Category Archives: Arab Labor

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

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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?

Signatories:

–    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.

NOTES


[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; http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/post.aspx?lang=en&ItemID=1922. 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 http://www.boi.org.il/en/DataAndStatistics/Pages/Indicators.aspx?Level=1&IndicatorId=1&sId=0.
[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,” http://www.boi.org.il/en/NewsAndPublications/RegularPublications/Research%20Department%20Publications/ 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 https://mondoweiss.net/2018/05/ democratic-multicultural-palestine/.

The Arab American radicals who paved way for BDS (Electronic Intifada)

The Arab American radicals who paved way for BDS

The Rise of the Arab American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s by Pamela E. Pennock, The University of North Carolina Press (2017)

One of the earliest boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, victories in the United States came in 1973 when United Auto Workers Local 600 in Dearborn, Michigan, voted to divest its Israeli bonds after a campaign waged by the Arab Workers Caucus and the American Arab Coordinating Committee. The campaign drew comparisons with apartheid South Africa and won the support of many Black autoworkers in Michigan.

Was it just an oddity that decades before Palestinian civil society called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel in 2005, industrial workers in the US heartland were already waging a BDS struggle? Or, far from being a rogue wave, was it an integral part of the oceanic upheavals among workers, students, immigrants and people of color during the heady maelstroms of the 1960s and ’70s?

The Rise of the Arab American Left makes it clear this was no oddity, although it did have certain characteristics unique to the Arab American experience. Given the relative paucity of scholarship on the history of the Arab American left, this book is a must-read for those who wish to learn more about that community’s activism during this period of radical upheaval.

Pennock, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, focuses on radical activists, who she defines as “secular, ideologically leftist and avidly pro-Palestinian.” She concedes that this group – with its support of armed struggle, a revolution for what was then called the “Third World,” and one democratic, secular state throughout all of Mandate Palestine – was a subset of the Arab American population at a time when a majority of Arab Americans held more moderate positions.

“Nevertheless,” she notes, “the issue that most united and galvanized Arab Americans – across differences of generation, social class, religion and national origin – was their shared outrage over the dispossession of Palestinian Arabs through the establishment of the state of Israel.”

The book’s narrative covers the impact Israel’s 1967 War had amongst Arab Americans, the intense period of repression and surveillance that followed the rise of activism in the 1970s and the gradual moderation of activism in the 1980s, when outlooks became less transnational and more focused on domestic civil rights issues.

Natural allies

In the 1960s, organizations such as the Association of Arab American University Graduates and the Organization of Arab Students arose, along with such figures as the academic Ibrahim Abu-Lughod and civil rights attorney Abdeen Jabara. The Rise of the Arab American Left offers a unique opportunity for readers to learn about these early trailblazers.

One of the book’s most enlightening chapters, aptly titled “Intersections,” documents how Arab Americans began to find “natural allies” in the movements of other oppressed groups with roots in the Third World.

In particular, the book looks at the alliance that developed between Arab American autoworkers in Michigan and activists with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, also based in the auto plants.

The alliance extended to issues related to urban removal as the city of Dearborn attempted to turn the Southend neighborhood, where most Arab immigrants lived, into an industrial zone to act as a buffer between Dearborn and predominantly Black Detroit in the wake of that city’s 1967 rebellion.

Pennock’s singular focus on Dearborn is illuminating and detailed, but she also surveys the national scene, showing how central figures in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, such as James Forman and Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), came to embrace the Palestinian cause, along with the Black Panther Party and other prominent Black activists such as Jack O’Dell of Operation PUSH and Francis Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance.

In the early 1970s, Pennock observes, the largely white, student-based New Left also “developed a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist position.” However, she concludes, that “on the whole, the American Left’s commitment to the Palestinian revolution was soft and somewhat perfunctory; in general, the activists’ understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict was superficial, and their position was rooted in an idealized image of Third World guerrillas.”

For many white activists, the New Left’s embrace of the Palestinian struggle opened a rift that lasted for decades, although it actually delineated an already existing faultline: namely that between the left-liberal wing of the movement and the more radical, Marxist-Leninist wing.

Pennock describes in detail how both black and white radicals embraced the Palestinian cause, while more centrist forces emerging out of the civil rights and student movements failed to break with Zionism.

Political intimidation

Another chapter documents how Arab American activists faced repression and surveillance, with the active assistance of the Israel lobby, as early as the Organization of Arab Students’ 1969 convention when the Anti-Defamation League sent infiltrators posing as media.

In Pennock’s account, both the ADL and the Israel lobby group AIPAC colluded with the FBI and the CIA, leading to the creation of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism and a concerted political intimidation campaign known as Operation Boulder. The cabinet directed the FBI, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Services to monitor Arab Americans, surveillance that included an illegal FBI burglary of the Dallas, Texas, office of the Arab Information Center.

Pennock says the triggering incident was the Black September attack at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics but clarifies that the creation of the cabinet committee was seen as a way to placate AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League.

The author notes that “the investigations never detected a single case of terrorist or espionage activity among Arabs living in the United States.” But that, of course, was not the point. Operation Boulder was essentially “a program of political intimidation,” Pennock observes, that was meant to suppress Arab-American activism and to inject “divide and conquer” tactics within the movement.

The direct role of the Israeli government in this surveillance was also strongly suspected, but never proved. Both The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribunepublished articles describing collusion between Israeli intelligence agencies, the Anti-Defamation League and the FBI, with the ADL keeping files on Arab American activists for the FBI.

Eventually, the National Security Agency was also exposed for its electronic surveillance of Abdeen Jabara, wiretapping at least 40 of his telephone conversations even though the FBI admitted that Jabara was not the subject of a criminal investigation.

It’s hard to think of any of this as lost history, given that the same practices prevail today, with groups like Canary Mission and others compiling dossiers on Palestine student activists at US campuses.

If one of the first recorded BDS victories was that of United Auto Workers Local 600 in 1973, then the trajectory continued in 2015 when both the United Electrical Workers and the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO adopted pro-BDS resolutions, as did the Black Solidarity Statement and the Movement for Black Lives.

If today’s BDS movement reaches farther, it’s because it stands on the shoulders of the giants who came before.

Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and is active with the Occupation-Free Portland campaign.

Exposing Socialist Zionism Panel at Socialism 2017 Conference

Exposing Socialist Zionism Panel at Socialism 2017 Conference
Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine
Chicago, July 7, 2017

Let’s start at the beginning: In the narrative of the oppressed – in this case, the Palestinian narrative — “Israel” is not a place, but a colonial-settler regime. Just as Zimbabwe was never “Rhodesia,” all “Israel” is occupied Palestine, and there is no such thing as “Israel-Palestine.”

