressive movements representing millions worldwide, including a fast-rising number of Jewish millennials.

BDS is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and adheres to the UN definition of racial discrimination. It therefore “does not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others, anti-Black racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia”.

Redefining racism against a particular community to serve the political goal of precluding or vilifying the struggle against other forms of racism is immoral and outright racist. It should be condemned by all morally-consistent progressives.

Israel’s utter failure to suppress the impressive growth of BDS across the world in the last few years has prompted it to redefine antisemitism to desperately malign our strictly anti-racist movement.

As leading Jewish British intellectuals and legal experts have stated:

Criticising laws and policies of the state of Israel as racist and as falling under the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic. Calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to oppose those policies is not antisemitic.

We agree with the analysis of more than forty Jewish social justice organisations worldwide that we live in “a frightening era, with growing numbers of authoritarian and xenophobic regimes worldwide, foremost among them the Trump administration, allying themselves with Israel’s far right government while making common cause with deeply antisemitic and racist white supremacist groups and parties”.

We also echo their appeal:

We urge our governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition and instead take effective measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and to end complicity in Israel’s human rights violations.

We need no one’s permission to accurately narrate our history, defend our inherent and inalienable rights, or mobilise principled international solidarity with our struggle to achieve them.

But we expect social-justice oriented political parties, like Labour, and progressive trade unions to effectively contribute to ending British complicity in Israel’s system of oppression that denies us our rights, to protect the right to freedom of expression, and to stand on the right side of history. We expect them to help us in the struggle against apartheid and for equal rights of all humans irrespective of identity. Is this too much to expect?


–    General Union of Palestinian Workers

–    Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition

–    Palestinian Union of Postal, IT and Telecommunication workers

–    Union of Professional Associations

–    Federation of Independent Trade Unions

–    Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate

–    Palestinian New Federation of Trade Unions

–    General Union of Palestinian Teachers

–    General Union of Palestinian Women

–    General Union of Palestinian Peasants

–    Union of Palestinian Farmers

–    General Union of Palestinian Writers

–    The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE)

–    Palestinian Camps Boycott Movement-Lebanon (33 organisations from 11 refugee camps)

–    Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO)

–    Palestinian National Institute for NGOs

–    Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC)

–    Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW)

–    Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)

–    Union of Palestinian Charitable Organizations

–    Women Campaign to Boycott Israeli Products

–    Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem

–    Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Initiative

–    Agricultural Cooperatives Union

Who Built Zion? Palestinian Labor and the Case for Political Rights (New Labor Forum)

Who Built Zion? Palestinian Labor and the Case for Political Rights

Photo credit: “Palestinian workers in the Old City of Jerusalem”(2017)

Who built Israel? The pioneers, of course. Men and women unaccustomed to skilled manual labor, who staffed the cement mixers, with shovels in hand or bricks balanced awkwardly on their shoulders, and who made “New Jews” of themselves through their nation-making toil. At least this was the dogma of much-lionized Labor Zionists (Ber Borochov, A. D. Gordon, Yosef Brenner, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Berl Katznelson) who promoted this hard graft as a rite of passage and a requirement for redeeming another people’s land as their own. While drawing on a different ethnic history, they were basically preaching a version of John Locke’s labor theory of value (working a particular plot of soil gave you property rights), which settler colonists had found to be a serviceable doctrine for dispossessing the indigenous populations of North America. How Jewish settlers laid claim to swathes of Palestinian land, then and now, remains the abiding source of conflict, conquest, and resistance in the Occupation’s fifty-first year—and the cumulative toll of the Nakba (the mass expulsion of more than half of the Arab population from their ancestral villages and lands) stretches into its seventieth year.

Who really did build the houses of Zion? The immigrant novices, who, as good socialists, demanded their rights . . . Or was it Palestinian workers who were cheaper and more capable . . .?

