Workers Sanctions against Israel (Labournet)

Workers Sanctions against Israel

Report by Greg Dropkin
Published: 26/11/06

With the massacre in Beit Hanoun, the world’s mainstream media finally woke up to the Israeli military offensive in northern Gaza. On 8 November, the day after Israel declared that operation “Autumn Clouds” had ended, 19 members of an extended family in the village were wiped out in an artillery strike. The victims, murdered in their sleep at 5:35 am, included 8 children.

There was no evidence of any military activity in the house and the Israeli government later described the attack as an error, while the Army said that their target had been chosen on the basis of home-made rocket fire from the area the previous day, and claimed “a fault in the artillery radar system’s co-ordinates for the missiles changed the margin of error from 25 to 200m, ” as The Observer reported (12 Nov). Israeli policy was changed earlier this year to allow targets within 100 metres of built-up civilian areas.

Some 53 Palestinians had already been killed by Israeli forces and some 200 injured between 2 November and 7 November, while the world was mainly not watching. Kindergarten children and their teacher were attacked in a school bus. Two medics were killed and another seriously injured while on duty, evacuating the wounded. A man bled to death waiting for an Israeli permit to allow the Red Cross to take him to hospital, 5 minutes away.

Healthworkers, already facing the severe shortages of drugs, equipment, and electricity supplies caused by economic siege and previous military attacks, began to crack under the strain.

An offensive like this is not an error or a one-off. It is State terrorism.

Gaza had been under continuous military assault all summer, another well-kept secret partly obscured by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July which deserved and received widespread coverage. After the kidnapping by Hizbollah of 2 Israeli soldiers in mid July, Israel killed over 1,100 Lebanese civilians and displaced nearly one million. Thousands of homes, factories and infrastructure were destroyed and a million unexploded cluster bomblets remain. The UK and US governments alone gave Israel the green light to continue the indiscriminate, completely disproportionate collective punishment for a month.

The attack on Gaza had begun even before the kidnap of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on 25 June which was then universally cited in the media as explanation for everything that followed. On 9 June an entire family was wiped out while relaxing on the beach in northern Gaza: 8 killed and 32 injured. The next week a “targetted assassination” missile strike in Gaza City killed 9, two of whom were children, and injured 35. The dead included civilians who had gone to aid those injured in the first strike.

From the end of June to the present (12 Nov) some 450 Palestinians have been killed, according to the UN. The generating plant providing 45% of Gaza’s electricity was destroyed. The border crossings are closed. Gaza is under siege.

Cast your mind back to August 2005 when Israel “pulled out” of Gaza to great media fanfare and against the hysterical objection of the settlers who were relocated to the West Bank. Ariel Sharon turned up at the UN to be honoured as a man of peace who had called the settlers’ bluff. Three farsighted Israelis, who were publicly derided for their views, warned that the so-called pullout could be a prelude to sustained military attack:

… We believe that one primary, unstated motive for the determination of the government of the State of Israel to get the Jewish settlers of the Qatif (Katif) settlement block out of the Gaza Strip may be to keep them out of harm’s way when the Israeli government and military possibly trigger an intensified mass attack on the approximately one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of whom about half are 1948 Palestine refugees…

Uri Davis, Ilan Pappe, and Tamar Yaron: 17 July 2005

In fact, since the Israeli “redeployment” from Gaza on August 20, 2005, Israeli troops killed 694 Palestinians and wounded four thousand. The carnage since the “pullout” is on the same scale as Lebanon, but Gaza has a much smaller population of only 1.4 million. Unemployment had reached 80% by April 2006 (UN). This is a very intense attack coupled to a siege, sustained and spread out over time and kept largely out of public view.

The supposed Israeli justification for all this has been the launching of home-made rockets from Gaza into Israel, which resulted in 14 Israeli civilian deaths between June 2004 and July 2006.

A much more likely explanation is that Israel wishes to provoke Hamas into ending its policy of truce which has lasted 22 months, possibly leading to a resumption of suicide bombing which even at its height never remotely rivalled the Israeli assault on the Palestinian civilian population, in terms of deaths or injuries. The spiral of violence may recur and it would certainly be another tragedy, but if it does we cannot ignore what has happened over the last 2 years or the consequences of having watched the situation develop without an effective international response.


Why sanctions?