Therefore, the “Occupation” is not just the West Bank and Gaza, which have been Israeli-occupied since 1967, but every inch of land stolen by the Zionist state since 1948. In the Palestinian narrative, “Israel” or “Israel proper” are known as 1948 Palestine, or simply ’48. Conversely a free Palestine refers to *all* of Palestine, from the river to the sea, with equal rights for all its inhabitants.

Think: Make Israel Palestine Again.

Against that narrative is “Progressive Except for Palestine” (PEP), which reflects Zionism’s long-term impact on the U.S. left, specifically through the misappropriation and misapplication of  the right of national self-determination, civil rights, even “socialism” itself, to Israeli settler-colonialism, and often linked to the notion of binationalism.

As discussed by Tikva Honig-Parnass and others, this misappropriation was spearheaded by the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation, which was the Israeli state-in-waiting until 1948, and then ruled the Zionist regime for its first 30 years. Even before that, the social democratic Second International supported Labor Zionism as part of its overall support for imperialism: both the First World War “at home,” and colonialism abroad. Indeed, imperialist regimes like Britain saw Zionism as a way to undermine Bolshevism and the October Revolution of 1917. It’s no surprise that, to this day, the Histadrut is closely aligned with the Second International.

In the late 1930s and 1940s, at the Histadrut’s behest, social democratic garment union leaders in this country enlisted both the AFL and CIO — they were separate federations until 1955 — to loudly demand establishment of a “Jewish state” in Palestine.

This misappropriation of the right to national self-determination and other genuinely-socialist principles was also adopted by the non-Social Democratic left. In the 1920s and 1930s, virtually all communists and socialists had staunchly denounced Zionism as a reactionary, colonial movement. But during the Second World War, Stalin supported a “Jewish state” in Palestine, mainly in the delusional hope of helping Russia replace Britain as the dominant imperial power in the Middle East.

Toward that end, he sent 142,000 displaced Eastern European Jews – willing or not – to displace indigenous Palestinians, organized the necessary two-thirds majority for UN partition in 1947, armed the Zionist militias that carried out the Nakba, and made Russia the first country to recognize the Israeli regime. As U.S. Communist Party chief William Z. Foster boasted in the early 1950s:

“The only true friend of the Jewish people in their fight for national freedom was the Soviet Union, which steadfastly supported the setting-up of the longed-for homeland of the Jews. . . . Eventually, the Jewish masses themselves virtually settled the matter by establishing the Republic of Israel, in May 1948. They then defended their government, arms in hand, against the British-inspired attacks from the neighboring Arab governments. . . . Within the United States. . . . [t]he Communist Party took a very active part in the whole struggle.”

Ironically, some Trotskyists took a virtually identical position. Amidst the Nakba, Hal Draper stated the majority view of the Independent Socialist League: “We not only support the Palestine Jews’ right to self-determination but draw the necessary conclusions from that position: for full recognition of the Jewish state by our own government; for lifting the embargo on arms to Israel; for defense of the Jewish state against the Arab invasion in the present circumstances.”

Now obviously, Draper did not share Stalin’s motives for supporting a Jewish state in Palestine. Rather, his position was rooted in binationalism — the same premise shared by Socialist Zionists of the Hashomer Hatzair — that Jews have an equal right to self-determination in Palestine, including a right to a *separate* state. Jewish and Palestinian workers were to unite for a “socialist” Israel. To put this into perspective, it is like saying that, as communities suffering oppression in Europe, the Boers in apartheid South Africa, or European immigrants in Americas, had the right to a separate — i.e., apartheid — state on stolen indigenous land.

Though common on the left, this premise didn’t go unchallenged. During the 1936-1939 Arab uprising in Palestine, the South African Trotskyists noted that some Marxists had “been swept off their feet by the widespread anti-Semitic wave [in Europe] and have fallen victims to nationalism,” and reminded readers that, “[a] clear, unambiguous stand in support of the colonial people in their struggle against imperialism is the first duty of revolutionary socialism.”

Palestinian Marxists asked how “socialist” were kibbutzes — or “Jewish states” — built on top of the ruins of Palestinian villages like Deir Yassin, site of the most infamous Zionist massacre of the Nakba?

As documented in Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity, this same position was upheld in the 1960s by Malcolm X, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Black Panther Party, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and others, who condemned not only particular Israeli policies, but Zionism itself. This was based on the understanding that Palestinian oppression — and resistance – was part of the same international system of racism and colonialism inflicted on Black South Africans, Vietnamese, Latin Americans and African Americans. Indeed, in 1973, thousands of Arab and Black workers held a wildcat strike in Detroit to protest UAW support for Israel.

Who defended Israel against these protests? Labor/Left/Socialist Zionists and social democrats, including black moderate civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, the Jewish Labor Committee, and the Workmen’s Circle – the same “left” forces who jumped on the bandwagon for U.S. and Israeli wars in the wake of 9/11.

However, 9/11 and its immediate aftermath also sparked the first visible labor anti-Zionism since the 1973 UAW wildcats, including New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) and Labor for Palestine, both co-led by Black radical activists from the 1960s.

And since the most recent Israeli massacre Gaza massacre in 2014, we have seen a small, but growing number of labor bodies standing with Palestine, including the refusal of the dockers in ILWU Local 10 to handle Israeli Zim Line cargo, and the adoption of BDS resolutions by a small but growing number of labor bodies. This has paralleled growing intersectional solidarity from Black4Palestine, the Movement for Black Lives, Labor for Standing Rock, immigrant rights and other grassroots social justice movements in the United States.

That kind of solidarity with Palestinian resistance is the antidote to Socialist Zionism.

Video: Checkpoint 300 (Electronic Intifada)

Video: Checkpoint 300

“This is our life: difficult and full of problems.”

So says one of the thousands of Palestinian laborers who queue before dawn each day to pass through Checkpoint 300, separating the occupied West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

The Israeli military checkpoint is the main crossing point for Palestinians from all over the southern West Bank who work in Israel.

Palestinians in the West Bank must hold an Israeli permit to cross the checkpoint. They are not allowed free movement into Israel.

There are around 100 fixed checkpoints like Checkpoint 300 in the West Bank.

Video by Ahmad Al-Bazz, Haidi Motola and Anne Paq/Activestills.

