Today the delegation headed to the historic city of Jerusalem. It is a contrasting city with the old city containing many holy sites for three religions and the new city that’s a vibrant metropolis. The delegation visited many of the holy sites, including the Western Wall. This was amazing for me as I was able to place my wish within the wall, something I have never thought I would be able to do. We walked through many different parts of the old city, including the Arab, Jewish and Christian Markets.
We then had lunch Mr Amir Sagie who is the Director of Civil Society Affairs Department for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He gave us an insight on current issues affecting Israel, both in Israel and Overseas. One thing which I got out of the meeting was that the situation in Israel is a complex one and not as simple as many people may think. It will take time and effort, not only from Israel but also from also other countries around the world.
The day was completed by a visit to the Yad Vashem. This is the Largest Holocaust History Museum in the world. It tells of the testaments of the holocaust and gives an insight of how the holocaust came and how people are still affected to this day. Watching stories of how people survived bought raw emotions that I have never felt before and made me reflect on this atrocious time in history. The museum contains much data of more than six million Jews murdered during the holocaust, but also contains data on the people who survived and resurrected in Israel. Let’s never forget the past, but look forward to the future of the people of Israel.
Guest post by Christopher Lay
Shop Steward & Substitute Executive Member, BFAWU
We began the third day of our trip by visiting the Histadrut headquarters where we met with Avital Shapira-Shabirow, the director of the International department. Avital was the first Israeli student to study in Egypt and setup the Histadrut Arab desk, and gave us an overview of the relationship between the Histadrut and their Palestinian counterparts in the PGFTU. She spoke passionately about her hopes for a peace that would benefit both people and lead to true co-existence.
Afterwards we were given a guided tour of the separation barrier by Captain Barak Raz, spokesperson for the IDF Judea & Samaria Division. He outlined the security situation during the second intifada that created the need for a physical barrier, and provided an overview of the major factors (in addition to the barrier) that have contributed to the lower levels of violence seen today.
In the afternoon we traveled to Nablus in the West Bank to meet with representatives from the PGFTU. The PGFTU reps were understandably angry about the on-going occupation and presence of settlements in the West Bank, though they repeatedly expressed their commitment to a two state solution for two people. After our meeting a PGFTU official gave us a guided tour of the old city and several factories.
Today we visited Farok Amror and his team at the Histadrut Jewish-Arab Institute at Beit Berl. The institute was founded in 1984 to strengthen co-existence and the bonds between Jews and Arabs living in Israel, but also between Israelis and their international neighbours. Farok was especially proud of the projects supported by the ILO that brought Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists together. They are also involved in projects using sports and culture as a vehicle for co-existence, and integration of both Arab and Jewish women into the labour market.
Later we met with Nadav Elyashiv from Hanoar Haoved Vahalomed (The General Federation of Students and Young Workers in Israel), Israel’s largest youth movement with 600 branches across the country. Members are involved in a huge range of activities to promote social justice and equality, and they work to make young people aware of their employment rights, providing free legal advice and representation to any young people who require it, whether they are members or not, and use public protests and direct action to combat exploitation of workers. The union were also heavily involved in the social justice protests, and Nadav explained how the protests began, how they developed, and the impact they had on the 2013 elections.
Afterwards we visited a Hanoar Haoved Vahalomed clubhouse in Ramla, a relatively poor mixed city with Jewish and Arab inhabitants, including many Ethiopian and North African Jews and a mix of Muslim and Christian Arabs. At the clubhouse we met with two youth workers who told us about Ramla and the problems faced by young people. One of our delegates, a youth worker back in the UK, was surprised to hear that these youth workers experienced an identical problem in Ramla he had seen in London, where the young people thought it was unfair that they were told the community center belonged to them but they were not allowed to set all the rules, such as smoking indoors!
The first meeting of our youth delegation trip was with Shalom Halevi in Sderot. In 1990, Sderot had a population of 10,000, but with the fall of the USSR, hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants moved to Israel, including 11,000 to Sderot, which is now home to around 24,000 people. Whilst the town’s inhabitants face serious socio-economic problems, they also live under the constant threat of rocket attack, as Sderot is just one kilometre from the Gaza Strip. Since April 2001, over ten thousand rockets have been fired at Sderot, killing 10 civilians, including three young children, and injuring hundreds. The persistent rocket fire has a severe psychological impact on Sderot’s population, with 75% of children exhibiting signs of trauma.
With just 15-17 seconds between the launch of rockets and impact, the municipality has invested in 41 public shelters and 14 secure nurseries and schools. We visited a community centre funded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) that offered a safe environment for children of all ages, with bomb-proof rooms side-by-side with soft play areas and a basketball court. Despite living with the reality of terrorism and rocket attacks, Shalom still wished for peaceful co-existence with Palestinians and an end to the conflict.