I think the fundamental arguments for workers / people’s sanctions against Israel are

1) that the Israeli government

  • continually acts with complete impunity in defiance of international law, with the financial, military and diplomatic backing of the US, Britain and EU
  • imposes a permanent siege on Gaza, comprising an economic blockade and continual military atrocities
  • continues to construct the Apartheid Wall in defiance of the ICJ ruling, destroying Palestinian farmland and breaking the West Bank into a disconnected patchwork
  • refuses to accept the results of the democratic Palestinian elections in January – recognised as free and fair by all sides within Palestine and by international observers – and instead imposes its own economic sanctions on the elected Palestinian Authority, which continue in concert with the US, Britain and EU with the evident aim of destabilising and bringing down that elected government.
  • consistently refuses to negotiate any settlement that might conceivably be acceptable to the majority of Palestinians, and aims instead for a Palestinian government that will discipline Palestinians on behalf of Israel.

2) that an effective solidarity movement with Palestine is the best means by which those of us outside the Middle East can contribute to an eventual solution. To walk away from this is to abandon Palestinians to despair in the face of an overpowering army of occupation.

3) that the Israeli government is seriously concerned by the prospect of boycott and sanctions, which could have a real effect. For example in May the Israeli Education Minister took the unusual step of writing to the British Education Minister advising him to prevent the college lecturers union NATFHE from adopting a resolution on academic boycott.

4) that the movement for sanctions can only be built from below.

Who is calling for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel?

1) Palestinian civil society: The declaration issued in July 2005 was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian organisations including

Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)
General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW)
General Union of Palestinian Teachers (GUPT)
Federation of Unions of Palestinian Universities’ Professors and Employees
Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC)
Health Work Committees – West Bank
Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)
Union of Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC)
Union of Health Work Committees – Gaza (UHWC)
Union of Palestinian Farmers
General Union of Disabled Palestinians
Union of Teachers of Private Schools
Union of Women’s Work Committees, Tulkarem (UWWC)

Their call concludes:

Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression,We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its 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.

2) The South African union federation COSATU, which participated in the Cape Town mass march for sanctions in August and whose President Willie Madisha declared:

Boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa hastened our march to democracy. Why should it be different for Palestinians? In the face of an intransigent, arrogant, racist and brutal Israeli state, this strategy of isolation – particularly since the vast majority of Palestinians support it – should be applied to Israel as well. It is a peaceful option.

The 200,000 strong regional Canadian public sector union CUPE Ontario, whose conference in May 2006 adopted comprehensive policy along the lines of the Palestinian call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions, specifically including support for:

the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194

The Irish public sector union SIPTU, whose members employed on the Dublin tram system refused in August to train Israeli drivers for a tram system serving the illegal settlements in the West Bank.

John Dugard, the South African born UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories, who has compared the international diplomatic situation to that facing South Africans in the 1970’s, and who calls for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel.

but not

The TUC, whose resolution in September 2006 does support Palestinian self-determination and the right of return, but makes no mention of sanctions;

The Israeli union federation Histadrut, whose website does not mention the Occupation, whose former General Secretary Amir Peretz is now the Defence Minister in charge of the invasions of Lebanon and Gaza, and which intervened strongly in opposition to the prospect of sanctions in 2002 after the re-invasion of the West Bank.

Who will impose sanctions against Israel?

Certainly not the US or Britain or the EU and therefore certainly not the UN, despite the accurate and sympathetic views of individuals like John Dugard. Look, for example, at the governmental reactions during the recent military operation in Gaza.

On 3 November British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett began by expressing concern over unspecified reports of civilian deaths and then declared ‘We deeply regret the deaths of civilians on both sides of the conflict, and would like to remind all parties of their obligation under international humanitarian law to avoid civilian casualties. Israel has a right to defend itself but any action should be proportionate and in accordance with international humanitarian law. We call for an immediate end to the launching of rockets against Israeli civilian targets, and to all forms of violence. Violence serves only to undermine the prospects for peace in the region. ‘

Just to remind you, there were no Israeli casualties in this operation or leading up to it, but at least 72 Palestinians died from 2 to 8 November.

At the Security Council on 10 November US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton explained that there must be an honest and even-handed discussion of recent events in Gaza, where the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority Government had continued to play a role in perpetuating instability and violence. There was no question that Israel had a right to defend itself and its citizens – indeed, when Israeli forces withdrew from much of Gaza on 7 November, Palestinian terrorists resumed firing rockets into Israel, targeted at civilians, almost immediately. While deeply regretting the injuries and loss of life in Gaza on 8 November in and around Beit Hanoun, the United States had seen the Israeli Government’s apology and understood that an investigation would begin, which would hopefully lead to steps being taken to avoid repetition of similar incidents.