Palestinian Workers Campaign for Social Justice (MERIP)

Palestinian Workers Campaign for Social Justice

It is clear for us that the struggle against colonialism cannot be separated from the social injustices within Palestinian society. What does it mean to end my subjugation by Moshe for it to be replaced by Munir? What kind of liberation are we seeking? What kind of a society are we trying to build?

by N. Alva
published in MER281

On the hot afternoon of April 19, 2016, thousands of workers and unemployed took to the streets of the West Bank city of Ramallah in protest the labor policies of the Palestinian Authority (PA). As the sun beat down on their shoulders, the marchers remained defiant, shouting “Haramiyya! (Thieves!),” as they reached the rally point in front of the Council of Ministers and Ministry of Interior buildings. Organizers from independent workers’ movements, left political parties and women’s committees took turns addressing the crowd from a makeshift platform on the back of a truck. PA police and security forces were deployed, some in riot gear and armored vehicles, but they did not visibly interfere. The demonstration was the first public, collective manifestation of a campaign against Social Security Law 6, ratified by decree on March 9, 2016 by President Mahmoud ‘Abbas.

The opposition to the social security law is led by newly formed independent workers’ movements and their allies in civil society. Their campaign follows closely upon wildcat strikes by perhaps 30,000 teachers in February and March of 2016. Both efforts are emblematic of Palestinian workers’ growing rejection of the package of neoliberal economic nostrums on offer from the PA in lieu of an end to Israeli settler-colonial rule.

In 1997, after the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) released a report on corruption among PA ministers, President Yasser Arafat infamously quashed judicial action against the accused, telling legislators: “We will worry about our internal problems—the questions of social justice within Palestine—after we fight colonialism, our common enemy.” [1] This injunction is recited still by officials in the PA and its affiliated labor federations, as well as some outside supporters of the Palestinian cause.

But the social and colonial questions in Palestine are co-constituted. To separate the occupation from injustices in Palestinian society is to conceal the complex relations between capital accumulation and class transformation, the PA’s authoritarian practices, and Israel’s colonial project. An understanding of these relations is crucial for those committed to transnational solidarity with Palestine.

Shock Therapy

The campaigners against Social Security Law 6 criticize the measure on several grounds. First, they object to the law’s provision for depositing the retirement savings of private-sector waged employees in a new national fund to be overseen by a council jointly appointed by the PA and business interests. Private banks and companies are to manage these investments in the financial markets. The law’s opponents say that it provides no guarantee from the PA that money will actually be available to workers upon retirement and demand PA accountability in safeguarding these funds. Second, the campaigners oppose the increase in employee contributions into the fund and instead demand an increase in the contributions of employers (business owners). They call for bringing the pensions of private-sector workers into line with the retirement entitlements of workers in the public sector, and for enforcing a minimum retirement wage. [2] Third, the campaigners decry the law’s discrimination against women, families of pensioners, and the old and disabled, among other social groups. Some strands of the independent workers’ campaign call for a national program of social protection covering all workers, farmers and unemployed. [3]

Social Security Law 6 is part of a program of economic shock therapy that began in 2007. The PLC has not formally convened since late 2006, so all of these laws were drafted or amended by presidential decree with limited public disclosure. The new independent unions and workers’ committees see a multi-front attack on labor reflecting the demands of big business.

In 2014, the Investment Promotion Law of 1998 was altered to provide tax relief to large private interests in the name of a more “investment-friendly” business environment. [4] In early February 2015, the PA Ministry of Labor introduced a draft law on unions, which according to independent labor federations will suppress labor organizing by imposing strict conditions under which strikes and meetings can be called. Likewise, the federations express concern that proposed amendments to the existing labor law will ease the procedures for dismissal when workers are already subject to contracts that are increasingly short-term and irregular. In closed-door meetings later that month, the Council of Ministers and big business reached an agreement on further reductions to corporate and individual tax rates. Independent unions, who were not invited to take part in these discussions, note that the tax law is unfavorable to the poor and working classes. President ‘Abbas ratified the agreement as law nonetheless. Most recently, on January 23, 2017, the PA suspended the al-Aqsa intifada health insurance, which provided free access to medical care for the more than 400,000 unemployed Palestinians and their families. (Subsequently, the PA announced that al-Aqsa insurance is to remain available to families approved by a new oversight committee to be established. Labor organizers received the news skeptically, viewing it as a public relations move.)

Read the full article in Middle East Research and Information Project

May Day: Palestinian trade unions call for intensifying BDS

April 28, 2017

By Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS)

On May Day, we Palestinian trade unions are proud to stand with the trade union movement internationally as we collectively resist attacks on our working conditions, cuts to public services and job losses. We lend our voices to the mass rallies taking place internationally uniting trade unions, immigrants and refugees, social movements, and environmentalists fighting for a better future and dignified living.

We also remind the world that Palestinian workers continue to endure and resist Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid on a daily basis, including resistance to Israel’s shameful prison system. We salute our political prisoners on hunger strike to protest Israel’s grave and ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights. We will continue to refuse Israel’s vision of a truncated network of Palestinian Bantustans and associated industrial zones, under which we relinquish our rights and become a pool of cheap labour for the Israeli state. That is why in July 2005, when over 170 Palestinian organizations urged the world to adopt a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel in the manner of South African Apartheid, this historical call was signed by all the main Palestinian trade union federations. We believe that trade union campaigns targeting corporate and state complicity with Israeli violations of international law are a vital and effective form of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

Trade unions today are taking the lead in defending the Palestinian people’s rights to self-determination, non-discrimination and equality, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. BDS principles and tactics have been formally endorsed by national trade union federations in South Africa, UK, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, the Basque Country, Brazil and other countries across Latin America, in addition to scores of national and local unions. This gives us great hope in the potential of working people to shut down corporate and state support for Israel’s crimes. It also reminds us of the incredibly inspiring international trade union campaigns which helped to expose and confound South Africa’s former apartheid regime. We salute all trade unions implementing effective BDS campaigns and divesting their pension funds from corporate occupation profiteers like G4S and HP, among others.

We also take this opportunity to call on trade unions yet to join the BDS movement to: implement boycotts of Israeli and international companies that are complicit with violations of Palestinian rights, divest trade union funds from companies and institutions complicit in Israel’s occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid, and apply pressure on governments to cut military and trade relations with Israel. We reiterate our call for a boycott of Histadrut, Israel’s general trade union, for its complicity with Israel’s violations of international law and its refusal to take a clear stand in support of comprehensive human rights for Palestinians.