But the labor part of this story is murky, and, for a long time, it was obscured by the agrarian romance of the communalistic kibbutz. In the matter of urban settlement, there was even less clarity.  Who really did build the houses of Zion? The immigrant novices, who, as good socialists, demanded their rights, along with “European” and not “Levantine” wages, from the Yishuv’s Jewish employers? Or was it Palestinian workers who were cheaper and more capable, with less strident politics, and who had generations of construction experience in the region? And why does this question matter today? Certainly, a revised account can help us rectify the historical record, still skewed by nationalist mythologies, but it might also feed into the fast-evolving debate about civil and political rights in the “one-state” scenario now being mooted for the region. What kinds of rights should accrue from the century or more of toil that Palestinians have devoted to the physical construction of the Zionist pre-state, Israel, the settlements, and the Occupied Territories themselves? And what additional forms of restitution are due to a people who were fashioned into a compulsory workforce after their displacement and occupation?

A Century of Construction

In spite of efforts, early and late, to exclude them from the building trades, Palestinians have always played an essential role in the making of the Zionist “national home.” This has been the case from the turn of the twentieth century when the Jews of Ottoman Palestine, whether Mizrahi and largely assimilated, or Ashkenazi Zionists and fiercely separatist, depended on superior Arab building skills and supplies. The Arab contribution to construction was stepped up during the long modernizing wave of economic expansion under the British Mandate, and it continued after 1948, when the Israeli state utilized their labor to help house the influx of Jewish immigrants. Since 1967, when the West Bank was secured as a reservoir of cheap labor, the Israeli dependency on Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza has proved difficult to shake off. Today, there are more of these workers engaged in construction in Israel or in the West Bank settlements than ever before, and they dominate the low-wage sector of “wet” building jobs (concrete, masonry, painting, etc.). So, too, the last half-century has seen an increasing reliance on stone from the rich limestone deposits of Palestine’s central highlands, as Israel’s quarry owners shut down their operations, or moved them across the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice, or pre-1967, border) to evade environmental and labor regulations.

Today, there are more…[Palestinian] workers engaged in construction in Israel or in the West Bank settlements than ever before…and they have very few legal protections, let alone access to unions…

The stone product gets moved through different checkpoints than those where workers with permits queue for hours in the most humiliating conditions. On the other side of the Green Line, the laborers are vulnerable to abuse and assault from Israelis, both employers and ordinary citizens, and they have very few legal protections, let alone access to unions, though the Histradut (Israel’s main labor federation) has recently carved out a small department to address the myriad sources of exploitation, which these laborers contend with: wage theft, unsafe workplaces, middleman fees, and employer delinquency over social insurance contributions. Similar circumstances apply in West Bank settlements, where Palestinian unions are barred, though the small independent Israeli union, WAC-MAAN (Workers Advice Center), has begun to successfully organize workers in some locations. Whether inside the Green Line or the settlements, the prerogative of employers to recommend that the authorities cancel an employee’s work permit, for whatever reason they think fit, is indicative of the condition of forced labor.

… [W]hat… forms of restitution are due to a people who were fashioned into a compulsory workforce after their displacement and occupation?

From the early-twentieth century to the present day, Zionist efforts to exclude Palestinians from the building trades have taken many forms, though all failed over time. During the Mandate era (September 29, 1923 to May 15, 1948), the policy of “Hebrew Labor” (avoda ivrit) was aimed at the exclusive use of Jewish workers in Jewish-owned businesses. But since many employers, especially in construction, continued to prefer the cheaper and more proficient Arab workers, enforcement of this embargo even when it was backed by force, was only partly successful. Sectors of the construction workforce were Arab-free only in the years immediately after 1948, when the Palestinians who remained in the new Israeli state were under military lockdown, and when the cheap labor of Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries was solicited as a replacement. Within a few years, however, Israeli Palestinians could once again be found on building sites, and, after 1967, they were joined en masse by their West Bank brethren. At the peak of the open borders era (which ended in the early 1990s), up to 40 percent of the workforce in the Occupied Territories  was  employed  inside  the  Green Line, primarily engaged in construction, and generating a significant share of Israeli Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Even after the Israeli authorities imposed a collective punishment for the first intifada  (1987-1991)  by  cancelling most of the Palestinian work permits and importing overseas migrants (from Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Poland, Nigeria, and China) as a new replacement workforce, they were unable to stamp out employers’ abiding preference for Palestinian labor. The numbers of these migrant workers peaked in the early 2000s pre- ceding a drive to round up and deport the “demographic threat” of their Israeli-born children.

