Delegation to Israel and Palestine
1st to 6th February 2015
Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) Report
This year TUFI took its first delegation of 2015 to Israel and Palestine, with Usdaw, GMB, and the POA trade unions. The delegation included:
Monday 2 February
Histadrut Jewish-Arab Institute, Beit Berl
For our first day, we travelled north to visit the Histadrut Jewish-Arab Institute in Beit Berl. The Director of the Institute, Farok Amror, spoke about their work promoting co-existence between Jewish and Arab citizens within Israel. This included projects to integrate women into the workforce, and international sports tournaments that bring Israelis and Palestinians together alongside teams from across the globe.
We had a sing along to Ukuleles for Peace, a great initiative to get young Jewish and Arab
Israelis together to learn instruments and work with each other.
Our colleagues from the POA made a visit to Hadrim Prison and were taken on a tour by their colleagues in the Israeli prison service.
The TUFI 2015 Delegation
Teva Pharmaceutical factory
The delegation then drove the short distance to Kafa Sava and to the headquarters of TEVA pharmaceuticals, one of the world’s largest pharmaceuticals companies.
We met with shop stewards, leaders of the workers committee and TUFI friend, Hertzl Yaka, Chairman of the Food and Pharmaceutical Union. TEVA had recently announced redundancies and the union were involved in negotiating a way of mitigating this.
The union concluded pay negotiations to secure a pay rise of 5.4% per year over the next five years, and secured an increase to pension contributions to 9% of pay and medical insurance cover.
Hilik Bar MK
The delegation had an important meeting with Labor MK, Hilik Bar who took time out from a very busy election campaign to talk to our delegates. He spoke with passion about the Labor Party’s commitment to restart the peace process and to improve the lives of struggling Israelis with their own cost of living crisis.
We wished him and the Labor Party well and thanked him for his time.
Later that evening we had a dinner hosted by the public service union, UCAPSE.
Tuesday 3 February
The second day began in a beautiful February Jerusalem with a busy day of touring and briefings in one of the most historical cities in the world. The city has a special place for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike and those with an appetite for history.
The delegation drove through east of the city, up to the magnificent views from the Mount of Olives looking over the Old City. The tour took the delegation through the Old City to visit the Jewish, Arab, Armenian and Christian Quarters that included stops at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall.
In only a few hours the delegation had experienced thousands of years of human activity in the holiest of cities. They discovered it was destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times!
A quick lunch in beautiful sunshine and then a meeting with the Jerusalem Municipality Union Employees’ Committee at the City Hall, Jerusalem. The Committee has representatives from different communities in Jerusalem: Arab, Christian, Jews and secular, who all work for the Municipality.
The delegation heard from the representatives about how they work together, despite their differences. On the question of the boycott of Israel, the consensus was that it would be the innocent workers (both Arab and Jews) that would suffer most from a boycott and there should be other avenues pursued to develop peace in the region, starting with talks.
TUFI have offered to host the committee in the UK and they will be visiting in 2015.
The delegation travelled to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Jerusalem. This is a significant point in the delegation, where the full scale of the ‘Shoah’ has been recorded with an extensive exhibition. The museum, recently rebuilt, was established in 1953, and now hosts over a million visitors a year.
From the feedback forms several of the delegates were very much affected by what they had witnessed at Yad Vashem. This played a part in developing a stronger understanding about the case for Israel and Jewish self determination, with secure borders
Dinner in the evening and we were joined by our colleagues from One Voice Israel, who spoke about the important work they do, in difficult circumstances, to campaign for a two state solution.
The view from Yad Vashem
Wednesday 4 February
The day started with a visit to the security barrier, one of the most controversial aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and a briefing with the IDF near Qalkilya’s West Bank border. A lot of questions were fielded about the routing of the barrier and access points.
It was stated that since the erection of the barrier, suicide bombing within Israel had virtually ceased. Whilst this is not a political solution to the conflict, it is a security measure that hopefully is only temporary.
Ariel Industrial Park
The delegation then went to the Ariel industrial park to visit the Achva Halva factory in the West Bank. Although the industrial park is Israeli owned, it predominantly employs Palestinian workers who work beside their Jewish co-workers. In fact, the manager was a Palestinian in charge of the entire production workforce.
The delegation took a tour of the facility which had Palestinians working beside religious Jews. When asked about the calls to boycott the products from this factory, the Palestinians said ultimately they would want the factory to be Palestinian owned, but for the time being did not want the factory to close because they would lose their jobs.
It was interesting to note that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had rescinded the ban on Palestinian workers in settlements which would have affected Palestinian workers in this factory.
Later in the day, we drove further into the West Bank towards the Palestinian city of Nablus. We drove straight through the northern part of the city and went directly into downtown Nablus. We had a meeting with the head of the PGFTU, Shaher Sa’ed who was also joined by his national secretaries.
Shaher spoke about his willingness to work with the Histadrut in the interests of workers and to contribute to the peace process, but added that there were difficulties. He also spoke about the industrial dispute with the PA over pay for public sector workers.
We then took a walking tour of downtown Nablus and tasted the local food.
TUFI Delegation with the PGFTU
Later in the evening we had dinner with the Israeli MFA.
Thursday 5 February
Sderot, Kibbutz Nir Am and Mekorot
The delegation drove south to the town of Sderot and to Kibbutz Nir Am on the border with Gaza. The working class development town has been the target of thousands of rocket attacks over the past decade. The Kibbutz had been on the frontline on the recent conflict with Gaza and we were shown a tunnel entrance where there was an attempted attack on the Kibbutz.
Trade union representatives from the water company Mekorot, talked to the delegation about the efforts they have gone to, to provide water to Gaza, despite being attacked themselves, while working on damaged water pipes.
The delegation was given a briefing into the life that residents of Sderot have had to endure and the precautions they take such as bunkers and concrete shelters on schools. We were later shown a vista of the proximity with Gaza and gained an understanding of the relatively short distances that the rockets travel.
TUFI 2015 Delegation with the Mekorot company workers
Later in the evening we met with the British Deputy Ambassador, at the Ambassador’s residence. He briefed us on the UK Government’s position and policies in Israel and the work they are doing in academic, medical and business exchanges.
Later in the evening we had our farewell dinner, where all the delegates spoke about their experiences and thoughts of the trip. They said that they would report back to their Union’s executives and thanked TUFI for organising the delegation and for giving them the chance to participate.
“The visit overall was absolutely terrific- the visits were interesting, the hospitality was wonderful, and the experience of the culture was a delight. It’s a trip I won’t forget.”
Amy Murphy, Usdaw Executive Council
“The trip started with an emotional meeting in Sderot and ended with one in Yad Vashem. The content of the trip was amazing and seeing how people work in other countries is quite eye-opening. I feel we can help them and they could help us.”
Gordon Gibbs, GMB Executive Council
TUFI would like to thank the Histadrut, their Director of the International Department Avital Shapira-Shabirow and International Officer Hila Karmi for co-ordinating the delegation; the PGFTU for hosting our delegation in Nablus; and all the unions for their hospitality.
TUFI takes British trade union delegations to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories to gain a first-hand understanding of the region and help develop stronger bonds between British, Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists.
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