We look forward to working alongside trade unions around the world to develop and strengthen our struggles for human rights, social and economic justice. We stand shoulder to shoulder with working people worldwide and thank you for the solidarity you continue to show to the struggle for Palestinian workers’ rights.

General Union of Palestinian Workers

Palestinian New Union

Federation of Independent Trade Union

Postal, IT and Telecommunications Workers Union

A gruelling life for Palestinian workers in Israel (Al Jazeera)

A gruelling life for Palestinian workers in Israel

Palestinians can earn more by working in Israel, but their days are extremely long because of movement restrictions.

Sheren Khalel, Abed al Qaisi | AJ

‘I leave when my family is sleeping, and when I get back, I have an hour or two before I have to sleep,’ says Talib Ahmed [Abed al-Qaisi/Al Jazeera]

Bethlehem, occupied West Bank – During the day, the Bethlehem Checkpoint 300 tells only half the story. A few lone travellers make the crossing in mere minutes, passing through multiple electronic turnstiles and a warehouse-like compound, and undergoing a quick passport check before leaving the occupied West Bank and entering Israel.

For Palestinian workers making their way through the terminal during the dead of night, however, the same crossing can take hours.

About 2am is the best time to get through the checkpoint, before it gets too crowded. By 3am, hundreds of men are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the terminal. Clouds of white breath rise from the crowd and disappear. Bundled in thick, worn coats, the men are patient but anxious.


READ MORE: Israel bans Palestinian settlement labourers from work


Talib Ahmed, 49, has been doing building work in Israel for more than 30 years.

Israeli settlements make money at Palestinian expense: Human Rights Watch

“I woke up at 1:30 in the morning to get here by 3am,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera, nursing a small paper cup of spiced Arabic coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “It’s cold and dark when I wake up, and the rest of my family is asleep.

“I do this every morning, five days a week, so I can cross through to work in Israel and make some money to feed my eight children. I make enough to give them an OK life, even though I can’t give them a really good life.”

Ahmed, who lays tiles in houses, says the work requires a precision that his arthritic hands struggle to achieve. His back is sore from crouching, and he seldom has time to play with his children or spend time with his wife.

“I leave when my family is sleeping, and when I get back, I have an hour or two before I have to sleep, so I can repeat the whole day again,” Ahmed explained. “But I thank God. My job pays better than I could make in the West Bank.”

Unemployment in the occupied West Bank was around 15 percent during the second quarter of 2015, while the average daily wage sits at $25 – half of those who work in Israel, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

More than 30,000 Palestinians legally make the journey through checkpoints between the occupied West Bank and Israel each morning, while thousands more are estimated to make the trek illegally, as only a small percentage of permit requests are approved.

Mohammed Sabah, 55, began working in Israel when he was 20 [Abed al-Qaisi/Al Jazeera]

Mohammed Sabah, 55, began working in Israel when he was 20. Back then, permits were not needed for Palestinians to work in Israeli markets, he said.

Sabah had to get his first permit during the first Intifada, but restrictions tightened further after the second Intifada ended in 2005. Working without a permit became more difficult, as did conditions for workers travelling back and forth, he said.

“I used to drive my car to work in Israel,” Sabah told Al Jazeera. “I am too old for this now, having to come to this checkpoint so early in the morning and standing here for hours. I wish the old days could come back.”


READ MORE: Death and humiliation – A tale of a Palestinian village 


The relationship between Israeli and Palestinian co-workers has also changed since Sabah was a young man.

“Before we worked in Israel to make a living, but we also had friends there,” he said. “Our Israeli co-workers would invite us to their house, or after work some of us could go swimming in Tel Aviv. We had a life. Now there is no life; just work and sleep.”

If I could make [a higher] wage in the West Bank, I would never think for a moment to work in Israel.

Ahmad Hirzat, 23

Since the start of October, when violence in the occupied West Bank and Israel began to spike, Sabah said he has grown increasingly scared of being attacked or mistaken for an attacker while en route to and from work.

Many workers told Al Jazeera that they are careful not to reach into their pockets for their phones in crowded areas, and they no longer bring eating utensils to work in their packed lunches for fear of being accused of carrying or reaching for a weapon.

Allaa Atwan, a 29-year-old carpenter who is a married father of three, believes that he was given a permit because he has an established family in the West Bank, noting that young, single Palestinian men are looked upon with more suspicion by Israeli authorities.

“When I was single, I applied and was denied, and after I was married and had one child, I applied again and was denied,” Atwan told Al Jazeera. “Two years later, I applied after having had three kids, and I was approved.”

After two years of working inside Israel, however, he is now considering giving up his job.

“I don’t see my children,” Atwan said. “I am awake way before anyone else is, and when I get home it’s late and I am exhausted, like an old man.

“More importantly, I am the only one providing for my family, and things are different now. It is dangerous for me to walk the streets in Israel. I am terrified of being arrested or hurt or killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What would happen to my family? I have been asking myself every day if the better wages are worth it.”


READ MORE: ‘Artbitrary’ permit laws for West Bank workers in Israel 


During the first week of December, Atwan said the checkpoint got so backed up with workers trying to get through that Israeli soldiers came out with guns drawn.

“If one person would have gotten scared and moved to run, I can’t even imagine what could have happened, we were all packed so tightly,” Atwan said. “They treat us like animals at this checkpoint, when all anyone is trying to do is work so they don’t have to hold their hand out for food.”

Ahmad Hirzat, 23, said after he got his permit to work in Israel that his neighbours accused him of being a spy [Abed al-Qaisi/Al Jazeera]

Ahmad Hirzat, 23, from the West Bank town of Yatta, got his first permit only a few weeks ago. Because of his age, Hirzat said he has been tackling rumours in his neighborhood.

“People in my area are confused as to how I got my work permit … People are saying I must be a spy, working for Israel. Some of them are joking, but a lot of others are serious,” Hirzat told Al Jazeera.

While he hopes to quell that distrust, he is pleased at the chance to make better wages.

“I am literally making around five or six times more for the same amount of construction work in Israel,” Hirzat said. “Yes, I have to wake up at 1am to get to work at 7am, but I have a chance for a life now. I can start to build a house now; I can send my little brothers to school now; I can start thinking about getting married now. I didn’t have that before.”

Despite the increased dangers that many workers have felt lately, Hirzat has not considered giving up his job.

“I have a future now,” he said. “The Palestinian government couldn’t give me that, but in Israel I make $75 a day. If I could make that wage in the West Bank, I would never think for a moment about working in Israel. I can already see from the old men here at the checkpoint, this is my future.”