Later on, we visited the Tena Nogah factory in Kiryat Malachi, where the Histadrut have recruited 95% of workers. Workers were provided with benefits including transport to work and back, two annual holiday trips (domestic and abroad), cash bonuses for national holidays, and a workers council that had a veto on termination of employment. During a round of questions, the Histadrut officials spoke to us about the political situation for workers in light of the recent elections, and reiterated the union’s commitment to peace with the Palestinians.
At the final visit of the day, we were given a site tour of a yarn and textile finishing factory in Yavneh, where all eighty employees belonged to the Histadrut. The company was founded in 1925, but has found it increasingly difficult to compete with rivals in the Far East, and faces an uncertain future as it struggles to realise a profit. The decline of this company reflects a wider decline in Israel’s textile industry, once employing 75,000 workers nationally, now down to only 10,000.
TUFI are excited to announce we are sending a youth delegation of trade unionists to visit Israel and Palestine from 7 April to 12 April 2013. The trip will include factory and site visits, and meetings with our sister unions at the Histadrut and the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).
We will endeavor to a blog for each full day of our delegation, either from a TUFI representative or one of our youth delegates. You will also be able to keep updated on the trip via Twitter and our hashtag #tufi2013.
By Margaret Gregg; GMB Executive Councillor
Beautiful day, travelled along the narrowest part of Israel, most unusual as one side of the road was an Arab town, on the other, Israeli.
Capt. Barak Raz spokesperson for the IDF, Judea and Samaria Division, explained the role of ensuring the safety of residents in the Israeli towns as a result of the construction of the security fence, that is 8 % wall, he explained how this has nearly eliminated suicide bombing in Israel.
They maintain border patrols and working to specific information in preemptive actions. The area had beautiful vistas of the plain of Sharon and the Israeli population centres.
We next travelled to Barkan Industrial Park which is in a settlement area. The Achva Halva factory which is a privately owned family business and produces cakes and biscuits to sell all over the world.
A modern factory, employees come from around the area, all nationalities, Palestinian and Israeli, Jews and Arabs. Due to TU negotiations, workers have better rates of pay and benefits than other companies in the West Bank.
They provide a room to pray, accommodate the prayer times and holidays. We spoke to Palestinian workers directly, although they still aspire to a Palestinian state, working at Achva enables them to provide a good life for their families.
Most of the villagers work for the company. The wouldn’t be able to obtain work outside the settlement with such good pay. Although wary of the authorities following the PA’s policy of boycotting settlement produce, they didn’t have any problems working there. “How is it going to help me if you don’t buy” one worker said.
We then went to the Palestinian city of Nablus and met members of the PGFTU. Headed by executive member Naser Younes who is also National Officer for the transport section. He explained the work of the TU’s in Palestine.
Their General Secretary was away attending meetings in relation to the current situation in Gaza, and they have daily contact with members in Gaza. They are also coping with internal problems. Farmers complaining at not getting access to harvest olives, attacks on Mosques and 45 % unemployed.
They are committed to boycotting goods made in the settlements, however they acknowledged the difficulties in providing alternative employment for Palestinians who currently work in settlements.
On the political issues, they were not sure how strong Hamas is to win the next election in the West Bank. They have members who have moderate to extreme views but they have managed to keep the situation under control but with recent events in Gaza, there has been a change in atmosphere.
We were made very welcome, as we have throughout our visits, while we had news that a bus had been blown up in Tel Aviv and more air strikes in Gaza which made things edgy.
Half the delegates went on a brief tour of the old city, which is 1000’s of years old, other delegates stayed on the bus. Upon leaving the bus had to take a detour as the road had been blocked by youths looking for trouble.
All in all a very interesting day and a once in a lifetime experience.
Sarah Woolley; Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union
This morning we met with the Jerusalem Municipality shop stewards committee. They greeted us warmly, like old friends.
They are a unique union in the way that they do not entertain politics, they cover both Eastern and Western Jerusalem and do not discriminate against anyone!
We then moved onto Yad Vashem, Holocaust museum. An emotional visit for all delegates who seemed to all be affected in different ways.
We then met with the Mega supermarket chain and had a tour around their warehouses. It was amazing to see inside the huge building and even watching the rabbis giving the produce a kosher seal of approval. It’s enlightening that workers in Israel face the same issues that we face at home.
Later we had a briefing with Isaac Herzog, Labor MK. He is a big supporter of unions and is looking forward to an interesting upcoming Israeli elections. The evening finished with a dinner hosted by UCAPSE, the public service union.