. . . Palestinian workers have had a decisive hand in most of the fixed assets on the land that lies between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean coast.

The long inventory of Palestinian labor includes a principal share in building the infra- structure  of  modernity  under  the  British Mandate (roads, railways, ports, telecom lines, an airport, and other public works), the “first Hebrew city” of Tel Aviv, all the Arab towns and cities that were taken under Jewish control after the Nakba, the ever-expanding metropolis of  “unified”  and  Greater  Jerusalem,  and  the red-tiled hilltop settlements on the West Bank along with their grid of bypass roads, barrier walls, super-highways, and other security structures. All told, Palestinian workers have had a decisive hand in most of the fixed assets on the land that lies between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean coast.

By the first quarter of 2017, the number of West Bank Palestinians employed  by Israelis had surpassed the pre-intifada levels, with almost 140,000 inside the Green Line and twenty-four thousand in the settlement colonies, and many more working there without permits.[i] In line with the long-established colonial formula of jobs for peace, key figures in the Netanyahu  administration  have  been  pushing for a sizable increase in the number of permits issued. The perceived demand also arises from Israel’s housing shortage. In 2016, the National Economic Council projected a need to build an additional 1.5  million homes before 2040.[ii] Since  the  gross  monthly  cost  of  employing these West Bank commuters  is less than half that of an Israeli or migrant worker (in addition to the routine wage theft, the former require no housing and place no social or welfare burdens on Israeli society), this long-term need for housing virtually guarantees a protracted demand for Palestinian builders.[iii]

Toward the Decolonial Future

How can these vital contributions be recognized in the political debate about the future of the lands of historic Palestine? Should claims arising from this long record of labor participation be considered as part of the “final status” settlement between Israelis and Palestinians? Talks about a permanent settlement have been on hiatus for more than a decade, and a return to the table seems to be a remote prospect right now, but if and when they resume, the thorny matters of restitution of property, compensation for losses and moral suffering, and the right to return for refugees will still be on the table.[iv] In recent decades, and following the example of German reparations for wartime Jewish harms and losses, every international instance of conflict resolution has addressed the claims of displaced populations in regard to those several remedies.

This kind of reparative justice is primarily about repaying debts from the past, but how can such remedies assist more directly in securing a different kind of future? As the policies of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations further foreclose any prospect of a practical partition, and as momentum steadily builds behind some vision of a single, democratic state within the same land boundaries as Mandatory Palestine, the presumption that equity earned from building  the  state  translates  into  political  rights within it ought to become more admissible.

Typically, the principle of sweat equity applies only to the value earned from an owner’s personal investment of effort. The toil of a waged laborer on the same building or enterprise is regarded as a more limited contractual matter, altogether separate from property and use rights. But what if the workers in question are not freely contracted, and instead are bound by tight constraints placed on them by the employer group? And what if the land on which they are instructed to work has been forcibly taken from their own people? On an individual basis, evidence of these inequities might support a compensation claim, but the collective plight of the Palestinian worker under Occupation merits a longer view, and a different kind of approach. The overall worth of Palestinians’ aggregate labor contribution to the assets encompassed by the state justifies a claim to territorial sovereignty, full political rights, and citizenship.  Israeli policies, at least since 1948, were designed to make those contributions all but compulsory. Under the Occupation, economic development in the West Bank and Gaza has been systematically suppressed. While Israeli wages are three times higher, Palestinians have to buy their consumer goods at Israeli prices, and so most families would go broke without the remittances that household members bring back across the Green Line. That so many Palestinians have had no alternative but to work for their occupiers further strengthens the case for a remedy that includes political recognition as full citizens in a unitary state.