Source: Al Jazeera

What will break the stalemate for Palestine? (Socialist Worker)

What will break the stalemate for Palestine?

The Palestinian movement has reached a strategic impasse. Finding a way out requires coming to terms with the lessons of the last four decades, writes Wael Elasady.

Palestinian children in a refugee camp

A PARADOX confronts the movement for Palestinian liberation.

On the one hand, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has mobilized unprecedented support for the struggle of the Palestinians internationally, placing real economic and political pressure on the state of Israel [1]. It has helped put the rights of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel back at the center of the movement’s demands, after two decades of the “peace process” that reduced the Palestinian struggle to a question of statehood in the West Bank and Gaza.

The BDS call–co-signed by more than 170 civil society organizations, trade unions and women’s organizations–has filled an important vacuum left by the traditional political parties, providing direction to the international solidarity movement by a representative Palestinian leadership, in the form of the BDS National Committee.

On the other hand, conditions in Palestine are among the worst faced since 1948. The historic leadership of the Palestinian movement is now collaborating with Israel’s occupation, through the mechanism of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In Gaza, Hamas’ resistance has failed to cohere in a form capable of advancing the liberation struggle. Gaza has suffered three devastating assaults by Israel since 2008–which according to a recent UN report [2] will render the strip uninhabitable within five years.

Meanwhile, settlement expansion continues in the West Bank, and Israeli settler violence has reached obscene levels, with 130 Israeli attacks on Palestinians just in the first week of October.

As a consequence, Palestinians are more desperate than ever, with individuals lashing out with the limited means available to them to resist their daily misery [3]. The protests of Palestinian youth are spontaneous expressions of anger, but lack sufficient organization and strategic direction, sparking debates about whether the demonstrations can be sustained.

So how can we unravel this paradox?

Put simply, the Palestinian movement has reached an impasse.

In purely military terms, Israel is far superior, with the most advanced weaponry and the backing of the world’s most powerful empire, the U.S. But if a direct military confrontation is bound to fail, what can succeed?

The PA has opted for negotiations–negotiations that have led nowhere. Worse, they have provided cover for a deteriorating situation.

But the early months of the Arab Spring provided a glimpse of the potential to conceive of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a different way. Instead of a narrow effort to carve out a Palestinian state within parameters established by decades of defeat, it raised the possibility of a regional uprising–a social movement comprising the working classes of the Middle East that could connect solidarity with Palestinian dispossession with the grievances of the Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian and Lebanese working classes.

The PA has spent the last 20 years running away from such a strategy–and for good reason. This article examines the last 40 years of the Palestinian struggle to demonstrate that the PA is the outcome of a historical process by which the interests of a tiny minority of Palestinians–namely the Palestinian bourgeoisie–has come to predominate at the expense of other sections of the Palestinian population and even the project of national liberation itself. These interests constrain the vision, strategies and practice of the current Palestinian leadership.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The Palestinian Bourgeoisie

In the aftermath of the Nakba in 1948, the Palestinian elite fared much better than the rest of Palestinian society. On the strength of the oil boom in the Gulf following the Second World War, many who fled were able to rebuild their companies from abroad with capital transferred from Palestine before the defeat, or with assets recovered soon afterward.

By the mid-1960s, their companies formed what Pamela Ann Smith described in her classic text Palestine and the Palestinians, 1876-1983 as “a formidable financial and trading empire which specialized in construction, contracting, transport, banking and real estate management throughout the Middle East.”

Palestinian capitalists, although wealthy, soon found themselves vulnerable to the policies of other Arab states that privileged their native bourgeoisie over the Palestinians. By the late 1960s, a wave of increased state intervention in the economy stifled the growth of many Palestinian companies, restricting their activities and even confiscating their assets as a result of nationalization.

As Smith explains, Palestinian businessmen drew the conclusion that “the creation of a place where economic influence could be secured and maintained by political power, namely through the establishment of a state of their own,” was the only way they could avoid being forced to “share their profits with their Arab rivals.”

Palestinian capitalists could not accomplish this task on their own. They needed to employ the power of a different social force whose interests were very different from their own–the mass of impoverished Palestinians–in order to mobilize sufficient social weight to fight for a Palestinian state.

The array of challenges facing the Palestinian capitalist class shaped its political approach and ultimately set the strategy adopted by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which the Palestinian elite would come to dominate. There were three essential elements to this:

1) The primary aim of the Palestinian capitalist class was capturing control of its own state in order to protect and expand its capital. Despite rhetorical support for the demand of “full liberation and return” that was required to win the support of the majority of Palestinians, Palestinian capitalists were always willing to subordinate the demands of various sectors of the Palestinian population to achieving this primary objective.

2) Palestinian capital developed as an “interlocking” component of Arab capital generally. Therefore, it was opposed to any challenge to the regional Arab states, where its own wealth and industries were based, and advocated for a policy of “non-interference” in the affairs of these states.

This approach, while it protected the assets of Palestinian capitalists, simultaneously isolated the Palestinian movement from the only social forces with the potential power to challenge Israel and the imperial order on which it rested–namely, the workers and oppressed who suffered under the same regional order.

3) The Palestinian capitalists and their Arab partners feared the political mobilization of the Palestinian masses out of concern that their political activation could lead their struggle beyond the narrow concerns of the capitalists. They therefore tried to limit the democratic participation of the Palestinians masses in their own struggle by confining their role to support for the armed resistance groups and obedience to a top-down revolutionary leadership.

In the long run, this approach has proven fatal in the face of an enemy that enjoys the military backing of the world’s largest imperial power and is a regional superpower in its own right.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Fatah and the PLO: Vehicles of Palestinian Capital

Fatah, the leading political party of the PLO in this early era, was the vehicle by which the Palestinian bourgeoisie sought to put this strategy into effect.

In March 1968, not long after the crushing defeat of the Syrian and Egyptian armies by Israel in the 1967 war, a group of Palestinian guerrilla fighters held off a cross-border raid by Israeli forces on their bases in Jordan. This stunning triumph by irregular guerrillas resulted in thousands of Palestinians rushing to join the new groups, inspired by the potential they seemed to hold for resistance to Israel’s colonization and the realization of the right to return to their homes.

Fatah emerged as the most important of the guerrilla formations. It had a leadership comprised of the privileged layers of the Palestinian diaspora, many of whom had become wealthy in Kuwait, where Fatah was founded in 1964.

It emphasized the common interests of Palestinians and asked them to set aside their class differences for the sake of “national unity” in the struggle for the liberation of the whole of Palestine and the establishment of a democratic secular state where all citizens, regardless of religion, would enjoy equal rights.