On 11 November the US vetoed the Security Council resolution from Qatar, which called for an international investigation committee and the stationing of UN observers in Gaza. Britain abstained.

Four years ago, Israel blocked the UN from investigating the April 2002 massacre in Jenin. Their legal advisor, British QC Daniel Bethlehem had warned that a UN investigation might lead to prosecutions. In February, Bethlehem was appointed as top legal advisor to the British Foreign Office.

Eight of the last nine vetoes in the Security Council have been cast by the United States. Of those, seven concerned the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Waiting for a US, UK or UN-approved sanctions campaign means waiting forever.


What options?

There are many options for consumer boycott and disinvestment, some of which can be taken up by unions much as the campaign against Coca-Cola has had union backing. See for example www.bigcampaign.org.uk/index.php/boycott_israeli_goods

Union pension fund investments are significant, particularly in the US where unions hold an estimated $5 billion worth of Israeli bonds.

Anti-war groups may be able to target the extensive arms trade, as with the Derry anti-war coalition direct action against Raytheon over cluster bomb supplies during the invasion of Lebanon. The F15 and F16 fighters and Apache helicopters used in Gaza missile attacks are supplied to Israel through the US with extensive British components.

Specific possibilities like the Dublin tram drivers boycott may come to light as union branches investigate the involvement of their employers.

Here are some other options for trade sanctions:

1) Zim: the Israeli shipping company which trades all over the world and has its own fleet as well as using other carriers.

2) Carmel Agrexco: exports agricultural products grown in the illegal Settlements and the Jordan valley, the next target for annexation. It has two refrigerated carriers, the Carmel Ecofresh and Carmel Biotop.

3) Container lines including Maersk and Gracechurch connect the Israeli ports of Haifa and Ashdod with all the major ports of the world.

4) Caterpillar: supplies the bulldozers used in constructing the Apartheid Wall and in demolishing Palestinian homes and farms in military operations.

Is the union movement capable of this?

International issues always seem remote by comparison to immediate problems at work. Unlike South African apartheid, which faced a very general consensus of international opposition, Palestine is a harder argument. But even with South Africa, workers sanctions had to be fought for.

There is no real equivalent in Palestine of COSATU, the huge and militant South African union federation whose formation in 1985 was the key to bringing down the apartheid regime.

Internationally the union movement itself is weaker, certainly in Britain, than during the fight against apartheid.

On the other hand, access to information is much better than during the 1970’s and 80’s – anyone who really wants to know what is happening in Gaza or the West Bank can find out a lot, and it is possible to visit the West Bank.

The Zionist claim that those who criticise Israel let alone call for sanctions are automatically anti-Semitic, counts for a lot less than it used to, at least in Britain. For example the charge of anti-Semitism was widely expected during the debate at the college lecturers union NATFHE in May, but it did not materialise even as the vote went in favour of an academic boycott. Nor did it feature during the debate at UNISON conference.

Lebanon was another turning point – the media coverage and the very obvious indiscriminate, disproportionate mass collective punishment of Lebanese civilians convinced many trade unionists that it was time to act.

As South Africans prepared their mass march for sanctions, sacked Liverpool docker Terry Teague sent a video message to Cape Town describing what they would do if still employed on Liverpool docks:

Well what we’d hopefully be doing, like any decent human being is that none of the cargoes that are currently being shipped through the Port of Liverpool to the ports of Haifa and Ashdod would be getting touched. They’d all be blockaded on the quay. The ships would be locked inside the docks in Liverpool, and nothing would be touched. Very similar to the actions that we took during the apartheid years of South Africa. Again it was workers coming to the aid of our brothers and sisters in South Africa, by taking direct action, that helped overthrow the apartheid regime. Governments, politicians, stood by while it was left to the workers to bring a solution, and it’s our hope that again it will be the workers and people coming together that will bring a just solution for the people of Lebanon and Palestine.We would like to see rank and file trade unionists sending out the strongest messages possible to their leadership, that any consumer goods, any goods being transported within the United Kingdom, any goods being produced or manufactured within the United Kingdom, that have any connections whatsoever with Israel, that those goods are blockaded. No one should be working them, they shouldn’t be touched, they should be left. And that’s the message that we’re trying to put forward today.

We have the benefit of experience in Oakland, Liverpool and elsewhere during the apartheid era. A militant South African movement is demanding sanctions. Ships carrying Israeli trade call in ports with strong union organisation.

To echo an old anti-fascist slogan: If not now, when? If not this way, how?

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