Under UN Resolutions 194 (1948) and 3236 (1974), the forced transfer of Palestinians from their land and homes in 1948 and 1967 established responsibilities for Israel to acknowledge the former owners’ right to return to their property. Far from a single historical event—since it continues to this day in each act of confiscation, demolition, and eviction—the ongoing Nakba (al-Nakba al-mustamera) has extended these liabilities, adding new entries to the list of wrongs that might present grounds for restitution and reparations in any final settlement. One of the longest running injustices, and intimately connected to this “long Nakba,” was the making of a tractable and dependent labor force that is not free in any functional sense of the term.[v]

The sharp constraints placed on Palestinian livelihoods, today, may appear remote in time from 1948, but they are integral to, and inseparable from, the Nakba’s unfinished program of dispossession, expulsion, and asset transfer. Indeed, the prototype for these labor controls was the immediate post-1948   treatment   of Israeli Palestinians, whose limited movement was subject to military say-so. It was through the filter of these tight travel constraints that their cut-price labor was first made available to Jewish employers from the early 1950s. Later, in the course of the Occupation, the administration of those constraints was forced on workers from the West Bank and Gaza, and finessed through the growth of a convoluted permit sys- tem, ubiquitous restrictions on movement, mass incarceration, torture, wage theft, advanced surveillance, and the intensive discipline and humiliation served on border-crossers at check- points. Using the strategy of economic pacification (jobs in return for acquiescence, and in some cases, collaboration with Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency), and the tactic of collective punishment (border closures, home demolitions, and permit cancellations as retribution for the intifadas or autonomous acts of resistance), the authorities have been able to fine-tune their management of Palestinians’ existential need to access the Israeli labor market.

At no point was this “need” ever produced by a competitive labor market. Israeli policy- makers blocked economic development in the West Bank and Gaza with the explicit intent of depressing wages, reinforcing dependency, and perpetuating poverty. Political economist Sara Roy has described the result as “de-development.”[vi] The intended outcome was that, for most households, the alternative to working for the occupier would be a starvation wage. A worker whom I interviewed recently at Bethlehem’s cross-border checkpoint put it this way: “If we didn’t have work inside Israel, we would have to eat each other.” Given the high levels of food insecurity and chronic malnutrition among the Palestinian population, and especially in Gaza and parts of the West Bank’s Area C, his comment was a particularly dark joke.

Israeli policymakers blocked economic development in the West Bank and Gaza with the explicit intent of depressing wages, reinforcing dependency, and perpetuating poverty.

Bonded, indentured, enslaved, or ethnically persecuted workers who built other nations have struggled, on a related basis, for some kind of state-level recognition. In the United States, the hard labor of African, Irish, Chinese, and Mexican Americans has often been held up as a justification for earning full inclusion and civil rights, and, in the case of the descendants of slaves, as  grounds  for  economic  reparations.

Undocumented immigrants facing deportation today often stake their claim to residence on the basis of their labor contributions. As far as I know, no formal suits of this kind have been filed, and some pledges—like  General Sherman’s promise of forty acres and a mule as recognition of freedmen’s right to own land they had worked as slaves—notoriously went unfulfilled. But, over time, the moral force of the argument for labor-based political equity has contributed to the ultimate civic and legal acceptance of the rights of these populations. For all its historic inequities, and despite the perpetuation of white supremacy, the United States has become a multiethnic society, capable of absorbing a range of immigrant identities.

Bonded, indentured, enslaved, or ethnically persecuted workers who built other nations have struggled…for some kind of state-level recognition.

But the Israeli state is no such thing (it has never defined itself as a “nation of immigrants”); its lawmakers vigorously oppose the granting of any rights to migrant workers, or to their Israeli- born children, let alone to refugees entitled to protection under international conventions. Under the Law of Return (1950), any Jew who sets foot in Israel for the first time immediately enjoys national rights, including permanent residence, citizenship, and full welfare entitlements and services. Despite their longevity on the land, Israel’s own Palestinian minority (20 percent of the population) is treated as second-class citizens and regarded as a “demographic time bomb,” while elementary civil and human rights are denied to residents of the West Bank and Gaza under military occupation. As for the migrants who have spent much of their lives working in Israel, building homes, hotels, museums, and shopping malls in cities and suburban subdivisions, not to mention the segregating landscape of bypass roads, separation walls, and prisons, they are routinely labeled as an “existential threat” to the legally designated “Jewish” state.

Political elites around the world still pay lip service to the policy principle of an autonomous Palestinian state, but the attention of almost everyone else has pivoted away from partition toward the more heady proposition of securing equal rights for all residents of an integrated multicultural state. Advocates of this “decolonial” solution argue that it is civic, and not ethnic, nationalism that is needed to deliver  a full-blown democracy in the lands of Israel and the Occupied Territories.[vii]  If that scenario ever advances, then the record of labor contributions sketched out here ought to be part of the reckoning. Or as another checkpoint interviewee from the West Bank put it, “I’ve been building homes every day over there for thirty years. In a way, it’s really my country too, isn’t it?”