Fatah rejected any political struggle–what it called “interference”–against Arab regimes, raising to a point of principle the idea that “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine,” and thereby encouraging the top-down discipline of guerrilla groups over mass popular participation.

Fatah’s rejection of class struggle and its willingness to limit the fight to the territory of Palestine won it massive financial support from the Palestinian bourgeoisie, as well as Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which helped Fatah solidify its dominance over the PLO and gain hegemony over leftist challengers, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The strategy of the PLO would cost the Palestinian movement dearly, resulting in huge missed opportunities and defeats over the coming years.

In September 1971, when the PLO was at the height of its power in Jordan, fighting broke out between left-wing Palestinian factions–in particular, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–and King Hussein.

The PLO at the time enjoyed the support of the majority of Jordan’s Palestinians, who made up 70 percent of the population–and even the backing of significant numbers of Jordanians, including government officials, as well as sections of the Jordanian armed forces.

The Palestinian left called for King Hussein’s overthrow and replacement by a revolutionary government that could then wage a struggle on a stronger basis for the liberation of Palestine and the wider region from imperialism.

In his 1989 book Intifada: Zionism, Imperialism and Palestinian Resistance, Phil Marshall highlights the significance of what taking power could have meant:

The fall of Hussein would have had an electrifying effect in the region. The PLO would have found itself in power at a time when it enjoyed real mass support and during a period of significant radicalization and mobilization. The Arab rulers would have immediately been placed in a position of showing their true colors either supporting the Palestinians or Hussein and his Western backers.

The significance of this critical juncture is further highlighted when we consider that in the wake of Israel’s victory in the 1967 war and the rightward shift of the Arab nationalist movement, the revolutionary impulses of the region’s masses were swinging behind the Palestinian guerrillas, who were seen as a more radical alternative to the timid and sclerotic Arab states.

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat refused this historic opportunity, steadfastly sticking with the policy of “non-interference” under pressure from his Arab “allies.” He instead restrained his forces and attempted to mediate between the Palestinian left and King Hussein.

In the meantime, Hussein was gathering his forces for an all-out assault on the Palestinian movement. Fatah eventually had no option but to fight, but by that point, the military and political momentum had shifted in favor of the King, which led to a crushing defeat of the entire resistance movement and its ouster from Jordan to Lebanon–which became known as Black September.

The debacle of Black September would not be the last missed opportunity of this kind for the Palestinian movement. In a more drawn-out manner, the dynamic played out in Lebanon next. Fatah continued its commitment to non-interference and maintained a neutral position in the sharpening struggle, starting in 1975 between left and right within Lebanon.

Eventually, the PLO joined the fight on the side of Lebanon’s leftists, organized under the banner of the Lebanese National Movement. But they were defeated again–this time by a combination of right-wing Phalangist militias, a treacherous Syrian regime that sided with the Lebanese right to ensure its position of power in the country, and ultimately by an Israeli invasion.

The failure of the PLO strategy was now revealed. It gained dominance thanks to the financial and military assistance from Arab states for its commitment to “non-interference” and limiting its goals to the Palestinian arena. But it had proven woefully inadequate in challenging the military power of the Israeli state, and it fatally tied the hands of the Palestinian movement at the most crucial points of its struggles, undermining any potential challenge to the wider imperial order upon which Israel’s power rested.

If the PLO’s commitment to “non-interference” had left the Palestinians isolated by the 1980s, then its primary class objective of creating a Palestinian state to secure Palestinian capital would result in the narrowing of the horizons of the project of liberation.

Fatah was already moving in the direction of creating a mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza as early as 1974 when the PLO altered its program, stating that it would establish “a national, independent and fighting government in any liberated part of Palestinian territory.”

By the 1980s, the PLO was militarily defeated–as well as politically and geographically isolated, having been forced to flee Lebanon for Tunis in 1982.

The regional balance of power had also changed. Israel, with U.S. military support, had emerged as a regional military superpower, and the U.S.-allied reactionary Gulf states, lifted by rising oil prices, became the economically dominant drivers of Arab affairs. The largest Arab state, Egypt, was pulled into the neoliberal economic order and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

The weakened PLO was now casting about for a way to regain its influence. One approach was to seek out U.S. contacts in the hope of a negotiated settlement that would lead to a mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza. In return, it was willing to recognize the Israel and to renounce armed struggle. This in practice meant abandoning resistance to Israel’s colonial project, betraying its pledge to “full liberation,” and forsaking millions of Palestinian refugees and Palestinians living as second-class citizens in Israel.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The First Intifada: Springboard to Oslo

At first, the U.S. and Israel had no need for the PLO and preferred to negotiate with Jordan instead–at least until the start of the First Intifada in 1987, which was the greatest mass challenge to Zionism since the 1936 Arab revolt in Palestine.

But Fatah and the PLO leadership would yet again transform victory into a defeat for the Palestinians. Rather than work to deepen the mass uprising and encourage its connection to a revolt in Jordan against the effects of neoliberalism, Arafat instead used the uprising as a springboard to win recognition from the U.S. and Israel for himself and the PLO as the “sole representatives of the Palestinian people.”

As Gilbert Achcar argued in his 2004 book Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan and Palestine in the Mirror of Marxism, the U.S. and Israel now came to consider Arafat indispensable in the project to wind down the Intifada and help cement the U.S.-led neoliberal reordering of the region.

If the Camp David agreement with Egypt allowed Israel to remove the largest and most important Arab adversary from the equation, then the Oslo “peace process” allowed it to break out of its isolation, integrate itself into the emerging neoliberal economic order, and normalize its relations with the Arab world.

The negotiated return of the PLO leadership and thousands of its cadre to Palestine and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Gaza also brought with it the return of exiled Palestinian capital. The Oslo Accords seemed to finally provide the Palestinian elite with the opportunity to fulfill the long-held goal of an independent state capable of protecting and expanding its profit-seeking enterprises. Through the 1990s and 2000s, this class would come to dominate the Palestinian economy through its relationship with the PA.

But as Adam Hanieh explains in his 2013 book Lineages of Revolt: Issues of Contemporary Capitalism in the Middle East, the PA was far from an independent state:

In the context of the PA’s fully subordinated position, the ability to accumulate was always tied to Israeli consent and thus came with a political price–one designed to buy compliance with the ongoing colonization. It also meant that the key components of the Palestinian elite, the wealthiest businessmen, the PA state bureaucracy, and the remnants of the PLO itself came to share a common interest with Israel’s political project.