By Gerry Maloney, Advance Union
The day got off to an early start with the delegation leaving the Inbal Hotel at 8.00am on an excursion to the Old City of Jerusalem. This comprehensive tour included visits to all the major historic and biblical sites. This included the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, Via Dolorosa, Arab Quarter, King David’s tomb and the Jewish Quarter.
One of the most noticeable features of this town was the way in which the Jewish and Arab communities live and work side by side. This aspect of everyday life is complete contrast to the picture portrayed in the media (particularly the current situation).
The actual town itself gave a comprehensive picture of this fascinating historic city, giving a vivid illustration of many aspects of life, both contemporary and classical: for example the Arab Quarter boasts a colourful and lively commercial vibrancy where haggling is an art form, whilst the remarkably well presented architecture gives a window into the past.
The delegation then met with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who hosted us for lunch. Following lunch, we had an interesting and informative discussion on the challenges facing this department of the Israeli government.
Of particular note was the sense of responsibility for both the Arab and Jewish Communities. For example, they voiced concerns for the impact that trade boycotts would have on Palestinian jobs and opportunities.
Equally, they explained the difficulties of dealing with aggression from Hamas who were using civilian amenities such as hospitals as a cover for their activities. The ministry was clear on the policy that they would not take action that would jeopardise the safety of innocent civilians but mistakes happen.
Finally the delegation met with representatives of the Office of the Quartet. This Office is made up of representatives of the US, UN, EU and Russia and assists in coordinating support to the West Bank and Gaza’s development.
The reps gave the delegation a briefing of the different dynamics that are involved in the process and the challenges that are faced in achieving those goals. They said that a central element to this achievement is cooperation between both sides and willingness to engage in dialogue to achieve these ends.
The day gave a fascinating insight into many aspects of Israeli life for all communities on a political, cultural and historic level. It was both enjoyable and informative in equal measure.
TUFI will be hosting another delegation blog so that you can follow us as we take a delegation of senior trade unionists around Israel and Palestine from 18 November to 23 November 2012.
As usual, the trip will involve a full itinerary of briefings with sister unions, factory visits and a tour of the security fence/wall as well as meetings with the Histadrut, the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions(PGFTU), government officials, ministers and many others.
A trade union delegate will be posting on the blog each day, giving you an insight into their experiences and opinions. And we will also be posting photos and videos as the delegation progresses.
We look forward to reading your comments!
Today we drove south down to the southern city of Sderot. This town has suffered eleven years of being the target of over 8,000 rockets. As recently as Monday the town was attacked which meant three delegations had cancelled visiting the town. We were either brave or stupid!
The town had almost become completely bomb sheltered including bus stops, schools and playgrounds covered in concrete. We met with a trauma psychiatrist who had treated 3,000 families with visits over the last eleven years. However despite all this she still wants peace and reconciliation with her Gazan neighbours. A nice point.
We then saw and handled samples of the spent rockets in the same location that President Obama had visited when he spoke about his distress at what the town’s inhabitants had suffered.
We then went to a vantage point that looked over the Gaza Strip and I was amazed at its closeness to Sderot. Standing there, in the knowledge that you have only a 15 second warning before a rocket lands gives me great sadness and an admiration at the courage of the people living there.
Then a drive north to the Histadrut’s headquarter’s in Tel Aviv to meet with their leader Ofer Eini. He spoke about the current campaign against sub-contract workers that was breaking news that day with a possible national strike next week over it. Ofer was speaking to national tv after our meeting.
We questioned him about representation of Palestinian workers in Israel. He said the Histadrut fully represents legal Palestinian workers but cannot support illegal workers but is also against employers who take on illegal workers. He said whilst he is a member of the Labour Party he does not let this influence his work in representing workers across the political and religious spectrum. He’s got a tough job.
We went for lunch at the Histadrut’s International Institute’s Jewish Arab Institute. They do great work including vocational training, translation and events to benefit the most needy in society. The goals include breaking down barriers in Israeli society and working with other Arab nations and international dialogue but this work sadly is never promoted in the UK.
Back to the hotel and a final meeting with Isaac Herzog, Labour MK. He spoke about his full support for two-states and UN recognition but for it all to be done by negotiation and not coercion.
Iran was very much on his agenda with the likelihood of Iran possessing a nuclear bomb soon. The country is becoming a huge risk to the world and could, if it become a nuclear nation attract other radical countries to join with them. He believes Israel is on the front line.
Finally he said people should come to Israel to form a better understanding of the place, like myself. Hatred of Israel comes a lot from ignorance as much as anti-semitism and other reasons. So get on a TUFI delegation.
Oh well off to final night dinner in Jaffa Port. It’s a hard life and a great visit too.