Author Bio

Andrew Ross is a social activist and professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University. A contributor to the Guardian, the New York Times, the Nation, and Al Jazeera, he is the author of many books,  including Creditocracy and the Case for Debt Refusal, Bird On Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable CityNice Work if You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times. His next book, Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel, is forthcoming from Verso in 2019.


[i] Although the percentage of the Palestinian work- force employed in Israel in 2017 was lower than at its peak in 1988, the numbers were higher. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics Labor Force Survey (January-March 2017), “the number of employed individuals employed in Israel and Israeli settlements was 139,600 in the first quarter 2017…Of these; 68,500 had a permit, 48,700 worked without any permit and 22,400 employed individuals have an Israeli identity card or foreign passport.” An additional twenty-four thousand worked in settlements, while almost 60 percent were employed in construction; Bank of Israel data for the first quarter of 2018 showed unemployment rates in Israel at 3.7 percent, in a steady state of decline from the high levels after 2008. Bank of Israel, “Economic Indicators: Israeli Economic Data” (2017), available at
[ii] National Economic Council, “Future Housing Needs in Israel, 2016-2040” (2016). Cited in Bank of Israel, Annual Report 2016, Chapter 9, “Construction and the Housing Market,” BankIsraelAnnualReport/Annual%20Report%202016/chap-9.pdf.
[iii] The  estimate  was  based  on  2011  employer reports, and published by the Interministerial Committee for the Regularization, Monitoring and  Enforcement  of  Palestinian  Employment in Israel (the “Eckstein Report”), cited in Shlomo Swirski and Noga Dagan-Buzaglo, The Occupation: Who Pays the Price? The Impact of the Occupation on Israeli Society and Economy (Tel Aviv: Adva Center, June 2017),48.
[iv] See Rex Brynen and Roula El-Rifai, eds., Compensation to Palestinian Refugees and the Search for Palestinian-Israeli Peace (London: Pluto Press, 2013).
[v] Matthew  Vickery  argues  that  the  conditions under which Palestinians work in the settlements merit the label of “forced labor,” according to ILO definitions. Employing the Enemy: The Story of Palestinian Labourers on Israeli Settlements (London: Zed Books, 2017),112-26.
[vi] Sara Roy, The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2016).
[vii] Omar Barghouti, “A Secular Democratic State in Historic Palestine,” in After Zionism: One State for  Israel and Palestine, ed. Antony Loewenstein  and Ahmed Moor (London: Saqi Books, 2012),  194-209;  and Jeff Halper, “The ‘One Democratic State Campaign,’” Mondoweiss, May 3, 2018, available at democratic-multicultural-palestine/.

A Call to Action from Gaza: Cover your city with posters of the Great March of Return heroes

A Call to Action from Gaza: Cover your city with posters of the Great March of Return heroes
Open Letter on June 25, 2018

Palestinian organisations in Gaza are calling upon all people of conscience around the world, to make posters of the fallen heroes of the recent Great March of Return and plaster these all over your cities and towns, especially opposite Israeli and American embassies. This is an action that will greatly benefit the visibility of our cause!

PDF files of the fallen demonstrators can be found here :

Please send pictures or videos of your action with statement of support for the Right of Return and the Great March of Return to:

Following the media coverage of the massacre that Israel carried out against us on the first day of our march, we have been receiving less and less media coverage.Yet more and more of us are being killed every day. Gaza has been bombarded night and day too. Since the start of the Great March of Return, over 135 unarmed protesters have been shot dead and more than 14,000 wounded by the occupation forces, including children, medical staff, journalists, and the disabled. Gaza’s health system has been pushed to the brink of collapse, as hospitals struggle to handle an influx of serious and life-threatening injuries.

Help keep the freedom of Palestinians and the right to return in the spotlight!


Great March of Return-Steering Committee

The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)

University Teachers’ Association in Palestine

Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel Al-Aqsa University

One Democratic State Group

Voices Against Israeli Apartheid