Palestinian capital, which in the wake of the Nakba had developed as an “interlocking” junior partner of Arab capital, had now returned to become a subordinate partner of the Israeli occupation and the European and American neoliberal order in the Middle East.

Thus, in the past 20 years, the main political organizations inside the PLO have been transformed from vehicles of resistance against Israel to an indigenous gear in the machinery of Israel’s revamped system of apartheid.

This shift was not automatic or preordained. It was the result of cooptation, in the form of employment in the European-funded PA bureaucracy or the U.S.-trained PA security forces, and repression, most decisively the suppression of the Second Intifada in the mid-2000s. Those elements most willing to reconcile themselves with Israel now predominate.

In practical terms, this means that those thousands of activists affiliated with the various Palestinian factions who may have in the past helped organize and give political cohesiveness to Palestinian resistance are today either dead, in jail or employed by the Palestinian security forces that actively suppress rather than assist [4] any popular mobilizations by Palestinians.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Hamas: An Alternative?

As frustration with the PA’s failures and collaboration mounted, the Islamist party Hamas won popular support for its refusal to capitulate to the Oslo Accords and its continued resistance to Israel’s occupation.

Hamas and the people of Gaza have been met with vicious attacks and a deadly siege by Israel as a result of their refusal to bow to the diktats of Israel and the U.S. But while Hamas has not become an appendage of Israel’s colonization drive, it suffers from many of the same weaknesses that the PLO did.

First, Hamas, like Fatah, rejects any notion of class struggle in its struggle against Israel and the West. Instead, as Khalid Hroub explains in his book Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, “its membership includes merchants, business people and the rich,” and “wealthy Muslims from the Gulf represent the main source of Hama’s funding.” Similarly, Hamas like the PLO before it, allies itself with various capitalist regimes in the region, from Iran to Qatar, instead of the masses who suffer under these regimes.

The regional upheavals over the past four years have clearly exposed these weaknesses. The spread of the Arab Spring rebellions of 2011 to Syria exposed the limits of the so-called “anti-imperialist” resistance that Hamas tied itself to.

Syria, Hezbollah and Iran viciously repressed the democratic uprising of the Syrian people to maintain their rule, including over the Palestinians of Syria, who they starved in Yarmouk [5]. In so doing, they and their defenders counterpose struggles for democracy and social justice to the struggle against imperialism.

This has the regrettable effect of simultaneously discrediting the idea of anti-imperialist resistance, while opening the door to imperial appeals to those sectors fighting for democratic demands–all while physically annihilating the working class and other oppressed groups whose political activity is required to challenge the power of imperialism.

Hamas did break with its main backers–the Syrian and Iranian regimes–only to move its headquarters to Qatar and hitch its wagon to a new patron.

Instead of forging ties of solidarity with the mass movement challenging Egypt’s relationship with Israel, it looked to the rising star of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had come to power, but set down its own red lines, asserting that “the Egyptian revolution had to settle its own problems before dealing with ‘foreign policy.'” [6] This led the Muslim Brotherhood to oppose protests [7] like those that targeted the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, while affirming its commitment to honoring the Camp David peace accords with Israel [8].

Later, the Egyptian military was able to use mass discontent with Morsi’s continuation of neoliberal economic policies and repression of popular protests to stage a coup and place Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi in power. With the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, Hamas has found itself isolated. At first, it attempted to forge a unity deal with the PA [9]–today, it appears to be flirting with the idea of reconciling with Saudi Arabia [10], which is looking to shore up a “Sunni alliance” to confront its regional Shia rival Iran.

This would again box the Palestinians within limits acceptable to another regional sponsor, while isolating the Palestinian people by throwing their lot in with the same rulers who use sectarian divisions to terrorize and subjugate their Arab brothers and sisters.

Hamas also takes a top-down approach to the Palestinian struggle by confining its strategy to armed struggle on the one hand and diplomacy on the other–while repressing demonstrations in Gaza that it finds threatening to its own hold on power.

In this regard, Hamas has been subject to similar pressures since winning legislative elections in 2006 and, in response to an attempted putsch sponsored by Fatah and the U.S. in 2007 [11], taking power in Gaza. Hamas’ own cadre have been absorbed into the formal state institutions that govern the open-air prison of Gaza. They are only slightly less allergic to popular mobilizations, which are also viewed as a threat to their rule.

Furthermore, the isolation of Hamas following the reversal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s fortunes in the Arab Spring–as well as their need to consolidate their rule in Gaza–has created significant pressures inside Hamas and divisions within its leadership. Some now favor reconciliation with the U.S. and Israel by ending resistance activities–in return for political recognition and a lifting of the siege in order to spur economic growth and stabilize Gaza’s reeling economy.

If the defeats of the PLO in Lebanon had left it desperate for Oslo, years of war on Gaza and regional isolation are pushing Hamas in a similar direction.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Charting a New Course

As this history shows, the situation that Palestinians are facing today is not simply the result of “corruption” or a “strategic mistake” by the Palestinian leadership. This impasse is the result of a strategy that best fits the goals of the Palestinian bourgeoisie.

At best, Palestinian capitalists and their political representatives will maneuver to gain better terms for themselves or ensure that they do not lose all credibility among Palestinians. But they are incapable of carrying out a strategy that can truly win Palestinian liberation for the majority of Palestinians.

This is because such a strategy would entail the mobilization and democratic empowerment of the mass of the Palestinian people as well as the development and deepening of solidarity with workers regionally and internationally to take on the forces that oppress the Palestinians.

Carrying out such mobilizations would unravel the lucrative economic and political relationships of the Palestinian capitalists with American, European, Arab and Israeli capital. These relationships come at the cost of political subservience, not to mention the demobilization of social forces necessary to challenge Israel.

A genuine strategy for Palestinian liberation must be based on a different social force: the vast majority of Palestinian workers–in the West Bank and Gaza, within Israel’s borders, and in the diaspora. Unlike Palestinian capitalists, the Palestinian working class is not hamstrung by regional and international alliances. It is not afraid of the democratic self-activity necessary for liberation. Nor is it driven by the narrow goal of establishing state power on any piece of land Israel is willing to cut loose.

The Palestinian working class may be geographically fragmented, and it may not embody in and of itself the social power necessary to take on the state of Israel. But its interests lie in attempting to unite all the oppressed sectors of Palestinian society behind it. It can only benefit from the deepening of solidarity with the struggles of other workers regionally and internationally–which, taken together, can challenge Israel and the regional order on which it stands.

Finally, the Palestinian working class, which today suffers worsening inequality as a result of the neoliberal policies of the PA and years of expropriation at the hands of a vicious settler-colonial society, has every reason to carry out the most democratic and transformative struggle it possibly can.

The outlines for such a strategy already exist and must be built upon.

The BDS movement has already galvanized international solidarity with the Palestinian people, and it has been central to undoing the damage caused by the “peace process.” It is currently the greatest source of strength for the Palestinian movement, and its victories must be built upon.

While the tide of counterrevolution has set back popular struggles from Egypt to Syria to Libya, this will not last forever, as the recent anti-government protests in Beirut [12] and textile workers’ strikes in Egypt [13] show. The resistance of the Arab masses will return. When it does, we know that the people of the region see in the state of Israel not only the butcher of their Palestinian brothers and sisters, but also a symbol of their own oppression–and their rulers’ complicity in the subjugation and humiliation of the region.

The road to Jerusalem still lies through Cairo, Damascus and Riyadh. Today, the BDS movement shows us that it also winds its way through Paris, London and New York. More than ever, it’s clear that this road will only run through these cities’ streets, and not through their presidential palaces.

  1. [1] http://mondoweiss.net/2015/07/movement-interview-barghouti
  2. [2] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/gaza-uninhabitable-2020-israel-palestine-150902065427364.html
  3. [3] http://socialistworker.org/2015/10/28/israels-reign-of-terror-in-jerusalem
  4. [4] http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/22365/another-palestinian-uprising
  5. [5] https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/maureen-clare-murphy/thousands-risk-starvation-yarmouk-un-warns
  6. [6] http://socialistworker.org/2014/07/28/palestine-and-the-arab-counterrevolution
  7. [7] http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=29021
  8. [8] http://www.ibtimes.com/morsi-reassures-israel-sinai-operations-will-honor-1979-peace-treaty-759553
  9. [9] http://socialistworker.org/2014/05/20/new-era-for-palestinian-unity
  10. [10] https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/saudi-arabia-and-hamas-pragmatic-partnership
  11. [11] http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2008/04/gaza200804
  12. [12] http://socialistworker.org/2015/09/03/the-stink-comes-from-the-top
  13. [13] http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4264
  14. [14] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0

How Israel withholds labour rights from the West Bank’s Palestinian workers (The Conversation)

The Conversation

How Israel withholds labour rights from the West Bank’s Palestinian workers

Palestinian workers on the West Bank. Reuters/Ammar Awad

As Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories edges towards its 50th year, violent incidents in the West Bank remain fairly sporadic. The political and economic reality of coexistence in the Palestinian territories has made Palestinians and Israelis deeply interdependent – and especially Palestinian workers and Israeli employers and corporations.

That relationship has always been legally tangled, but in recent weeks, there’ve been new developments that could make things even worse.

To begin with, the Israeli National Labour Court found that Israeli law does not apply to Palestinians working for Israelis in the Jordan Valley, an area of the West Bank that has become infamous for child labour.

Meanwhile, the leader of the right-wing party Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett, succumbed to pressure placed by Israeli farmers in the Jordan Valley and stepped back from his previous commitment to apply Israeli labour law in the West Bank.

That spells misery for West Bank Palestinians working for Israeli employers and corporations, and doubles down on a regime of profound legal inequality.

Choked

Tens of thousands of Israelis are moving into existing settlements and establishing new ones (often on private Palestinian land) –not for ideological reasons, but because the costs are lower and the standard of living is higher than in Israel proper. For the same reason, a great many Israeli businesses are moving to the settlements and to industrial zones. Many of these businesses, especially in sectors such as manufacturing, construction and agriculture, rely on cheap Palestinian labour for their profits.

The Israeli government is still choking the development of an independent Palestinian economy through military orders that curb the use of funds, imposes limits on the supply of water and electricity and restricts access to farm land through the permit system and the separation barrier. That means Palestinians are increasingly forced to rely on Israeli employers to make ends meet.

This is not an unwelcome development on the Israeli side. Palestinian workers are especially attractive to Israeli employers because of a very particular legal situation that’s arisen over the past few years.

Heavy load. Reuters/Ammar Awad

Until 2007, the assumption was that Palestinians were employed in the settlements and in Israeli-owned industries according to the Jordanian law that was in place when Israel conquered the West Bank – except where that law was modified by the military commander of the region.

This situation was based on the law of occupation, which dictates that the occupier should respect the law in force in the occupied territory. However, as the occupation became a prolonged one, a situation developed that those who drafted the laws of occupation never imagined.

Israelis lived in the territory and conducted their economic life as if under Israeli law (as is their prerogative) while employing Palestinians under Jordanian law in the West Bank and Egyptian law in Gaza. Different laws apply for people doing the same work, who are different only by virtue of their race or nationality.

The result is not mere discrimination. The application of different laws for different sections of people is very close to, if not reaches the core of, apartheid.

Separate and unequal

The Israeli Supreme Court, politically savvy as ever, addressed this issue in 2007. In a landmark decision, it ruled that where Palestinians work side-by-side with Israelis in Israeli “exclaves” created from illegal settlements and industrial zones, then the same Israeli law should apply to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Paradoxically, this was not just a victory for Palestinians and their Israeli supporters. It was also supported by right-wing Israeli nationalists, who advocate the annexation of Palestinian land through the application of Israeli law to Area C, the West Bank’s largest subdivision. But the ruling both created problems for Israeli businesses established in the West Bank and explicitly relied on a law that is already anything but generous to Palestinians.

Since 2007, the situation has evolved on both sides. Some Palestinian workers have taken advantage of the rights the Supreme Court decision guaranteed them, while right-wing members of the Knesset continued their efforts to expand the application of Israeli labour law.

Many Israeli businesses sprung into action and began searching for loopholes in the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision. So Israeli law should apply where the employer is Israeli? No problem, we’ll engage a Palestinian intermediary to sign the cheques. So Israeli law should apply where the employment is based in an Israeli exclave? That’s fine, we’ll move the undertaking out of the industrial zone, meaning the employer’s obligations are eased, but their workers still regulated by the same highly restrictive permit regime.

This issue was looked into by the National Labour Court, but sadly, it gave its stamp of approval to legal trickery and ushered in the shameful state of affairs we see today, where the application of different laws to different people is formally acknowledged.

As for Naftali Bennett, he could have responded with a proud national pronouncement that would indicate that nationalist ideology comes at a cost. Come to think of it, perhaps that’s exactly what he did – only the cost is for the Palestinians to bear.